Overseas Singaporean Mama Evelyn Tan shares how life in Acworth, Georgia differs from Singapore and how she teaches her kids about their Singaporean heritage
Today we chat with marketing guru-turned-SAHM Evelyn Tan. After over two decades of working in the corporate world, her husband’s job took them to the USA and the rest was history. Evelyn shares what life has been like raising three adorable kiddos in Acworth, Georgia and how she aims to strike a balance between the American and Singaporean parenting styles.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am 42 this year and I stopped working six years ago to be a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM), the same time I relocated to America with my Singaporean husband. We have three kids – Evette, Rayner and Rylen. I am someone who enjoys exploring things, people and places. I don’t think I am sporty even though I try to keep fit by exercising once a week. I love bringing people together and socialising. Like what people say, being a parent changes you and your priorities shift. My closest friends have remarked how I have mellowed from my ah lian days (a Hokkien term for young, sometimes foulmouthed Chinese women) to become someone maternal and nurturing.
I am a Christian and I believe in God always coming through for me and my family. I was given the faith and strength to overcome challenges and I am thankful to be wonderfully blessed and grateful to have not endured hardships that are beyond me. At this moment in my life, I do feel a sense of contentment, but I yearn to do more, I guess to leave a legacy and be more purposeful.
I think I spend too much time on Facebook but I guess it is a form of escapism where I relax from the hustle and bustle of running a home with three kids. My 5.5-year-old goes to kindergarten and I wake up at 6:30am everyday. My 4-year-old goes to preschool only twice a week and so demands a lot of attention for the remaining three days he is at home. I hardly have any time left to spend with my 2-year-old that the guilt gnaws at me. Despite what people say, life does not get easier with the kids in school. I’m actually busier because in addition to cooking for the family and my daily chores, the kids all have different schedules that overlap.
What brought you to Acworth, Georgia, USA? How long have you been living overseas?
We relocated to America in March 2014 to Austin, Texas for my husband’s job when I was in my third trimester with our first child. Subsequently, we moved to Acworth, Georgia in August 2019 again due to his job. We have been here for six years now. Time sure flies! Ronnie is all too familiar with Georgia because he had studied at the University of Georgia. His best friends are here, so is his family – a Singaporean uncle and an American aunt.
Favourite aspect about living in Acworth?
Houses are bigger, more beautiful and cheaper here compared to Austin. Since moving into our house last October, I guess I haven’t been out much as it takes time to settle into a new state and house! Life in America, as every foreigner would say, is definitely slower-paced and more relaxed than in Singapore. We don’t fuss over every little detail at work like we do in Singapore which can be a little too much sometimes.
And the worst part?
When people are not so warm or friendly because of the big city mentality. Austinites are nicer, warmer people and they bother to get to know you. Here, people are rushing everywhere and even the traffic is rushed. Being in a bigger city, traffic is heavier and since places are more spread out, it means more driving. I just told my friend the other day that I go out much lesser here than in Austin but we actually get gas more frequently.
Your most recent purchase
… for your children?
For my daughter, she is at the stage of wanting to wear pretty dresses so I got her a princess dress and heels that she has been asking for a while. She wears them at home and it brings a smile to my face to see her live every little girl’s dream. For my second kid, my husband bought him an Atlanta Hawks T-shirt. I am not into sports at all and I can’t differentiate baseball from football but sports is huge in America and I appreciate my husband making sports fans in our kids. For my youngest, a Penguin roller coaster toy. This is a toy that makes me reminisce my childhood because it was my favourite toy that my dad had bought me and I am glad to see my children enjoy this toy as much as I did. Rylen loves the three penguins and he chose the red one for himself.
Wow, I had to think really hard. Being a SAHM, I really have no need for pretty things. I don’t deprive myself but I am certainly more selective now. I recently bought a lovely baby blue dress that comes with little pom poms. It might make me look bulky because of the heavy material but I like it a lot. I haven’t washed it yet and it is still hanging in my closet, waiting for spring or a special occasion.
