This week we’re chatting to That Mama Aimee Chan — mama to two gorgeous little boys and founder of online family travel magazine, suitcases&strollers. We chat to Aimee about balancing a busy career with raising babies, staying motivated (and avoiding our nemesis, procrastination), as well as her inside tips on the best places to travel with kids in tow.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your career?
I am the founder of online family travel magazine suitcases&strollers. The website provides travel stories, ideas, tips and inspiration for parents travelling with kids under 12. I’m also a magazine editor and writer and have worked with titles such as CNN, Harper’s BAZAAR, ELLE, Cosmopolitan, as well as several inflight and parenting magazines.
My background has always been in lifestyle writing, with a heavy dose of travel and a little bit of parenting magazine work thrown in too! To be able to combine this into my own publication has been truly gratifying. I’m also a mama to two little boys — Harry (4) and Ted (9 months).
Can you talk us through your career pre and post babies? How did you get back into the swing of things after having children?
It all happened very organically. By the time I starting working again after my first child we had moved cities for the fourth time in 10 years. This meant I had a lot of work connections. I was fortunate that there were a number of editors and publishers who needed a lot of help with ad hoc work here and there, so I just started doing it. It wasn’t a deliberate decision at first, but before I knew it a very nice freelance career was born.
Once suitcases&strollers really began to develop, it was a very natural transition from fulltime freelancing to moving in my own independent direction.
How do you balance work and motherhood?
It’s a constant juggling act and I have to remind myself daily that a happy mum is a good mum. Work makes me happy so I do that to show my kids that it’s important for mummy to remain fulfilled and independent beyond their needs. But it’s a difficult transition and when it’s the kids’ time I struggle not to spend it looking at my smart phone.
We try to plan special family days, plus times and meals throughout the week to keep us all focused, in the moment and enjoying our time together.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tips and tricks?
Do it immediately. Whatever the task is, if you do it straight away, you will save a lot of time instead of procrastinating and avoiding the task at hand.
If you can’t do whatever it is immediately, write it down. I have a new list every day as well as an old-fashioned paper diary and it is extremely cleansing to be able to cross little jobs off one at a time.
Do you have any tips for aspiring “mamapreneurs” and other working mamas in Singapore?
For mamapreneurs, I would say the key to success is not to think too much but just to jump in and do it. Whatever your dream or idea is, you will never know if it can work unless you actually try. So stop thinking and start doing. But be prepared – it is much harder to separate your personal and professional life when you are your own boss.
For more traditional working mums, draw a line in the sand about where work ends and home time begins. I know this is a lot easier said than done, but be clear to yourself and the kids (and especially your boss!) about when you will be working and when you will be focused on your family. That will help everyone really appreciate family time better as well as give your career the respect and acknowledgement it deserves.
What is the one piece of advice you want all mamas to know about travelling with kids?
You can do it! It’s not as hard as people think. So much of it is about mindset – you do have to be willing to let go of some of the routine and to be able to accept that things can (and will) go unexpectedly wrong. But personally, that’s why I love to travel. It’s the unexpected experiences that are often the most memorable and will teach you so much about yourself and your kids. While day-to-day life is important, it’s those pops of time in foreign environments that will standout as life-long childhood memories for your kids and make all the stress worthwhile.
Top 3 items every mama should carry in her hand luggage when flying with children?
Plastic bags. They are so useful for everything, from soiled nappies to wet clothes to open food packets.
Wet wipes. Even if you don’t have babies anymore, kids are so messy and wet wipes will never go unused.
All the important travel documents. It sounds obvious, but I have heard so many stories of mums letting kids carry their own passports and then I’m sure you can guess what happens next. In your document wallet you also need to have essentials, like copies of your travel insurance and your kids’ birth certificates, especially if their surname is different to yours.
Favourite activity with your kids in Singapore?
I love taking the kids to live stage shows. It’s our mummy-son thing. There are so many great shows that come through Singapore and I get a real kick out of the surprise of taking them to the theatre and introducing them to a stage version of a book or movie or CD they’ve been following. We enjoy being interactive, shouting at the characters and singing to the songs.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurants in Singapore?
We eat out a lot and Singapore is such a family-friendly destination that my kids have been almost everywhere. This does make it difficult to narrow it down!
