Singaporean mama Serene Ashley Chen tells us about living in London, UK with her British husband and three-year-old toddler Isabella
In our latest Overseas Mama series, Singaporean Serene Ashley Chen tells us about family life in London. Serene shares her favourite aspects of London life – admiring the beauty of historical buildings, the amazing parks, supermarkets, and restaurants. Plus Serene says she liked that the pace of life in London was more leisurely (compared to Singapore) with work being done by 5pm so they had a lot more family time. Read on for Serene’s interview.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m married to my husband Daryl and I’m mummy to Isabella, a bubbly three-year-old toddler. I’m also expecting my second baby.
What brought you to London, UK? How long have you been living overseas?
My husband is British. I moved to London after we got married in Singapore and lived there for over three years. We moved back to Singapore late last year after my dad had a health scare and it made me realise I wanted to be near my elderly parents.
Thankfully my husband was supportive and agreed to the move. Relocating back to London is on the cards in the future especially since my husband’s family is there and we do value certain aspects of London life.
Favourite aspect about living in London?
It’s hard to choose one! I loved the parks, the supermarkets, the abundance of quality cafes and restaurants, and the ease of online shopping.
And the worst part?
It’s got to be London’s infamous grey and gloomy weather. The perpetually cloudy skies and lack of sunshine made me a little pensive at times.
How do you think parenting in London differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
There was a lot more outdoor time. The cool weather was conducive to strolls in the park and in the city—just taking time to admire the beauty of historical buildings and the general architecture.
The pace of life in London was leisurely so we had a lot more family time. My husband and I were done with work by 5 p.m. We could go grocery shopping together, prepare dinner before retiring in front of the TV with our favourite snacks and drinks after our baby girl had gone to bed.
When Bella turned 13 months old, I started her at a home-based nursery near our place. We were very lucky that the nursery was outstanding in caring for Bella and engaged her in creative activities like sand play, water play, sensory play, art and craft, story time, and singing and dancing. The founder-carers genuinely loved Bella and treated her like family.
Did you give birth to your child in London? If yes, what was memorable about the experience?
I delivered her at St Mary’s Hospital in London. My pregnancy journey was very smooth, thanks to the care given to me by experienced and dedicated midwives. I never saw a gynaecologist till I was in labour.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
My former employer in London was supportive of family life so I was able to take a full year off for maternity leave. There was not much difference before and after having a baby for me career-wise. When I returned to Singapore, I felt the difference more starkly as the pace of life and work in Singapore is much faster compared to London.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in London?
We didn’t go to specific kid-friendly restaurants as places in London tend to be inclusive—you could bring your dog to most places.
Top five places in or around London you would recommend to parents travelling with kids.
The Regent’s Park – To feed the ducks!
Mayfield Lavender Farm – A must when lavender is in season.
Barnes – Great for its village vibes.
Hampstead Heath – For walks.
The Muffin Man – This tearoom off Kensington High Street has delicious scones, English breakfast, and sandwiches!
Is there something that you do to keep your child in touch with her Singaporean roots?
Food! We are lucky to have food like nonya kueh and chicken rice in London!
Best souvenir one could bring back from London
– for a child:
Julia Donaldson books.
– for a mama friend:
NEOM Organics relaxation products.
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
Sometimes it can feel lonely especially when you are away from your own parents. Finding a community where you can share your feelings and talk about things can help.
On raising multilingual children …
There’s no place to practise Mandarin really. I found myself forgetting Chinese words.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your child?
Snacks, sauces, spices, and dried goods to make Asian dishes!
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family.
My dad’s minced pork and potato dish. It goes so well with rice or plain congee.
What’s the one thing you would miss about London if you moved away?
The leisurely pace of life and the feeling of freedom you get from being in a place that’s bigger, more inclusive, and less focused on specific measures of success.
What is the first thing you do each time you come back to Singapore?
Eat local food!
What do you dread most if you are moving back to Singapore?
The weather and also the intense competitive culture we tend to experience around here.
How do you think Singaporeans can benefit from living overseas?
Experiencing a different way of life can expand your mind, sensibilities, and ability to appreciate inclusiveness and diversity.