This month’s That Mama is ‘Travails of a Trailing Spouse’ author Stephanie Suga Chen. Find out how she made the jump from finance to novelist!
In recent weeks it would have been hard to miss Travails of a Trailing Spouse, the super fun debut novel from American mama Stephanie Suga Chen that opened at #2 on the Straits Times bestsellers list. When we learned that Stephanie, who’s lived in Singapore since 2012, only recently made the switch to writing after a high-flying career in finance, we just had to find out what makes this mama tick! We caught up with Stephanie and her two kids, ages 10 and 7, to find out some of the secrets to her success, from living with in-laws, to the brilliant concept of “alone lunches” with the kiddos every Sunday. Read on for more, mamas!
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?
I moved to Singapore with my husband and two young children in 2012. I had been a partner at an investment fund, and when we made the decision to relocate, I resigned from my firm to, among other things, possibly find a new career for myself. I floundered for a few years, but last February, I discovered that I really enjoyed writing; that’s when I wrote Travails of a Trailing Spouse, a novel about the thrills, but also frustrations, of expat life in Singapore.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I think I was lucky in that I had been at my company for over five years before we had our first child so I was really able to “lean in,” to quote Sheryl Sandberg. Like her, I also had a great partner in my husband.
How did you get back into the swing of things after having kids?
Well, I’m not sure I ever did! Thankfully my husband had a much more flexible job that did not require any travel so he definitely took on the vast majority of daycare drop-offs and pick-ups. After our second child was born, I made the bold (and somewhat desperate!) decision to invite my in-laws to come live with us to help us with the children.
How do you maintain an identity separate from your children?
I ignore my kids a lot. Seriously. You can usually find me asking one or both of them, “Can you go find something to do on your own?”
How has having a child changed the way you define work?
I still need to work on this, but I really try to focus on one thing at a time, whether it be writing, or the kids, or my husband.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
I like to keep a clean desktop, both physical and virtual! To-do items stay out, but I try to clear them quickly.
I wish I had more time for…
Lately, writing! Although the success of Travails has been fantastic, I can’t wait to get back to writing my next novel.
I always feel saner after….
Clearing my email inbox.
What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?
We have spent the last two years in Jurong (though we just moved to Novena). I love that Jurong is quiet and removed from the hustle and bustle of the downtown area.
Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?
I admit that when I first arrived, I abhorred the idea of having to pay for a playground, but then I discovered the Kidz Amaze at the SAFRA Jurong, and it really is Amaze-ing! I’ve spent many an afternoon typing away at my laptop in the adjoining café while the kids are playing hide-and-seek or tag somewhere within the five levels of the playground.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurants in Singapore?
What can I say, we love Din Tai Fung. It’s our go-to restaurant for birthdays, anniversaries, and really any other celebration.
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
Southern Taiwan is a gorgeous place where we visit often – it’s absolutely stunning and the people are very friendly yet down-to-earth. The coastline is mostly untouched and just incredible.
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship
Well, not sure about the romance part, but my husband and I have a regular date night on Saturday nights. We’re supposed to alternate planning it but often we end up at our usual favorite spots (see below).
Favourite date night restaurants?
iO Italian Osteria and Woorinara Korean Restaurant, both in Upper Bukit Timah
Do you have any tips for working mamas in Singapore?
I really don’t feel qualified to give out tips on this topic! Everyone figures out what works in their own way, right?
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
Treasure and value the contributions that your partner makes. Even if he/she doesn’t do things the way you would like them to.
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women:
Hmm… breastfeeding is unbelievably hard at first.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Living in the moment. I feel like I am constantly looking forward, planning for the next step. I need to constantly remind myself to focus on the now.
What’s your favourite family ritual?
On Sundays, my husband and I have “alone lunches” with each of our kids individually, alternating every week. The kids get to choose where to go so truthfully we end up at McDonald’s a lot of the time. But it’s a great way to ensure that everyone is paying enough attention to, and getting enough attention from, each other.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
These days, it’s all about the book. Is anyone buying it? If so, are they reading it? And do they like it?
My favourite moment of the day is…
Bedtime. My son and I have a nightly ritual where I lay next to him for 10 minutes and we talk about our favorite parts of the day. It’s a really special time for us and I’m dreading the day he tells me he doesn’t want it anymore!
Thank you so much to Stephanie and her kids for taking the time to speak with us; be sure to pick up her book at bookstores across Singapore, mama! And many thanks to the fabulous Irina Nilsson Photography for the fun and fantastic snaps!