How do you think parenting in Acworth differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
Americans allow children to talk and listen to them more. They engage in more conversations as a family and accord more respect to children. Well, in Asian culture, we are harsher and stricter. I am most certainly still this way but I tend to be softer on them compared to my husband. I spend more time with them, I know their hearts that’s why I am able to be more understanding. My husband and I agree that while we have different parenting viewpoints, we both have similar methods, I look at the heart and intentions whereas he looks at results. Take, for instance, if our children spill water when they walk to the dining table. I will be okay with that as it is only water. My husband however would get annoyed by their clumsiness.
I hope I manage to strike a good balance by picking out the good parts from American and Singaporean parenting. I personally think there is so much crime in America because it stems from a lack of restraint from young. Too much freedom for young minds that cannot process freedom within their scope, they just end up falling off the radar.
I know my competitive nature may have rubbed off on my eldest so I need to watch myself too. Wanting to excel is not a bad thing but be kind to yourself even if you don’t come up on top. Also, I love the fact that Americans allow children to ‘roll in the mud’. There’s a good amount of outdoor play and fun and running around for children, which is important and lacking in Singapore. In Singapore, every academic task has to have a purpose or a goal.
One thing I am in two minds about is spelling. I was shocked to learn that schools allow children to make mistakes in spelling and that the teachers do not correct the mistakes. So kids learn to spell by the sounds, which is great. It teaches them self-reliance and common sense. But I have seen adults who are unable to write legibly or spell correctly. That is why I always correct Evette’s spelling mistakes whenever she brings home her schoolwork.
Did you give birth to your children in the US? If yes, what was memorable about the experience?
All three of my kids were born in Austin. Contrary to what my friend in Austin experienced, I was thankful I had a good experience. The delivery and postpartum rooms were private and nurses professional, helpful and caring. I opted for an epidural with my first two kids and I would have as well with my youngest except that there was no time for it. What was memorable was that my water broke when I sat on a low step-stool to feed my older kids. We waited for a bit before calling the hospital. I was told to get admitted. At 10pm, I had to call a friend to come to my place and stay the night to look after my two older kids.
At the hospital, I was induced and the labour pain was fast and furious. My doctor could only come in at 8am and I think I had Rylen at 6am. I was in so much pain that when the nurse insisted that I sit up for the epidural, I couldn’t and I felt the baby push his way out. I then shouted, “The baby is coming out!” and the nurse yelled for me to lie back on the bed but I couldn’t and the next moment, the baby was born. The nurse pushed me onto the bed and used her bare hands to quickly carry the baby onto the bed before realising she hadn’t had her gloves on so she immediately slammed on the emergency button, calling for the doctor and other nurses. Can you imagine the drama? All this time, they had an intern attached to my room and she had a horrified look on her pale face and was frozen in a corner the whole time. She told me the next day she couldn’t eat nor sleep well and she probably didn’t want to have any babies! I am glad at least she had a wonderful internship story to tell.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I am thankful that I had great jobs and had good mentors during the time when I worked full-time. Pre-baby, I had seven jobs in 22 years, 16 of which were in marketing. I worked so hard, it was scary. I started off as an accounts assistant in Singapore Press Holdings and then worked as a media buyer/planner in an ad agency. I later forayed into the client side, working for brands such as Fraser & Neave, Kao and Citigems. My longest stint was with Citigems, lasting almost six years, and I worked right up to when I relocated to Austin, pregnant in my third trimester with my first.
Since we relocated to America, I haven’t had a full-time job. I have to take care of my kids and I had a baby every two years, so how could I? However, I am thankful for the chance to have worked as a part-time ad-hoc childcare worker in my church and with boutique gym Barre3. My Singaporean friend in Austin also employed me as a part-time marketing analyst for her home business. Marketing jobs are hard to come by and even if they did, they are so competitive and my skills are limited and now obsolete. I have to be resigned to the fact that I might have to start a career in a different field when I rejoin the workforce eventually.
