This Month’s That Mama is single mama of two, Marina Mathews, founder of PR powerhouse Marina Mathews Communications
Our popular That Mama series is all about introducing our readers to inspiring and entrepreneurial mamas in Singapore; this month’s mama, Marina Mathews, is one of those stunning do-it-all ladies taking everything in stride. In addition to founding and running PR firm Marina Mathews Communications (next up on the calendar: the fabulous F1 shindig Podium Lounge), she’s a sassy single mama to two boys whom she affectionately refers to as her ‘little Cro-zilians‘, 8-year-old Sebastian and 5-year-old Samuel. Marina is a goldmine of tips on getting your life sorted — from how to store your kids’ art, to getting a routine set up for the little ones, to making sure your finances are in order.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your family?
I’m an Australian-born single mom in my mid-forties with two young boys. I moved to Singapore in 2006, and set up a PR agency here so life is very busy juggling a business, clients, career, events, family, friends and of course the loves of my life, Sebastian and Samuel. The boys are 8 and 5 respectively, and I’ve been raising them as a single parent for the last five years. Their dad is Brazilian, and my own parents are Croatian so I call them little Cro-zilians.
My mom passed away when I was eight, but fortunately my father was incredibly forward thinking for someone from his generation and he raised my sister and I as thinking we were capable of achieving anything we wanted to in life. He called himself our dad and mom in one, and taught us everything from cooking, to cleaning and even handyman skills. My father ran a very structured household, and everything was done with military precision. He set a wonderful example as a single parent, and because of his influence my kids are happy, healthy,. and generally good little humans.
I have a very close relationship with the boys; we talk about everything and they themselves are super tight-knit. My heart melts every time I see them give each other a hug.
Sebastian is protective of his younger brother, and Samuel just adores his older brother. They’re two peas in a pod, despite having completely different personalities and traits. They’re both very energetic (inherited from their mother), but that’s about where the similarities stop.
What first brought you to Singapore?
Before I moved to Singapore I was living in Bahrain working for the national airline Gulf Air. Part of my job scope was managing events for route destinations around the world, which meant I had a chance to visit Singapore a number of times. The original plan was to move to New York post-Bahrain, but Asia was just starting to boom and I was looking to expand my marcomms portfolio with more international experience under my belt. I later calculated that I’d visited Singapore over 40 times prior to relocating due to the number of stopover stays on my way home to visit family in Sydney.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-babies?
I started in Marcomms in my mid-twenties in my hometown of Sydney and quickly discovered that I’d found my passion and calling. However it wasn’t until six months after I’d moved to Singapore that I decided to set up my own business, which as any entrepreneur knows takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears.
By the time my first child was born, I already had the agency up and running for a few years, and fortunately I was able to have the flexibility that working mums need, especially in the early years
Pre-babies you think you’re so busy with work and life, but there’s nothing like children to suck up all that extra time you didn’t know you had.
How did you get back into the swing of things after having kids?
In 2010 I became pregnant with Sebastian to my then husband, and only took six weeks off as I desperately needed the mental stimulation my work gave me. In 2013 when Samuel was born, I was back on emails literally four hours later at 7am, and already calling the office at 9am to the shock and horror of my male colleagues. That said I was back in the office nine days later. Clearly I don’t have a problem getting back into the swing of things.
I think my love and regular practice of yoga also helped. From an emotional and physical standpoint it’s been a great balancing factor.
How do you maintain an identity separate from your children?
It may sound selfish, but I think it’s incredibly important to have your own interests and passions outside your immediate family. I have a hectic social calendar because of the number of events I’m involved in through work, and this gives me a chance to have a life outside the homefront. And having a DJ suite set up at home gives me a chance to drown out the noise and escape if I have to…. haha.
A while back I read somewhere that French parents put their kids to bed early so they have some time to spend as a couple. I’m quite strict with the kids’ routines, and they have to be in bed at 7pm, which gives me the evenings free to enjoy my own time as I wish.
How has having children changed the way you define work?
It’s changed the way I work in so many ways. First, I think I’m more productive than ever as the time I commit to work is for work only. That means when I’m with the kids, I devote my full attention to being with them. It has also made me more flexible in the needs of my team. I’m that rare employer that insists you leave the office on time, or at least a reasonable hour so you have time to spend with your family. Family and health come first. No matter what.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
Get Sorted. What I mean by that is getting a professional organiser to come into your home to get you organised. I swear by Tracey Clark from Sorted who comes in every six months to do a maintenance check. It’s not expensive, and saves you from rushing around trying to find that last minute item as you’re running out the door with the kids. I happen to be a clean freak, so I love having everything in its place.
Tracey also introduced me to this great app called ArtKive. You simply take a photo of all your kids’ artwork (and we all know how much there can be!) and it’s saved on a server under your child’s name, and at any time and you can have it printed as a book filled of all your kid’s pictures. A great gift idea for the grandparents.
Also every June (the boys’ birthday month), and in December before Christmas the kids go through all their toys, games, books etc and put together a pile to donate to charity and I start a discussion about the world around them. I know they’re going to be inundated with gifts from family and friends so this is a great way to teach the kids about understanding how other people live, and how lucky they are and not to take things for granted.
