Singaporean Dawn Sim talks about being a mum of four daughters. She shares how she had suicidal thoughts after experiencing loss in her childhood, how she managed to develop a positive mindset and how the experience influenced how she parents.
Our That Mama of the month is wellness entrepreneur Dawn Sim, mama to four daughters, each of whom she parents according to their individual character. Dawn talks about how she navigated through a difficult time in her childhood when her grandmother passed and she had no one to talk to about her feelings (including her suicidal thoughts). She shares how communication is key to her parenting philosophy so her kids don’t feel like she once did saying “I don’t want my children to feel like they’re alone, and turn to some stranger online because it is just so convenient.” Read on for our interview where Dawn Sim talks about having post-natal depression, not being a tiger mum, and how to navigate the PSLE years with the least amount of stress.
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Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?
I’m Dawn, a mother of four. I run my own business with an emphasis on fitness and wellness. My aim has always been to help improve the quality of life for others through fitness. My husband is a fighter pilot with the RSAF. Juggling four kids (all girls – 17, 15, 11 and 7) is not easy but we do have a lot of help from my parents.
You lived overseas for a while with your family – tell us about the experience.
I lived in the US for about 4 years, and in France for about 4 years as well with my husband due to his work. This meant I had to give up my job in order to move overseas with him. This was difficult because taking into account the time spent moving to different countries, I had to stop work for 10 years with no income and no CPF contributions. On a positive note, I got to spend a lot of quality time with my children in their tender years but on the downside, there was a loss of income for over a decade, and feeling insecure financially during this period.
You mentioned to us that you had post-natal depression – how did you manage this, and what support did you get? Any advice for others going through this themselves or seeing it in a partner?
I suffered from post-natal depression after giving birth to my first and second daughter while we lived overseas in France. This was partly due to the fact that I did not have help and support after having my two children and my husband had to return back to work very shortly after they were born.
This was the darkest time in my life, and I was worried about my ability to look after my two very young children. I had voiced it out to my husband, but at that time he had chosen to use the approach to tell me that I should deal with it myself, and that I didn’t have to see a therapist, or seek professional help. So, I did try to handle this myself by spending plenty of time outdoors with my children in nature, and very interestingly blowing bubbles in our backyard. I did become quite good at mixing bubble solutions and while entertaining my children, this was actually the breathwork that I needed to help calm down and find that mental relaxation. Yoga, of course, helped immensely as my practice took my mind off worrying thoughts and let my body release the happy hormones that I needed.
My advice for those going through post-natal depression is to firstly speak with loved ones around you that you can trust and if needed, to seek professional help through therapy and of course find your circle of support who can be friends around you or fellow mommies in mommy groups. Sometimes it’s good to talk to like-minded mommies for you to learn that you are not alone and to also get encouragement from those who truly understand what you’re going through.
What is your parenting approach?
To a certain extent, I follow a child-led approach. Because each one of my children is so different, I cannot use the same approach for their different personalities.
I really am not a tiger mum and I believe in two-way communication with my children because that helps us to be able to understand one another and where we’re coming from which helps make difficult decisions a whole lot easier for us to follow through. There’s always give and take but when there is more understanding and communication, it always makes things a lot easier.
You went through a very difficult time when you were 8 when your primary carer your grandmother passed away. How did you eventually manage to come out of this period with a positive mindset?
It was definitely a difficult time for me when my paternal grandmother passed away because I did not have anyone close to me to talk to about my feelings. Each day when I finished school, I would go home and I would usually be on my own and just cry. This went on for quite some time and it did affect my studies to a certain extent. There was nobody to talk to. I had suicidal thoughts. It’s why communication is key to me now as a parent. I don’t want my children to feel like they’re alone, I don’t want them to have to turn to some stranger online because it is just so convenient.
What helped me pull through the difficult time was really, a show I watched that was really inspiring. It was called “Powder”, and it helped me realise that I wasn’t at a total loss, my grandmother was not fully gone from memory and that a part of her will always live with us. So it was really that idea that helped me get through the tough time.
At the same time, I was still very involved in my sports. So having activities to keep me occupied was also key to helping me be able to move away from the dark space and as well the show I mentioned earlier, helping me to see things in a different perspective.
For those of us/parents/mothers who are going through depression or post-natal depression, I think it will be great if we do have a list of resources or some form of support because everybody functions differently and I think the show might have spoken to me but it may not work for everyone.
What advice would you have for your younger self?
You are never alone and you do have what it takes to get through this. These are lessons that will be so precious for you, as part of life and learning to make you a stronger person tomorrow!
How do you navigate parenting four kids in three different schools – all the different What’s App class groups, homework requirements, and different Independent Learning Days?
This really requires a lot of intentional setting time aside throughout my day despite some days being really crazy. There has to be a commitment to putting aside some time to check messages from teachers, from group chats, from Parents Gateway, from my older kids as well, so that if they need anything urgently, it can be addressed or they can have it when needed. So we sort of have trial and error, a lot of testing to see what works with the two older girls, which makes it a lot easier for the two younger ones. There is lots of checking in with the kids throughout the day.