All in all, it really is very humbling to earn US$10/ hour here and look back to see that I was earning good money in Singapore and had good benefits. Despite this, it is good that these jobs I had were ad-hoc, part-time and allowed me to bring my kids to work. Sometimes, we joke that I was being paid to look after my own kids! My only gripe is that I wish I could have more savings. I am thankful to my husband, Ronnie, for the opportunity to be a SAHM. We are not rich-rich but thankful to be not hurting for money. He would love for me to rejoin the workforce in the future because we need to save for the kids’ education. Contrary to what people think, going to college in the US is expensive even with a scholarship!
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Acworth?
It is not particularly unique but Chick-fil-A is our all-time favourite. This restaurant chain has high cleanliness and quality standards and yummy chicken! The kids especially love the indoor playground even if it gets pretty crowded at times.
Top five places in or around Acworth you would recommend to parents travelling with kids and why.
Tallulah Falls – Families will enjoy the beautiful outdoors and these gorgeous waterfalls located about two hours by car from Acworth. The hike is easy but not stroller-friendly.
Helen – Helen is a quaint and cute Bavarian-style town 30 minutes away from Tallulah Falls that both adults and children will enjoy. It is touristy but prices are affordable. You can also sign up for a mystery picnic experience there so you can explore the town via a treasure hunt that ends with a picnic of food items you had collected from different shops. This should be fun with kids.
Glamping – I’ve always wanted to experience camping but my husband insists that I will bail out at the last minute because I would not be able to withstand the ‘hardship’. I have an inkling that he might be right so I think I would probably try out glamping instead – perhaps with my daughter on a mommy-daughter trip. I would go with Georgia Glamping Company because it is started by a mum. They have three glamping locations in Georgia not too far from Acworth.
Tellus Science Museum – Just a 30-min car ride away in Cartersville, I would highly recommend going to this interesting museum. We would need to go back again because we didn’t have time do and see everything the last time round. I recommend watching the films Ad Astra and Ford v. Ferrari prior to visiting the museum so that the kids can relate more to what they see there. Best if you have at least four hours so you don’t have to rush. There is a cafe but you can also bring your own food for a picnic in the field outside the museum. You will have to leave the food in your car as they don’t allow people to bring food into the museum. Merchandise is reasonably priced, too.
World of Coca-Cola – Coca-Cola is from Atlanta, about 30 minutes by car from Acworth, and this is the world’s only museum dedicated to Coca-Cola. My mom truly enjoyed it!
Any advice for surviving a flight with young children?
My eldest is used to flying. As long as she has her headphones, she’s all good. She’s independent and doesn’t give trouble. But honestly, children can act up anytime. It is a 30-hour journey for us to reach Singapore. Even adults can get somewhat restless, what more kids? My second kid has never gotten used to sleeping upright, not even in his car seat. He would jolt suddenly and start to scream. We just have to deal with it.
I once had a dad with young kids who was flying by himself tell me it was a relief that my children were well-behaved. Passengers undoubtedly get frustrated or annoyed when they see children on board. I think it’s their right to want a relaxing time but it is also an extension of kindness to be understanding.
I suppose people are more empathetic when they see us make an effort to calm our kids down. I also had my fair share of people offering to help. Before becoming a mother, I also rolled my eyes at parents with kids, now I know how that feels. Bring headphones for the kids, snacks (lots of it) and give the kids access to in-flight entertainment. It also helps if the parents take turns to eat. My final advice? Just roll with it.
Is there something that you do to keep your children in touch with their Singaporean roots?
It is probably easier for us to keep our children in touch with their Singaporean roots because both my husband and I are Singaporeans. We do a weekly family video call. We also use Marco Polo, a great app that lets us record videos. We can watch the videos and reply whenever we are free. We read books on Singaporean heritage and traditions. I intend to buy more books by Singaporean authors when I am back in Singapore next. During Chinese New Year, we watch Singaporean CNY programs, put up decorations and keep up with traditions like displaying oranges, giving angpows, having steamboat dinners and wearing CNY clothes. We also finally did house visits this year with friends who also celebrate the festival.
I tell my kids stories of my childhood, about places I went to, things I did and things that happened. They love it! We travel back to Singapore annually or whenever our budget allows it. We also get their grandmothers to come visit for a few months at a time. I’ve incorporated a mishmash of languages at home – English, Singlish, Chinese and Hokkien.
