Singaporean mama Lina Lie opens up about life in Texas. Lina talks about the unique way that she gave birth, what she loves most (that children have so much more freedom than in Singapore) and the challenges such as parenting without a support network and navigating the tensions around race in America
We interviewed Singaporean mama of two Line Lie about family life in Austin, Texas. Lina talks about her love for the huge amount of outdoor space where kids can run wild and free and the judgment-free parenting where homeschooling or unschooling is a common choice. Lina opens up about the challenge of living abroad without your family support system saying ‘Other than during my hospital stay where I delivered my second baby, I have not been away from my children for more than a night in the last four years since I’ve been a mother’. She also raves about how warm, welcoming and down-to-earth Texans are and the plethora of kid-friendly activities including wagon rides and strawberry picking at fruit farms. Read on to get a glimpse into her life and find out how she juggles her business as a Parent Coach while taking care of two young children.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Born and raised in Singapore, I’m the youngest of three children. My parents live in Indonesia and for most of my childhood, I was raised by my doting maternal grandparents, aunts, and uncles. I have close ties to my relatives and am grateful to have cousins whom I still have close relationships with, which in hindsight was probably because of the way I was raised.
I grew up in Ang Mo Kio, attended neighbourhood schools, and when I turned 16 after my General Certificate of Education (GCE) O-Level exam, my family sent me to Australia for high school and college. I did a year of high school in Melbourne, then college for the next four years before returning to Singapore with a degree in media and communications. After working in Singapore for a decade, I got a partial scholarship to pursue an MBA, moved to San Francisco, for graduate school and had the opportunity to work on client projects in Boston, USA and London, UK as part of my programme.
After graduation, I stayed on in California, worked as a marketing consultant and married my then-boyfriend. We now have two kids who are four years old and 19 months old. I now run a business called The Heartful Mama and have been coaching parents and caregivers as a certified parent coach since 2020.
What brought you to Austin, Texas, USA? How long have you been living overseas?
I moved to America in 2012 and spent most of my time in California, namely San Francisco and Los Angeles. Both my partner and I work remotely from home and have visited Austin a couple of times in the past for holidays. We like what we experienced in Austin and talked often about moving here someday.
So when we found out I was pregnant with our second child, Austin was a natural choice for us so we moved here in 2021. My husband is from Connecticut on the East Coast, and we wanted to explore living somewhere else in America that is family-friendly, diverse, and without harsh winters. As business owners, we also like that Texas has no state income tax and the cost of living in Texas is significantly lower than California’s.
Favourite aspect about living in Austin?
How down to earth and welcoming Texans are! People in the Southern United States are known for their Southern hospitality, kindness, and warmth, and we have found that to be very true. Since moving here, we have made amazing connections in our community, and I love how family-friendly the city is. There is always something to do with kids, and everyone we have met so far has been so wonderful and friendly. It has certainly made me miss my Californian lifestyle a little less.
And the worst part?
Summers here are brutal and every couple years, we have a winter freeze, which can cause power outages and frozen water pipes. We had a freeze earlier this year that resulted in a week of school closures. A lot of trees also fell and caused damages to cars, power lines, and houses.
How do you think parenting in Austin differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
Space! Having lived in America for a while now, I am appreciating space a lot more, which is a luxury in Singapore. There are also a lot of free and affordable family activities in Austin compared to Singapore. Because we have somewhat seasonal weather here, it is easier to be out in nature with the kids during the cooler months without feeling the humidity and heat like we do in Singapore.
There is a lot more freedom too in choosing how you want to raise your child. Homeschooling or unschooling is a common choice here in America, something that is harder for most families in Singapore to opt for.
There is also less emphasis on academic results in America, compared to Singapore, at least for the early years. I do think that there are more opportunities here in America for children to explore different interests, whereas in Singapore, it tends to be quite focused on academics. As a parent coach and educator, I am regularly updated on the resources we have here for the wider parent community, and it’s something that I have grown to really appreciate and value.
Did you give birth to your children in Austin? If yes, what was memorable about the experience?
My son was born in Los Angeles and my daughter in Austin. Both my children were delivered naturally in hospitals, although with my daughter, it was an induced delivery which intensified my contractions. We had planned a home birth for my second child and were not able to do so in the end because my amniotic fluids were very low a couple of days before my due date and both my midwife and gynaecologist strongly recommended that I get an induction.
It was a bit of a rush for us trying to figure out caregiving plans for my son because Covid-19 restrictions were still in place, and children were not allowed in hospitals then. Plus, we were still relatively new to Austin and did not have a lot of trusted friends that we could reach out to, so it was a bit stressful trying to figure things out. Thankfully, a couple of Singaporean mums I had met in our short time living here were willing to help care for my son while I was in the hospital.
My midwife became my doula at the hospital and tended to me throughout the birthing process. The most memorable part was when I ended up delivering my baby while standing and resting my upper body on the hospital bed to manage my contractions, not knowing she was about to come out! My midwife caught my baby’s head before she dropped on the ground. Thank God for that! The doctor on duty walked in right at that moment, confused at what she was seeing. It felt like a scene out of the movies, pretty unbelievable! It’s a story that is going to stay with me for my entire life.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
Pre-baby, I was a marketing consultant who worked freelance on different marketing projects. Because I visited Singapore every year, I did not want to be tied down to a job that limits my ability to travel. A few years after I graduated from my MBA programme, I started an e-commerce business selling matcha imported from Japan, mostly as a passion project.