My husband doesn’t get involved with the parenting group chats or checking on Parents Gateway, so I’m usually the one who takes care of this, which also gives me a bird’s eye view over all four of my children, and we don’t assume that the other person will be handling the responsibility as well, so we don’t take for granted that somebody else is taking care of it. It works that way for us, having one person being responsible for checking all the messages, but if I do need help, I will actually reach out to my husband to get some support from him if I don’t have the bandwidth for that day. Sometimes I travel as well and when needed, he is able to help me but I generally am the person who takes care of all the communication.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
Prioritization. Doing the more urgent things and also the things that matter, and of course delegating when possible – or rather getting help and support. Yes, I would love to always be there to pick up my kids, however I also do rope in the help of my parents when I am not able to, so that actually saves me a whole lot of time, not having to rush here and there. I also plan for my kids to have their classes or tuition around the same time so that we only have to make one trip to the same place to pick them all up. Trying to have the foresight to do these things makes a difference when it comes to helping to save time.
The ability to organise my time and being able to take on what’s important really involves a lot of sacrifice. Choosing to not watch much television – yes we still do but only on weekends, or perhaps one or two shows during the weekdays. This actually frees up a lot of time for me to do or take on the things that matter. So yes, it’s not without sacrificing!
What are your thoughts on PSLE – the prep and managing the stress?
Wow, after having gone through two PSLEs (including mine, that’ll be three haha!) I have to say it’s really just building it up, it’s never a last minute thing. If you want to avoid the stress, you really cannot leave it to the last minute to cram everything. It saves you and your child – the whole family actually, from all that unnecessary stress. Prepping them way in advance and just really having them know that this is a priority to practice and make themselves well prepared. It’s not just for PSLE but for anything in life that is important, so the prep work, the prep talks actually start way in advance and just really communicating and letting them know the why’s behind all they have to do. They may not like it, but at least they know the reason why they have to do it and it’s not just because Mummy and Daddy says, but because they truly understand that this is something that is important for them and is a big milestone for their future.
I have never stressed my children about the PSLE before because I feel that they have put in the work, they have done the necessary to prepare themselves for it and that there are no regrets. It was not stressful for me nor my husband, but yes it is also with a lot of effort and prep that we put into it. So I would just have to say don’t leave it to the last minute and really just help your child to prepare themselves the best way possible. It may not be perfect, but at least they know the journey/preparation has to start early for the big events/milestones like this.
What do you like to do as a family to bond?
We enjoy heading out to explore new places for food, for fun and very often it would involve some sport. For the past year, it’s been a lot of heading to the beach for some inline skating or cycling or skateboarding. It’s always great whenever we’re going out to do something fun together. It’s different when you’re staying home just watching television and I do try my best to avoid that. However in the evenings or late at night, when the weather is bad and we can’t head out, that’s usually one of our favourite things to do. We will normally agree on a show that everybody will enjoy watching.
How do you maintain a close relationship with each child?
I actually do make an effort to spend one on one time with each one of them, doing something they enjoy or simply just heading out to run errands together. It does require effort and setting aside time to do that but it’s always very rewarding and I find that it’s different from when we just head out together as a family. Having that personal time with each child is so different, it does make a difference in helping me understand and for them to open up to let me know what they’re going through. It doesn’t just build the bond but really the trust and I intend to do that for a long time coming, as long as they will let me.
What is your self-care routine?
My self-care routine includes always infusing myself with happy hormones, and that comes from exercise but I do a variety of it. From low intensity stretching in order to ease my body of aches and tightness, all the way to high intensity workouts that really get the happy hormones out and just melts away all the mental heaviness as well.
I also put on my headset and listen to soothing sounds, not music but sound bowls and sound therapy soundtracks. I usually play the apparatus myself for soundbaths but I do not get the opportunity to relax since I’m the player. So this really is one of my favourite ways to easily get into a state of meditation without putting much thought into it although I also do meditate and read a physical book. These are really things that help me to soothe my nerves, calm myself and take me into a good state.
My regular visits to the beach are also a favourite way of mine to take care of myself physically and mentally. Just being there, smelling the sea breeze and being outdoors helps me immensely, both physically and mentally!
I wish I had more time for… outdoor sports!
I always feel saner after…. a good workout!
As a mama I wish I were better at… helping my children with their various subjects and encouraging them to have more interest in all their subjects as well. Unfortunately I can’t, so I best leave it to their tutors.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about…. whether or not to use the pillow to smack my husband when he’s snoring.
My favourite moment of the day is… early in the morning when everything is just peaceful and quiet, and I have that time to myself to plan for the rest of my day and get my workout in.
Thank you so much Dawn – we really appreciate your openness, showing us the challenges you have had along the way and how you have overcome them.