From helper appreciation to preschool open houses and burpees with Kayla Itsines, Senior Editor Kate McFarlane reflects on parenting in Singapore and bids farewell…
Almost exactly six years ago I was sitting at home one night, like so many mamas, with a young baby, and dreading returning to work. There was one week left in my maternity leave before I had to start pumping in earnest at the office (I was greatly relieved that I at least worked with all women), and go hours at a time without seeing my 3-month-old daughter. I’m not sure I’d ever felt so sad (and indeed that first day back at the office was every bit as brutal as my Mom and all my friends had warned it would be).
Making a mental note that I’d have to pay more attention to baby-friendly activities to share with my helper, I started following Sassy Mama’s Facebook page. That’s when I noticed a post mentioning they were looking for an Editor. It was a full-time gig, but offered flexibility and – the holy grail for mamas with young babies – the ability to work from home!
I quickly dashed off an email to Sassy’s founder, Hester, with a link to my blog and some of my past news clips, and went to bed without giving it too much thought. To my surprise I awoke the next morning with an email from Hester asking if we could meet for a coffee.
I try to discourage clichés as an editor but – what the heck, it’s my last day! – the rest, as they say, is history.
On my first day back from maternity leave I ended up giving my one-month’s notice (I’ll forever be grateful to my boss at the time, a father of two, for graciously understanding and saying, I’d do the same thing in your position), and I joined the Sassy Mama team in October 2014. My first article was an interview with myself.
As I’ve reflected on the events that led up to my hiring, and indeed as I’ve spent the last six years knee-deep in all things motherhood, I just keep coming back to the same conclusion: I am so damn lucky.
Lucky to have had supportive bosses and awesome co-workers.
Lucky to be able to work from home while nursing two babies.
Lucky to have a trusting relationship with our amazing helper, Leylani (and so lucky she’s a part of our lives in the first place).
Lucky to have had a front-row seat to so much of what makes Singapore a wonderful place for kids and families, from indoor playgrounds and gorgeous parks, to world-class children’s theatre, to fantastic restaurants, to an outstanding education system from preschool on up.
In fact, while I have bittersweet feelings about leaving Sassy Mama, I think it’s my daughter Maggie (now 6) who’s the saddest. Can we still go to Jewel? Can we still go to Buds? Can we still go see theatre shows?
Yes, I told her with a laugh, we can still go do all those fun things, we’ll just have to pay more now. Who could blame her for wondering? After all, Sassy Mama is all she’s ever known.
Over the years, I often joked that if we wanted to maximize traffic we should change the name of the site to “Playgrounds & other stuff,” but in all honesty, it’s all that other stuff that I’ll remember most fondly.
I learned SO much about Respectful Parenting and how I hope to raise my children through invaluable contributions from Chapter Zero Singapore and Respectful Mom. I got to read about hundreds of inspiring teachers and students at schools across Singapore (and can tell you the difference between Reggio-Emilia and Montessori and Waldorf and Multiple Intelligences and Habits of Mind and IB and PYP and IGCSE and IPC…I could go on, but I’m nearly out of breath).
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I got to do burpees with Kayla Itsines (not just a career highlight, but a life highlight). I got parenting advice from the Tiger Mom, and asked Cesar Millan how to help my dog’s barking problem. I got to totally dork out writing a Game of Thrones quiz that tied into motherhood (I still stan for Dany). I got to try all manner of delicious brunches and stay in amazing hotels, and my super-lucky kids got first crack at exploring new indoor playgrounds (some of which have since closed…the serious business of play in Singapore is no joke).
I loved watching my daughter’s eyes light up when she attended her very first play, The Three Little Pigs, at SRT’s The Little Company, and I got to feel my heart swell with pride when we crossed the finish line together at last year’s Great Eastern Women’s Run (here’s hoping it will come back in 2021!).
Whether writing about childbirth, or breastfeeding, or helpers, or women-owned businesses, or any of our incredible That Mamas (by my account I interviewed more than 50 over the years!), I found myself arriving at the same conclusion again and again: being a mother is damn hard, man. And also: females are strong as hell. All that emotional labor and so many of our choices – whether or not to work (if you’re lucky enough to even have that choice); what to feed our kids; what to let them watch (or not watch); where to send them to school (and at what age) – feel so fraught and subject to harsh judgement that men simply don’t experience.
Through the years I wrote (and read) frequently about the value of empathy and gratitude; perhaps my biggest takeaway from this job is that we need to be kind to one another and to ourselves, that we need to be open-minded and respectful of others’ choices – even when they’re different from our own – because we are all doing our best to raise our children with love, in a way that works for our families.
No one looks at your child and knows whether they were born naturally or via C-section — I actually couldn’t tell you how most of my friends gave birth. If people meet your kids, they certainly can’t tell whether they were breastfed or formula-fed (in fact your kids probably don’t know, either!). What people will notice is if your kids are kind, and funny, and good listeners.
My 6-year journey with Sassy Mama has basically run parallel to my own parenting journey, which makes the open road ahead all that much scarier! But just as it takes a village to raise a child, so it’s taken a veritable army to make Sassy Mama the amazing site that it’s grown into since launching in 2013.
I will forever be indebted to our founders, Hester and Maura; to our Managing Director, Emilie; to Dervla Louli; to all of my Marketing and Partnerships colleagues; and to our badass Editorial team, in particular Beate and my right-hand woman, Syaz, who’s been picking up my slack since she was a wise-beyond-her-years 21-year-old fresh out of uni and is now a seasoned mama herself (sniff, sniff!). On paper we’re as different as can be; who would’ve thought a mutual love for Billy Porter, silly gifs, and Twitter feuds could form the foundation of what I hope will be a lifelong friendship?
Thank you also to my gracious husband, who’s always (well, usually) waited patiently for me to snap shots for the ‘gram, and to my children and helper who have been guinea pigs and sounding boards and photo subjects and everything in between.
Another huge shoutout to all the brilliant photographers who’ve worked on That Mama, The Bump, and various events. Irina, Kerry, Gunilla, Hart, Sabrina, Michell & Littleones: thank you for helping make our site as gorgeous as it is, and for your patience and generosity.
Thank you to all the amazing women and men (yes, men!) who contributed first-person essays and expert tips over the years; what makes Sassy Mama so special is that it’s a reflection of Singapore’s wonderfully diverse and dynamic parenting community. We may have filled in the gaps with preschool articles and playground roundups, but the lifeblood of the site are the very real and moving stories about Postpartum Depression, and Pregnancy Loss, and National Service, and mum guilt. I can’t wait to continue reading stories like this in the years to come (and maybe even contribute one or two myself).
I may be leaving the parenting space, but I’ll still be sticking around Singapore, so please continue to say hello — a major highlight over the years has been parents coming up to introduce themselves after reading our emails! You’ll still find me on Instagram (warning: I swear a lot), walking Avon Barksdale around the Botanic Gardens or Dempsey, running in races when I can manage to drag myself out of bed, and having in-car dance parties around town with my kids.
Thank you for joining me on this amazing journey, and of course, Stay Sassy.
P.S. Since this is probably the last time I’ll have such a big platform for a while, please VOTE, and Go Celts!