Most importantly, make sure you get your finances, insurances, investments, and your will in order. Educate yourself if you have to. There are many online resources and tools for use, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Did you know that you need to have a Transitional Guardianship Letter prepared? As a foreign parent in Singapore, if anything happens to the parents, the kids are taken into state custody until everything is sorted out. A frightening thought for a single parent.
This leads me to making sure you have a box or place where you have all your important documentation located in one spot. Things like passports, birth certificates, your will etc. that someone other than your spouse knows where to find it. I can’t stress the importance of having everything in order.
How have you found dating as a single mama in Singapore? Is it easy to meet eligible men?
Two words: Non. Existant. And that’s despite my busy social calendar. I’m not convinced that there are many single men out there keen to date a career woman in her mid-forties with two young kids. Well, none that I’ve met, anyway.
As an expat and single mother it is especially important to create strong support networks – how have you done this? Any tips for other single mothers?
Absolutely! Divorce is a difficult path to tread, and sadly my own was an incredibly dark period in my life. I retreated and withdrew from those closest to me not realising I was also suffering postnatal depression, but fortunately my sister was there every step of the way to support me. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done without her.
Not everyone has family to rely on, so my recommendation is to connect to women’s groups online. There are some amazing groups on Facebook such as Singapore Expat Women and Seasoned Singapore Expat Women where there are a plethora of women ready to help. You can make anonymous requests if you feel uncomfortable divulging your profile, and you’d be amazed at how engaged and supportive these women can be.
What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?
For the last seven years, we’ve been living in the Siglap area overlooking the East Coast. I love it because our back gate leads directly onto East Coast Park so beach visits and bike rides have become a weekend ritual. The playground we have in our compound is huge, and all the kids hang out and play together every afternoon. We also know our neighbours well, and the kids will occasionally bake a cake and take it next door to the retired aunty and uncle’s home. They spoil the kids in return with candy and cookies.
Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?
The ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands and watching movies at The Projector. There are some really cool kids’ movies showing.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurants in Singapore?
The kids love Yardbird Southern Table & Bar at Marina Bay Sands as they have a great kids menu. All the staff know the boys and they get spoilt every time we go. The boys would go every day if they could.
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
Full disclosure here, my hospitality client Six Senses recently rolled out their Grow with Six Senses program which encourages younger guests to understand more about what’s going on inside them and in the world around them.
Programs vary from resort to resort, and range from specifically designed physical activities, yoga and mindfulness, local culture, sustainability and social experiences. For example activities at Six Senses Yao Noi (Thailand) include roselle harvesting and flying yoga, while Six Senses Laamu (Maldives) has a garden for salad foraging and offers junior Zumba and healthy cookie making.
Favourite date night restaurants?
Not to be biased as they are my client, but Artemis at CapitaGreen is definitely my favourite date night restaurant. A combination of the spectacular rooftop view, great food and the cool outdoor bar make it a popular choice for many a couple on date night.
Do you have any tips for working mamas in Singapore? How do you balance life, kids and work?
Routine. Routine. Routine. It sounds boring, but I can’t tell you how harmonious it is in our house because the kids know what’s expected of them, and when. Homework is done straight after school. Dinner at 5pm. Bath time at 6pm. And bedtime at 7pm. They greatly benefit from it too, as they don’t get grumpy from being overtired. Come to think of it, they don’t have meltdowns. A sibling squabble usually lasts only a minute or two, thank goodness.
I also have a monthly calendar on our fridge, so absolutely everything is diarised whether it’s French lessons, art classes or a haircut that’s due. My helper knows exactly what’s happening and when.
What’s your favourite family ritual?
My favourite family ritual is saying the kids’ prayers at bedtime. Coming from a strict Catholic upbringing I have beautiful memories of my own mom doing it, and I’m glad that I can pass it on to my own kids. It’s funny because on weekdays I’ll get a call from them asking me if I’ll be home in time to say their prayers that evening. They love it. It’s our special bonding time together.
What are some of your favourite annual events on the Singapore calendar?
That would have to be the F1 weekend in Singapore. I’ve attended every single race for the last 11 years and the last ten I’ve glammed it up at The Podium Lounge after-party at the Ritz-Carlton. It’s always a crazy, fun-filled weekend that’s for sure.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I consider myself a strong, independent woman but that doesn’t mean there aren’t times that I really need the support of family or friends. Too often in the past I’d failed to ask for help when I’ve needed it, and in the end it doesn’t help you or the kids. Remember, you don’t get if you don’t ask.
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women:
On the practical side, make sure you have an emergency list on your fridge that doesn’t just include emergency numbers, but also a few relatives or friends (you never know who’ll be reachable) as well as listing the blood type of each family member and a note on allergies, if any.
From a longer term perspective, I’ve set up a Memory Box for the kids. In my job I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with celebrities and high-profile individuals, so I always make sure to get photos or autographs so when the kids grow up they can look back and say, My mama had a blessed life.
I wish I had more time for…
Longer family holidays.
I always feel saner after….
A glass of red wine and eight hours’ sleep.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Getting as much sleep as my kids do.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
Some crazy dream I’ve just had.
My favourite moment of the day is…
When the kids wake up, say good morning and give me a big hug. A great way to start the day.