After I had my first baby, I decided to close my e-commerce business because I was not able to manage that and be a full-time mum at the same time. My partner and I decided that I would stay home and be the primary caregiver to our baby. It is a choice that we are able to make as a family, and I do want to be with my baby as much as possible, especially during his first few years. On top of that, childcare in America is expensive, and we do not think it makes sense to send our baby to childcare when we prefer to care for him ourselves.
Being a stay-at-home mum (SAHM) with no readily-available family support was a challenge for me. I felt really isolated and was frustrated with the challenges of toddlerhood. I didn’t enjoy my motherhood as much as I thought I would. I eventually reached out for help and had a parent coach support me, which completely transformed my own parenting paradigm.
Parenthood was my biggest personal transformation. Inspired by what I have learned, I wanted to offer the same support to other parents and decided to get myself certified and trained as a parent coach, pivoting completely away from my past ambition of becoming a corporate executive.
I have since got myself certified as a Master Parent Coach with the Jai Institute for Parenting and a Positive Discipline Parent Educator with the Positive Discipline Association. Now, I run a business offering parent coaching services and parenting workshops to parents and caregivers across the world from Asia to North America. I was also one of the few parent coaches from Asia invited to collaborate on a book called The Peaceful Parenting (R)evolution: Changing the World by Changing How We Parent.
It is my heart’s mission to support more parents and caregivers who are struggling to raise their children respectfully and compassionately — without having to yell, punish or spank. There has been so much research done in the last decade about brain development, nervous system, and emotional intelligence that older generations do not have access to, and it is my goal as a parent coach to empower parents with this information and help them integrate this knowledge in their everyday parenting life, so they can be the parent that their child needs. I firmly believe that when we become a better us, we naturally become better parents to our children. Raising children is what I do, and I am deeply passionate and vested in my business.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Austin?
Austin is a very family-friendly city, and there are a lot of options when it comes to kid-friendly places. A couple of places we like are Easy Tiger, an Austin-owned beer garden and bakery with a few outlets in the city, and Central Market at North Lamar Boulevard, a one-stop shop where you can get groceries and food. There’s a big playground for kids with the occasional live music on weekends and certain weekday nights.
Top five places in or around Austin you would recommend to parents travelling with kids.
Sweet Eats Fruit Farm – There are plenty of things to do with kids at Sweet Eats Fruit Farm, located just 30 minutes north of Austin in Georgetown. Depending on the season, you can pick your own flowers, strawberries, pumpkins or get on the wagon ride, which is always a fun treat for kids. There is a petting zoo and unlimited pony rides, as well as pig races, apple cannons, pedal carts, and obstacle courses for children of all ages to get moving and busy. It’s a great spot to bring the kids out for a full day. Remember to pack your lunches and snacks, as they don’t really have a great selection of lunch options at the farm. My son loves to climb on the tire piles and slides and bounce on the jumping pad. Feeding the goats and rabbits is an all-time favourite activity for my kids. There is also a short trail to the river where you can try to practise those stone skipping skills, probably a fun sport for older kids.
Dinosaur Park – If you have young children who love dinosaurs as much as ours do, Dinosaur Park in nearby Cedar Creek is a must-go. It is an outdoor museum with life-sized replicas of dinosaurs. The trail to see the many different dinosaurs is relatively short and totally doable for preschoolers! The museum also offers fossil digs, and there are playgrounds and a picnic area. It’s a really fun place to hang out with the kids for a few hours.
Lady Bird Lake – There are a ton of activities you can do with kids here. Depending on how old your kids are, you can take a walk along the boardwalk trail and see the skyline of Austin or bike along the trail surrounding the lake. My little ones are relatively young, so we usually stick to just the boardwalk trail and watch kayakers on the lake. There are also kayaks, donut boats, and paddle boards you can rent to go on the lake on a sunny spring day. You can also get on a cruise to watch bats fly out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge at sunset between March and November every year. This is one uniquely Austin experience to have with the family!
Austin Nature & Science Center – Located in Austin’s most-loved park, Zilker Metropolitan Park, this is an outdoor oasis in the middle of Austin we love bringing our kids to! There are indoor and outdoor exhibits that teach children about the natural environment and engage their senses in a fun way that ignites their curiosity. There are also resident wildlife, dinosaur fossil digs for the little ones — can you tell we are into dinos? — and a nature reserve to explore. It’s a lot of fun, and you can easily spend half a day here.
Texas Capitol – If you want to learn more about Texas history or politics, take your children for a little family field trip to our state capitol. It is really impressive and in my opinion, a little more impressive than the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. as it is taller. You can join one of the free guided 30-minute tours or do your own self-guided tour. The building sits on a huge park, which is great for a picnic or for the kids to run around and get their wiggles out. Next to the Texas Capitol is the Texas Capitol Visitors Center. It is a fun place for children to explore as there are hands-on activities for them and many exhibits with photos, videos, and artefacts. This is also a good place for tourists to get free maps or ask for more information on what to do in Austin and around Texas. We’ve been here a few times now, and it’s always a good spot to bring the kids to.
