September’s That Mama is the original Sassy Mama: our founder, Hester Aba!
Madonna, Britney, Beyonce…Hester. Some women are simply too famous to require a last name, and when it comes to mamas in Singapore, our founder, Hester Aba, is a bit of a rockstar. Since founding Sassy Media Group in 2009, she’s grown it into numerous websites spanning three continents (coming soon in Asia: Manila!), all reflecting her clever wit and style. Along the way she’s given birth to her two adorable daughters, Elodie (4) and Margot (3) and started a new branding and web design agency: Delilah Creative. We sat down with Hester to find out how she stays sassy while raising kids, and also get a peek at her gorgeous Bukit Timah home. Read on for more, mama!
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?
I’m originally from Bristol in the West of England, but got out of the UK pretty much as soon as I could after university – I like warm weather too much to suffer any more British winters! My husband Chris and I moved to Hong Kong eight years ago, where I started Sassy with my new best friend Maura and had my two daughters. Then it was off to Singapore for a new adventure and to leave our partying days behind us for a more peaceful life in the Little Red Dot!
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I’ve definitely had a non-traditional career path. After studying Psychology and Philosophy I worked as a governess in Switzerland, was the world’s worst PA for a while, then a wedding planner, and finally joined a Design Agency where I finally found what I felt was my calling. When my husband and I made the decision to relocate to Asia, the financial crisis meant jobs in Design were pretty scarce, and Sassy was born! We originally started Sassy as a kind of hobby business – something to keep us busy with blogging and organising events, but the response in Hong Kong was so immediate and enthusiastic that we realised we’d stumbled onto something with potential, and from there we’ve expanded the Sassy and Sassy Mama sites to Singapore, Australia, Dubai and soon… Manila! Lately I’ve been really wanting a new challenge to take me back to my design roots, so set up Delilah – a service for startups, small businesses and creative entrepreneurs where we help them level up with awesome branding and kick-ass websites, at an affordable price.
How did you get back into the swing of things after having kids?
I’m really bad at not working, so I didn’t really properly ever stop – my maternity “leave” was spent with my phone in one hand, breast pump in another, still sending emails. Much as I love to moan about my work-life balance (and am always looking to perfect my schedule!), I can’t imagine a life where I don’t have something outside of the home to occupy myself. I genuinely love what I do, and love being busy.
How do you maintain an identity separate from your children?
I carve out working time, and then distinct from this, some “me” time for being alone (even if it’s just running errands) where I can be peaceful and quiet. I’m an only child and so need that time separately from my family to recharge so I can come back to my children as a more patient and less stressed out person. I definitely feel selfish sometimes for doing this, but it seems to work for everyone, so no one is losing out!
How has having children changed the way you define work?
I try to work smarter now – I say yes to fewer meetings and calls, and I’m trying to focus more on tasks rather than “busy work” of checking email or surfing the web. As my business is all about the online world, I sometimes tell myself I need to keep up to date and focus on social media, but it’s a huge time-suck that I’m trying to wean myself off of. My main goal is to be able to keep information flowing so I’m not a bottleneck when it comes to making decisions. I definitely don’t work a traditional 9 to 5!
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
I’ve given up on the school run and have my kids take the bus, as I’m most productive in the morning and realised this wasn’t “quality time” with them anyway, so I try to get up early and crack on so I can finish early. I don’t book any meetings on Fridays so this can be my day to get personal errands done, and I use my Sunday evenings for planning the week ahead. I’ve realised I have to take control of how our household runs, so I have a weekly schedule for everyone pinned on the fridge, and we plan all our meals weekly in advance. I have to confess I still feel like our life is permanently in chaos as there never seems to be any such thing as a typical week! I’ve been reading I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam and really recommend this for great working mama strategies!
I wish I had more time for…
I actually at the moment feel like I have a little more free time, which I’m enjoying very much – I love to read, putter in our garden and recently joined Pure Yoga which I’m loving. I probably wish I had a bit more time to do something which does a little more good in the world – I’d love to do some volunteering to try to scratch that itch!
I always feel saner after….
Yoga really calms me down and clears my mind. My husband and I have realised weekends are so much more pleasant if both of us get to do some exercise, so we’ve started doing a trade where he gets to go for a run on a Sunday morning and then I go to a yoga class, and we’re loving it.
What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?
I live in leafy Bukit Timah, and have written a whole post about all the things I like about it and the places we love to go to here! We’re in an old black and white and while it sometimes drives me crazy (like the time I was bitten by a massive centipede and convinced myself my toe was going to fall off), I wouldn’t go back to condo living as I love being in a house after so many years of high-rise living.
Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?
I have to confess that I’m a super-lazy mum now that my kids are out of the toddler phase – I’d rather hang out at home than hit up a playroom, and our favourite thing to do is head for a swim or a sweet treat! My favourite bonding activity with my girls is to spoil ourselves with afternoon tea. My favourite is at The Regent which – having tried most of them out there – is in my opinion the best!
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Singapore?
I have a bit of an obsession with trying new things (handy considering my job!), so at the moment I’m all about Tin Hill Social and Open Farm Community, both of which are SO kid-friendly.
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
We’ve done a lot of villa holidays in Thailand and Bali, but recently did a trip to Bunga Raya near Kota Kinabalu with a big group of friends and it was fantastic. It’s not a fancy hotel in any way, but it was perfect for our gang and in one of the most beautiful unspoiled locations facing a bay of crystal clear water and surrounded by virgin rainforest.
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
My husband and I aren’t the most romantic couple in the world (two kids will do that to you!) but we share a lot of the same interests, mainly travel and food, so we love doing solo trips together. Everyone handles this parenting thing a little bit differently which is all part of the fun, but we find huge enjoyment in heading away for a weekend or even longer without the kiddos to reconnect outside of the daily grind.
Do you have any tips for aspiring “mamapreneurs” and other working mamas in Singapore?
I’d say – just do it! Throw away the fear and don’t let the (perceived) opinions or expectations of others hold you back. I had a period earlier this year where I felt like I should really be spending more time at home with my kids, so tried to scale back on working, but actually found myself less happy and fulfilled. Do what works for you and your family, and everything will fall into place. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of chaos anyway!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
“It’s just a phase”. I sometimes find myself repeating this like a mantra!
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.
It takes a village – ask for help whenever you need it. You don’t need to struggle to prove what a great mother you are, it’s OK to need the support of others! My helper, Rowina, is absolutely wonderful, and I just couldn’t have coped with the baby phase without her or our previous Hong Kong helper.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Playing with my kids! I wish I were more inclined to drop to the floor to get involved with Polly Pockets or LEGO, but I tend to get a bit bored and wander off!
What’s your favourite family ritual?
I love weekend family brunches and dinners on holiday where the kids stay up late and we can all be together with grandparents and extended family.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
My kids’ birthday parties! Their birthdays are 6 weeks apart and planning the upcoming “birthday season” fills me with utter dread. This year I’m going to try to steer them towards experiences rather than parties, but I have low hopes for that working out!
My favourite moment of the day is…
I have to be honest – it’s pouring the glass of wine after bedtime when the house is quiet!
Amazing, right? Thanks to Hester and her girls, and huge thanks to Gunilla of Sugarlight Photography for the gorgeous snaps!