Best souvenir one could bring back from Acworth
– for a child:
Atlanta Braves, Georgia Bulldogs or Atlanta Hawks merchandise.
– for a mama friend:
Pralines and honey. My husband loves pralines. Get them from River Street Sweets in Atlanta. I like Savannah Bee Company’s lavender honey and tupelo honey. They have whipped honey that you can use as a spread!
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
There is no family to help you and everybody has to rely on childcare but we’ve learnt to manage and have become more independent. The advantage is we have cars here, I cannot imagine being a SAHM in Singapore with three young kids on public transport. I am thankful that with each of my three kids, I had confinement help. Relatives and family have flown in from Singapore to stay with us for one to six months each time! My mother-in-law and mother are respectively in their late 60s and 70s yet they love us enough to take the 30-hour journey each way to come help us and spend time with us. Compared to my American friends, they don’t have family to help them out during the postpartum period, even if they are all in the same country.
On raising multilingual children…
I have Chinese friends here that speak solely in Chinese at home and their kids are fluent but they refuse to speak it outside of home, not even to their Chinese peers. My husband and I speak to each other in Chinese and English so I guess the kids hear Chinese a lot at home. I have Chinese books and videos for the kids but don’t enforce Chinese learning enough because I am too lazy. We probably should!
What is the first thing you do each time you come back to Singapore?
Binge on hawker foods and catch up with family and friends.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your children?
Gem biscuits, cheongsams and other CNY clothes for the kids (which my friends here envy), sambal belacan packs from Sheng Siong, sugar peanuts, instant kuay chap that my mom introduced to me, canned Pacific clams (don’t understand why they don’t sell them here), my mom’s delicious CNY pineapple tarts and kueh lapis. Oh, also curry powder that my mom gets from the Indian stall at her wet market, where you can customise the level of spiciness.
Your top makeup tip for a busy mama?
Curl your eyelashes! They wake your face up instantly! Also eye shadow, lipstick and foundation. I discovered a five-minute permanent hair dye from Revlon a year ago and I never looked back. So great for busy moms!
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family.
Tau yu bak! I cook eight eggs in my instant pot – they are so easy to peel too. Then I cooked tau yu bak in the instant pot as well! Easy-peasy and everyone always enjoys it. I use my mom’s recipe although I have improvised and included some short cuts over the years.
How have you and your family been coping in the midst of Covid-19?
Virtual learning is challenging because both my husband and I work but thankfully, there are now virtual learning pods that you can sign children up for where they can follow their schools’ virtual learning programmes with supervision. We will have to spend more money but other than that, we are fine. It was more difficult in the initial stages when Covid-19 was new and people were more wary.
What are the current restrictions in Acworth due to Covid-19?
Masks and social distancing are required inside most stores, in school buses and in the classroom. To be honest, life seems to be mostly normal. People are going out and I do see more people who don’t don masks these days.
What’s the one thing you would miss about Acworth if you moved away?
The houses? They are so beautiful! I love the trees, it is like a mini forest in my own backyard! There are so many tall and healthy trees here, something we don’t see a lot in Singapore.
What do you dread most if you are moving back to Singapore?
Many things actually! Car prices. My husband and I would have to work very hard just to own a decent car in Singapore. Here we could own a jeep and a minivan even on a single income. The housing market in Georgia is one of the best in America, so I have heard from American friends. Houses are well-priced and good-sized with great schools in the vicinity. In Singapore, we would only be able to afford a Housing Development Board (HDB) flat. I find it harder and harder to get used to the weather in Singapore each time I’m home. Also I’m not keen on the rat race pace and quality of life in Singapore. Even the people, these days I find Singaporeans more self-centered and less kind? Our mothers would love for us to move back home and this is a sensitive topic because I don’t think we will. Life is more relaxed here!
How do you think Singaporeans can benefit from living overseas?
Singaporeans can learn to slow down, appreciate nature and enjoy a better quality of life without the hustle and bustle. We can also have the best of both worlds when it comes to education (rote learning and conceptual learning) and parenting.