Is there something that you do to keep your children in touch with their Singaporean roots?
We visit Singapore every year and stay for at least a month. As often as I can, I FaceTime once a week or so with my family, so my kids can recognise them. We also have some Singaporean families in the area, and we would sometimes organise get-togethers so our children can be familiar with Singlish and Singaporean dishes!
Best souvenir one could bring back from Austin:
– For a child:
A cowboy hat! Or books about Texas. You can also get a plush armadillo or a plush Texas Longhorn for the little ones. Both the armadillo and the Texas Longhorn are the state mammals of Texas.
– For a mama friend:
A cowboy hat for women or boots! Pecans, hot sauce, barbecue sauce are all local products produced in Texas. Texans take their barbecue seriously and you can even get some Texas barbecue to bring home.
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
There is so much to learn and unlearn! Learning how education works here like the school system and options that are available to you – it can be a lot. And not having extended family support to lean on during times when you need childcare help can be challenging. Other than during my hospital stay where I delivered my second baby, I have not been away from my children for more than a night in the last four years since I’ve been a mother.
My partner is American, and I’ve found myself relying heavily on him for information on how things are done here and advice on life in America. We are a minority family, so learning about race issues and how they impact us as a non-White family is something I am intentionally mindful of, especially given the tensions around race we have here in America.
I am also active on a number of Facebook groups that discuss parenting in America. It has been a wonderful resource for me in terms of getting relevant information and advice on raising children here, as well as exploring a path that is aligned with our own family values.
On raising multilingual children…
I am the only Mandarin-speaking member in our household, so trying to teach our children Mandarin has been a big challenge. Our children go to an English-speaking daycare/preschool part-time and without additional support, it has unfortunately been a bit of an uphill climb for us to teach our kids a second language. They know a few words here and there, and that’s about it. We are still looking into enrolling our kids in a Mandarin class in the Austin area, but it is not really a priority at the moment.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your children?
Meal sauce kits, kaya jams, local snacks that are not available in America (I miss my chilli tapioca chips!), bottled sambals, etc. We always bring gifts for family and friends when we visit Singapore, and will fill up the empty space in our baggage with Singaporean goodies before returning stateside.
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family.
Teriyaki chicken or ground pork with steamed rice and broccoli. My son is an extremely picky eater, and these are among the very few dishes he is willing and able to eat without gagging.
What’s the one thing you would miss about Austin if you moved away?
The parks and the friends we have made here. There is a lot of greenery and beautiful lakes to explore, and this is something I am appreciating a lot about Austin. I think I would also miss the mummy friends I have made in our short time living here. If we have to move away, I would definitely miss hanging out with these gorgeous mothers and their little ones!
What is the first thing you do each time you come back to Singapore?
Give a tight hug to my mum and go to our nearby hawker centre for my bak chor mee and kopi c-kosong!
What do you dread most if you are moving back to Singapore?
The lack of work-life balance and the pressure of keeping up. Every time we visit Singapore, I am reminded how little of a childhood children have. The number of tuition centres I have seen just in my neighbourhood in Singapore is shocking! There is a strong fear of falling behind in a very competitive society, and it’s this fear that drives parents to send their young kids to tuition centres and academics-focused extracurricular activities.
The pressure cooker lifestyle in Singapore is almost scary, and I dread being a part of that. I remember when I was working in Singapore a decade ago, I worked until 2 a.m. and would come back to work the next day at 9 a.m. I would also bring my work home over the weekends. I definitely do not miss the long hours, and I still see this happening to my family and friends in Singapore. Oh, and I definitely do not look forward to the humidity and heat in Singapore.
Thoughts on your children moving back and joining Singapore’s education system?
Both my partner and I do not resonate with the traditional education system we were both raised in. With Singapore being a small country with limited resources in education, we are hesitant to put our children in an environment where academics tend to be the primary focus. Unless something significant happens in our lives, we do not see ourselves raising our children for the long term in Singapore. And if we do have to move to Singapore, we will probably find a solution that has some elements of homeschooling for our kids.
How do you think Singaporeans can benefit from living overseas?
I lived overseas first as a teenager and had to learn how to pay my own bills, clean my own room, rotate cooking duties with my housemates, learn how to drive, etc. Living overseas broadens your mind. It challenges you to see things from a different perspective. Without the familiar comforts of your lifestyle in Singapore, you learn things fairly quickly. Immersing myself in a culture different from my own has humbled me, and it has also taught me to advocate for my own needs and question why certain things are done in a different way than what I am used to. I do think that living overseas forces you to adapt and develop resilience — overall pretty good traits to have in our world today.
My partner and I love adventure, and we travel often as a family. We do want to move again at some point with our kids, so they get to experience a different culture and a different way of life for themselves. If you have an opportunity to live abroad, no matter how short the opportunity is, do it!