This month’s ‘That Mama’ is mother of two and Twitter Managing Director Maya Hari
Work-life balance is a frequent topic that comes up during our monthly That Mama interview, and this month’s is no exception: Maya Hari heads up Twitter’s Asia Pacific operations, a demanding role that requires frequent travel and long hours in the office. With a husband who’s also an exec in the tech sector, she’s the first to admit that it’s taken her a while to find the right balance and still be present for her two kids, Antara, 10 and Nikhil, 5. But she’s also unapologetic about the dedication she’s put into her career (which has surely paid off!), and offers some terrific advice on the importance of teamwork and cooperation with one’s partner, carving out ‘me-time’, and discovering your passion. She also offers some fab social media pro-tips; whether you want to build more of your own “brand” on social media, or you’re concerned about how to keep your kiddos safe, read on for some excellent expert advice!
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?
I grew up in India and have always been a city girl. After having enjoyed a nomadic life through my 20s and early 30s, living in the U.S., France, Singapore and India, I finally laid down roots in Singapore 5 years ago.
I grew up being taught to be an independent person from a very young age. I always imagined having a career. I have worked in technology and lifestyle media, and currently lead Twitter’s Asia Pacific business as Managing Director, APAC.
I first met my husband in undergraduate school, when we were classmates studying engineering in Mumbai. We have been best friends ever since and have been together as a couple for over 20 years. We got married along the way and had two kids Antara (10) and Nikhil (5).
We moved to Singapore five years ago and are now permanent residents. We recently bought a place as the ultimate sign of us graduating out of our nomadic ways of life.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
My career has been a constant both pre- and post-baby. I always knew with conviction that I would go back to work after maternity leave. My career has always been a strong part of my identity and I appreciated the clarity in my mind. That said, by no means was it easy to leave my 4.5-month-old to go back to work.
Most of all, I have been blessed to have a husband who is an equal and incredibly supportive partner in life. He is a successful leader in the digital industry, too. From doing our taxes to changing diapers to cooking dinners, we have always been a true 50-50 couple. His equal participation in our life has been essential reality that has held together my career, especially post-baby.
How did you get back into the swing of things after having kids?
After having kids, I poured myself into trying to achieve as much balance as I could between home and work – succeeding sometimes and failing sometimes, too.
I took a lot of night flights when I needed to travel for work so the kids miss me less (thank God I can sleep on planes!). I increasingly got organized with planning out weekly meals, balancing activities for the kids between weekdays and weekends.
I also started to realize that certain types of schools and support systems work better for us given two demanding careers in our household; for instance, schools that sent circulars and homework via email, or doctors who responded to texts, even nannies / helpers who can text & email if needed.
This way, I coped with staying on top of kids life while having to multi-task at meetings at work.
How do you maintain an identity separate from your children?
Work had always been a big part of my identity in life. I had to adjust to striking a balance between being a mom and my work identity.
For the first five years of being a mom, I had no identity outside of these two. I had no time left for me, and I neglected creating an identity outside of work and kids. My husband and I also had to work hard to create a new equation for us, given the demands of the day.
More recently, I have had more success in creating time for myself with reading, urban farming and art. I feel much more balanced now and yearn to keep this going.
How has having children changed the way you define work?
Children force me to make choices that I never had to before. Take the child to the doctor, or attend an “important” meeting? Seeing how dependent the kids are on me and my husband, and how much comfort they get from my being there, suddenly put into perspective what is really important in life.
It’s liberating. My kids have gotten me to be much more balanced and patient both in life and at work.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
Time has become the most precious and most scarce thing in our lives. To cope and save time, I try to get organized as best as I can. From shopping for most things I need online to calendaring the family’’s meals for the entire week ahead on Sunday to maintaining a Google Spreadsheet to track our work travel between my husband and I (so we don’t end up traveling at the same time) -all tactics come to become essentials in my household.
I wish I had more time for…
My garden. Since buying our place a couple of years ago, I discovered a new passion for gardening and urban farming. Every possible opening in our balconies and rooftop is covered with plants. My newest passion is to try and gradually make us self-sufficient with certain vegetables . I’ve had some luck with spinach, okra and cucumbers. I still have a long way to go in the #GrowYourOwnFood journey. I wish I had more time for it.
