Overseas Singaporean Meenyi Phua shares her parenting beliefs that kids should be free to explore, fail and fight their own battles, where she took mrbrown to eat in Madrid and more
Singaporean Meenyi Phua met her Spanish husband while in Shanghai and she says there was an instant connection. They now live in Madrid with their three children who speak English, Spanish, some Chinese and some French. Meenyi shares her lust for life, parenting tips, how she navigates work and kids, and why she is known to organize the occasional supper club to introduce Singaporean culture and food to those in Madrid!
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am 42 years old, a devoted and proud mother to three amazing human beings, a lucky wife to a husband of 13 blissful years. I have three children, 12-year-old Beltran, 11-year-old Mencia and nine-year-old Gadea. I was born in Singapore and have a supportive older brother and parents who instilled in me strong family values and work ethics to be the person I am today. I have been working with Reed Exhibitions for the last seven years, doing a job I truly love.
I have always been someone to wear my heart on my sleeves and am very appreciative of what I have in life especially with this horrendous pandemic that we are still fighting. A loving family, supportive friends, our health, jobs, a roof over our heads without having to worry about our next meal… can we really ask for more?
What brought you to Madrid, Spain? How long have you been living overseas?
My husband Juan is Spanish. We met when we were both working in Shanghai 16 years ago. Cliché as it sounds, we connected instantly and here we are! We then moved to Beijing where our three children were born. The next stop was Jakarta where we lived for three years after which we moved to Singapore for another three years – I had been living overseas for 15 years by then so we thoroughly enjoyed every moment in my home country. We moved to Madrid in December 2017.
Favourite aspect about living in Madrid?
It’s easy to access to the countryside just a few hours’ drive away – long family road trips and the endless blue skies.
And the worst part?
Graffiti-covered walls and dog poo on the pavements.
What are the current restrictions in Madrid due to Covid-19?
We have a curfew from 12 midnight till 6am. We also cannot gather in groups larger than six persons.
How have you and your family been coping in the midst of Covid-19?
We have been getting used to working from home. Kids were out of school for seven months but they have since been back.
How do you think parenting in Madrid differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
I don’t think parenting differs from country to country, rather I don’t think we have changed our parenting style based on where we live. We knew very early on when we became parents that we share very similar values. We try to adopt all that we love about how our parents raised us and reflect on parts that we didn’t like.
We decided that raising children with strong and decent values and character is so much more crucial than for them to achieve academic excellence. I strongly believe that kids should be free to explore and learn and fall and fail. They should fight their own battles. Of course, we are never far and whenever they need us, they know that we are right behind them.
We are quite chilled as parents and I feel more relaxed here in Madrid as most parents are also quite chilled. It was a little more stressful in Singapore, among Singaporean parents.
Did you give birth to your children in Madrid? If yes, what was memorable about the experience?
No I didn’t. I gave birth to them in Beijing.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I am someone who gives 150% when I do something and I have been lucky as I have always enjoyed my work. When I had my first, I went back to work after two months and hated not being a 100% at work nor at home so I resigned and became a stay at home mom (SAHM). I LOVED every single moment of the five years when I was a SAHM. I filled my days with play dates, activities for the little ones, did some volunteering and charity work, made some amazing friends, a number of which I still hold dear to my heart today. I will do it again in a heartbeat.
I went back to work when my youngest turned two. I had forgotten how to use Outlook and Excel. I cried hard when I had to travel for work. I didn’t sleep much, trying to be the mother who cooks every meal, bakes all the treats, plans every themed birthday party and holiday in maximum overdrive in spite of a very intense work schedule. But I have never been happier.
Of course there were moments when I had meltdowns in the last seven years but I remind myself that it is okay not to make the Halloween costumes, okay that they are watching more than two hours of tv on weekends, okay for the helper to make dinner sometimes, okay to desperately miss my children when I have to spend six weeks away from them for work and okay to want to do well at work and at home.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Madrid?
Top five places in or around Madrid you would recommend to parents travelling with kids and why.
Parque Juan Carlos I – Huge lawns perfect for picnics and parties and great for kids to run in, roll in the grass and just enjoy the great outdoors.
Parque de El Retiro – More central and more touristy, it is a lovely park with a lake. You can also rent little boats to go on the lake if you like.
Tapas bar hopping – My kids are major foodies so it is a great way to try a whole range of amazing Spanish food in small amounts. Casa Dani is a bar inside Mercadona de la Paz, one of the oldest traditional markets in the heart of Madrid. My mother-in-law and my husband used to come here to buy groceries decades back! Casa Dani has the BEST Spanish tortillas in town! Another tapas bar we love is La Castela, our go-to place for all our family and friends who come visit us in Madrid. I brought Lee Kin Mun aka mrbrown and his wife here when they visited Madrid. It has a very friendly crew, amazing food and atmosphere. You have to try the tuna belly, tomato and roasted pepper salad, creamy rice with octopus and squid as well as squid with onions!
Cercedilla – About a 45-minute drive away from Madrid lies a hiking haven. There are many hiking routes in Cercedilla, many of which are child-friendly, and the views are always stunning. I personally love this area in autumn, it is a great time to pick mushrooms and have a picnic. It is not overcrowded and the small town centre is charming. You can get maps and descriptions of the trails available with varying difficulty levels at the tourism office. It will be a good idea to choose one that best fits the group you are travelling with. Don’t forget to put on your hiking boots!
El Escorial – We love the great outdoors and in Madrid, we are spoilt with many nearby options out of the city for a lovely day out for the family. It’s great to head to El Escorial, a 16th-century complex created by King Philip II of Spain that is about 45 kilometres northwest of Madrid, for a day trip. We love enjoying tapas in the many little restaurant and bars in the old town.
Any advice for surviving a flight with young children?
RELAX! I think in general if parents are flustered, children become even more flustered. It helps with comfortable clothes, a toy that soothes them and some of their favourite snacks too. We are very lucky as our three kids have always travelled well and we have been flying with them since they were three months old.
Is there something that you do to keep your children in touch with their Singaporean roots?
I am a very patrotic Singaporean. I have organized supper clubs to introduce Singaporean culture and food here in Madrid. I often cook local hawker fare for the kids and we fly home almost every year and spend two months in Singapore.
We celebrate National Day at the Marina Barrage every year with the kids, standing up to recite the National Pledge and sing the National Anthem. We’ve missed going home this year but we watched the live coverage of the National Day Parade, even standing up in the middle of lunch to recite the National Pledge and sing the National Anthem with the rest of Singapore.
Best souvenir one could bring back from Madrid
– for a child:
– for a mama friend:
Jamón Ibérico and olive oil.
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
Not having the support of and access to the extended family back home and also raising biracial children.
On raising multilingual children …
Exposure! My children speak English, Spanish, some Chinese and some French. From birth, I speak to them in English, Juan speaks to them in Spanish and our nanny speaks to them in Chinese. We have a teacher who comes home to help them with Chinese. Without exposure, it is really hard to maintain the language.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your children?
60 kilogrammes of food! Curry leaves, laksa leaves, belachan, butterfly pea flowers, Ma Ling luncheon meat, Milo…
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family.
Chicken rice and oxtail stew.
What’s the one thing you would miss about Madrid if you moved away?
What is the first thing you do each time you come back to Singapore?
Go to a hawker centre after seeing my parents.
What do you dread most if you are moving back to Singapore?
How do you think Singaporeans can benefit from living overseas?
To be more appreciative of what we have back in Singapore.
Thank you for your time, Meenyi. Click here to read about other Overseas Mamas!