One place we have been going to a lot is the Malaysian Food Street at Resorts World Sentosa. My mum is Malaysian and this is one of the only places that serves all of our old favourites – Assam Laksa, Hokkien Mee with Black Sauce, and Chicken Rice Balls. The only downside is it can get pretty crowded and people are juggling lots of hot plates and soups so you really need to find an out-of-the-way table to keep very little kids safe.
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia (we know you must have so many up your sleeve!)?
You are right, there are quite a lot to choose from, it’s pretty hard to pare it down to one!
I love Vietnam, and Hoi An is probably the most kid-friendly place there. It’s charming, historical, busy but not overwhelming – it’s the perfect mix of beach and activity!
I have a bit of a soft spot too for Malacca. It’s another quaint little place with beautiful architecture and a lively little street market scene. It makes for a great weekend escape from Singapore and the fact that you can take the kids inside a real submarine is a bonus.
And who doesn’t love Bali? It’s so friendly, beautiful and is an easy place to retreat to and rejuvenate, even with kids in tow.
Activity that I do not love to do but do it anyway because my kids love it…
Drawing. I have always hated arts and crafts, ever since I was a little girl. But my son loves it so we spend a lot of time creating artwork together.
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
Spending one-on-one time together is important. Time out with friends without the kids doesn’t count; it needs to be the two of you so you can really debrief and remember what the relationship between the two of you is about. We try to do a regular date night and we probably manage to do it 3 nights a month.
Favourite date-night restaurants?
We go to different ones all the time, so it really depends on what we feel like eating and the type of atmosphere we want.
A few that we visit regularly are Osteria Mozza, db Bistro and Lawry’s The Prime Rib. None of them are particularly fancy (one is actually quite daggy!), but I like that they are unpretentious, serve reliably delicious food we can’t cook ourselves, and are still a little lively but intimate enough that you can have a quiet conversation.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
Babies cry. That’s what they do and it’s normal. They won’t break. Especially in the early days with very new tiny ones — when a baby cries it doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother, it just means he or she is a baby!
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.
Join a mother’s group. It is critical to have a support network of mums going through exactly the same experiences as you at the same time as you. Before I had my first child I did not realise how important my mother’s group would be. Even years later I still love these girls to death and still turn to them in times of need or advice because we are all going through the same things, so they just get it.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Listening to the (very long winded and circuitous) pre-schooler conversations that usually don’t lead anywhere! Even though I know what he is talking about doesn’t make sense, it’s important to him and I should be better at focusing.
My most humbling mama moment was…
Whenever I hear or see myself reflected in my kids. When they say something or behave in a way that is a direct parroting of me, it is very humbling to realise just how much influence you have over their lives and the way they view the world.
One thing I won’t sacrifice as a mama is…
Ensuring my kids feel safe and comfortable to be who they are, whatever that may be. I don’t want my kids to ever feel they need to live out someone else’s dreams or expectations. No matter their job preference, personality or sexuality, it is important to me that my children feel they are accepted for being themselves. As long as they work hard at whatever it is they do and treat others with respect and dignity. I want them to feel that the people around them love them for having their own unique personalities.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about…
Work. I’m a night owl and a lot of my best work is done at 3am. When I get an idea – especially for a story – I have to get up and write it immediately. If I miss the moment and wait until morning the momentum of the story is always lost.
Even when my child has a family of his/her own, I’ll still…
Want to teach them and show them things about the world that they didn’t know existed. I hope that I will continue to be someone my kids turn to for advice, inspiration and to learn from.
My favourite moment of the day is…
Lunchtime on a weekend after a very busy morning of activities when everyone (including mum and dad) retreats for an afternoon siesta and a well-deserved rest.
I always feel saner after…
Watching TV! I wish I had something more sophisticated or active to say, but unfortunately television is my go-to de-stresser.
I wish I had more time for…
Talking on the phone. I used to love long chats over the phone with friends or my mum or sister. Sadly, there is rarely time (or energy) for that anymore.
Bedtime is always smoother when…
There is something exciting on the next day to act as an incentive for the kids to go to bed without a fuss (here here!).
Thanks Aimee! And a huge thank you also goes to the wonderful Carolyn from Melia Photography for taking these amazing photos of Aimee and her boys!