I always feel saner after….
A good workout. I spend 3-4 days a week working out at home for about 45 mins in the day. I mix jump rope, HIT exercises and Yoga. Nothing leaves me feeling sane like a workout does!
What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?
I live in Novena near Balestier Road. It was important to me to find a place that had a good balance between local and expat neighbourhood. It is a quiet neighbourhood with lots of green all around and lovely Burmese Buddhist temples around. We discovered recently that Novena used to be Little Burma in Singapore. I like walking around the neighbourhood, most things are a convenient short walk away.
Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?
Singapore has such lovely parks and trails. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Labrador Park and MacRitchie Reservoir Park are a few places I love taking the kids to over the weekend. Given half a chance, we are a family that will make our way to hiking trail.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurants in Singapore?
The two restaurants my kids love going to are Margarita’s in Dempsey and Pasta Fresca De Salvatore in Bukit Timah. Both restaurants are kid-friendly and the food never disappoints.
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
Thailand holds a special place in our family as our favourite holiday country. Be it Koh Samui, Phuket, or Krabi, we can never go wrong there. From great food to lovely culture and gorgeous beaches, we have everything we seek out in a holiday spot there.
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
My husband and I are constantly trying to do interesting date night activities. We go clubbing once every few months. We do late night movies and find nice walking trails with great views for night time walks.
We always plan our dates after the kids go to sleep — being in Singapore and having help at home is a blessing for this plan.
We will often plan post-dinner drinks with other couples, leaving us relaxed and guilt-free enjoying cool Singapore night outs after dinner with the kids and putting them to bed.
Favourite date night restaurants?
Here are some I have really liked that make fabulous date night restaurants:
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.
The most important thing is for new mamas to ask their partner for help. Never assume they know exactly what you are going through. It doesn’t hurt to explicitly ask for help and participation.
With your social media expertise, what advice do you have for mamas who want to develop their ‘brand’ or persona on social media?
Before someone even meets you, they knows about you through social media. It is a great connector. It is also the new first impression.
For those,keen to build a brand or a persona on social media, think about what role different social platforms would play for you in this journey.
Second, what is authentically you? What would represent you on these platforms in a genuine fashion? Genuine always resonates well.
Lastly, try experimenting with a few different styles of social posts (sharing links vs sharing experiences, photos and videos). You will soon know what resonates well with audiences while still keeping the authenticity of you. And you will find your rhythm.
Here is how I use social media:
I use different social mediums very differently. On Twitter, I focus on sharing opinions and news on topics I care about (Technology, innovation, travel and fashion / pop culture trends). I actively avoid posting a lot of personal photos of the kids or my family there.
On LinkedIn, I share updates and write opinion pieces that drive me — from Management culture, to women in leadership to tech and innovation.
On Instagram, I share all visual delights surrounding me, from travel to gardening to fashion and food. This is a more personal insight into me but yet
I remain private with my kids’ photos. I do use Facebook only very rarely these days. I organize events via Facebook and share the occasional kids and vacation pictures for friends and family living far away to see.
Anything to watch out for or avoid with social media?
I would watch out for over-sharing; whether it is baby pictures or food pictures or news articles. Find the balance of keeping your connections interested and engaged without feeling like their feed is 90% full of your content.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Being more plugged into details of my kids’ school activities. While I try and volunteer and participate from time to time, I wish I could be more consistently involved.
What’s your favourite family ritual?
Always sitting down to dinner together at the table. We try our best to never miss this. After dinner, before the kids go to bed, my husband or I, depending on who is putting them to sleep that night, will tell the kids a story. The idea is to make up a story. The kids get to pick their characters and leave the rest to us. Originally my husband’s brainchild, we transform to creative storytellers every night.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
Being judged by colleagues or family or friends.
My favourite moment of the day is…
Spending time together as a family watching the sunset from our living room. We remark about the colour of the sky, the clouds being dense or scarce, and how the sunset looks different today versus yesterday. If we are lucky, there is a nice breeze in the mix. It feels magical and special to share this as the four of us.
Thank you so much, Maya! And a massive thank you to the oh-so talented Irina Nilsson Photography for the gorgeous snaps of Maya, her kids, and their lovely home!