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That Mama: Elaine Kim, Doctor and Co-Founder of Trehaus Cowork

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This month’s That Mama is Singaporean mother of 3, Elaine Kim. She knows a thing or two about managing the work-life-kids balance given she’s co-founder of Trehaus Cowork, one of our fave workspaces that welcomes parents as well as their kids!

Elaine from Trehaus has three boys: Kyan, 6, Luke, 4, and little Nate who is one. Elaine is a doctor and entrepreneur –  she’s the co-founder of Trehaus Cowork a co-working space with a kids atelier and education programme on site! We sat down with Elaine to hear more about her parenting journey, how she juggles three kids, multiple careers and charity work, and her vision for a culture change that encourages working parents to prioritize their family.

Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?
I’m a doctor and entrepreneur. I work in palliative care and look after terminally ill patients in hospice care. I am also the co-founder of Trehaus Cowork, a co-working office created for working parents, which combines a co-working space and a kids atelier that provides full child-minding and early education, allowing parents to work while their children play and learn in the same space. Our first location is in the heart of Orchard Road and I am now driving the scaling and expansion to new locations locally and regionally. This is close to my heart as a mum of three kids, to help parents like myself trying to balance a driven career with prioritizing time with family especially during the formative first years of our child’s life.

My experiences as an angel investor and entrepreneur have led me to become the co-founder and CEO of CRIB, a non-profit social enterprise that empowers women to become successful entrepreneurs through networking, business matching, providing access to funding and business incubation through mentorship and skills training.

My most important role is as a wife and mother. My husband John is managing partner of cross-border venture capital firm Amasia VC and we have three children.

Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby and how you got back into the swing of things after having kids?
Before my first child I was working full-time as a doctor. After my eldest Kyan was born I wanted to have more time with my little one and so took time off to be a full time stay-at-home mum. However I still wanted a career and so I chose to start a business, as entrepreneurship gave me the flexibility and control over my time so I could have a career while having time with my child. I started Trehaus to create a solution for working parents like myself. After Nate, my third child, was born, I was back at work two weeks after giving birth and able to do that because I could bring Nate to Trehaus, nurse him and have him by my side, and get back into the job without feeling like I had to compromise as a mother!

How do you maintain an identity separate from your children?
As a working mother with several roles – doctor, entrepreneur, freelance travel journalist – that’s never been an issue!

How has having children changed the way you define work?
I am deeply passionate about changing our culture’s mindset about what “work” looks like. I believe work should be based on outcomes and performance, not how many hours you sit at an office desk. And with today’s technology and the viability of remote working and telecommuting we should embrace our ability to have flexible work arrangements and work-life integration.

I believe working parents today can pursue successful, driven careers while making time with family a priority with such a change in work culture. We have seen this with the Trehaus members, who have successful careers while prioritizing time with kids. It started with the entrepreneurs, freelancers and small companies, but we also launched a corporate membership programme to allow big companies to let their employees work flexibly in Trehaus and so are seeing corporate members embracing flexible work arrangements, too!

How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
I try to be very mindful of my values and priorities and ensure what I spend time on aligns with them. Taking a few moments at the start of the day to think this through and plan accordingly helps.

I feel very blessed to be living in Singapore where we have helpers, and grandparents nearby to help look after the children. I think creating a support network you trust and can always count on for help is so important.

I wish I had more time for…
Travel with my husband and kids. I love the quality time and bonding I have when I travel with my family, which is so hard to get in the busyness of our lives in Singapore. And I love the experiences, adventure and exploration my kids get exposed to when we travel. So holidays with them are very precious to me, and there’s never enough, especially as it gets harder for both my husband and I to take time out due to work.

I always feel saner after….
A visit to the spa. A time of quiet prayer. A cuddle with my kids.

What part of Singapore do you live in and what do you like about it?
Until recently, I stayed at the Capella Residences on Sentosa Island and absolutely loved the tranquility of being on Sentosa, by the beach, and a tram ride away from Kidzania, Port of Lost Wonder and Universal Studios, which became the kids’ neighbourhood playground! We’ve now moved close to Holland Village which is residential but just minutes away from Orchard Road and my office at Trehaus Co-Work, and closer to the boys’ school and is a lovely location to live.

Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?
The boys like Universal Studios; we loved having an annual pass so we could stop in to play anytime. The boys like Kidzania as well. My oldest boy is a little techie so he enjoys activities like Explorer Junior’s coding or robotics camps. My second Luke enjoys tennis and soccer.

Favourite kid-friendly restaurants in Singapore?
We need more of these! We like to go to Casa Verde or Pollen so the kids can run around in the Botanic Gardens or Gardens by the Bay. They also like Genki Sushi – they love sushi and are thrilled by the train that carries our food to us.

Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
There are so many wonderful places! For the beach, we keep finding ourselves back in Bali, where there are great villas for the family (we last stayed in Villa Lulito), or in the Maldives (our last trip was to Grand Park Kodhiparu). We also go skiing every year in Niseko; we usually stay at the Aya or Vale I’m Hirafu which has really easy access to the family lift and ski school, and are planning to stay at Kasara for our next trip there. The kids enjoy Hong Kong Disneyland as well.

In March we plan to do a different sort of family trip, CRIB Gives Back, the charity arm of my social enterprise CRIB  is planning a Holiday for Hope, where our trip to Siem Reap will go towards charity Operation Hope to fund school infrastructure for a village school, and we will take our children to spend time with the kids from the village.

Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
Making an effort to prioritise time alone with the husband, going on date nights and movies, and travelling just the two of us sometimes.

Favourite date night restaurants?
1880, the new club we are members of, which is a beautiful space with really good food. For really special occasions, Jaan restaurant, where John proposed.

Do you have any tips working mamas in Singapore? How do you balance life, kids and work?
Come and work at Trehaus! If you are thinking about entrepreneurship, join CRIB!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
Every child is different and you know your own child best, so trust your judgement and intuition as a mother.

Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.
It’s totally ok to treat yourself to Me-time – a relaxed and happy mum is a better mum!

As a mama I wish I were better at…
Reading bedtime stories!

What’s your favourite family ritual?
Our family holidays –  we try to travel with the children every chance we get, and the time we have as a family exploring new places is very precious to us.

Also we try to be at home with the kids from 5-7pm every day . My husband runs “apa school” where he will teach the boys everything from soccer to coding, maths, philosophy. And we hang out together while the boys have dinner, which gives us a chance to share our day.

I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
How to make Trehaus a global brand and business and maximize social impact.

My favourite moment of the day is…
When I cuddle my baby and kiss the boys goodnight. Also tucking myself under the soft sheets to sleep after a long busy day!

Thank you so much to Elaine and her kids for taking the time to chat with us. And a huge shoutout to Irina Nilsson from Irina Nilsson Photography for the gorgeous snaps!

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