We met July’s That Mama, Tasneem Noor, a few months ago when visiting Fika Swedish Cafe and Bistro, which she runs and co-owns with her husband. We were so impressed by her sense of humour, no-nonsense outlook and total #GIRLBOSS management style (not to mention her adorable children!) that we asked her to share some of her wisdom with our readers. From real talk on the challenges of keeping romance alive when you work alongside your husband, to dispensing with working mama guilt, Tas truly tells it like is!
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?
I’m 34, Singaporean and was a graphic designer for eight years before switching trades to F&B. My husband, Joakim Smidhagen, is from Sweden; we met there when I was on a backpacking trip in 2006.
In 2009, I opened Fika Swedish Cafe and Bistro at Beach Road in Kampong Glam after learning recipes from my mother-in-law to cook for my homesick husband! To date we have three outlets: Beach Road, Millenia Walk and One KM. My husband was also a designer and fine artist until he joined me in running Fika Cafe.
We have two sons – Mika (age 4) and Adam (2.5) – who are both now attending nursery at British Council Preschool in Tampines.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-kids?
I had Mika three years after marriage; it was a big, big surprise and a blessing as it was incredibly hard for me to conceive due to PCOS. He was born in 2011, about a year and a half after I opened Fika. Pre-baby I was physically at the outlet 24/7 and was incredibly hands-on, cooking in the kitchen, managing the staff and serving customers.
Having a baby allowed me to work on my delegation skills, allowing my staff to be empowered. However some of the staff I had at that time were incapable of the responsibility and seven of them left at one time, leaving me no choice but to come in one week after giving birth to cook! I remember my husband having to take care of Mika and feeding him at the outlet with milk that I had expressed.
I now go down to the cafe four days out of the week and spend the other days working from home. When you run your own business, there’s never a time when you’re not working; especially when your spouse is your business partner too. It takes great effort to create a clear separation between work time and family time – we’re still working on it.
How did you get back into the swing of things after having kids?
It wasn’t quite a choice as I just had to get right back into it to ensure that my business kept going. I have to admit that as a mama, it is important to spend adult time away from the kids. The time away from them not only gives my mind and body a break, but also makes me miss them and appreciate them more. I always have to keep in mind that it’s ok to feel happy when away from my kids; it doesn’t make me a bad mother or person and I refuse to allow people to guilt me into feeling that way.
How do you maintain an identity separate from your children?
Having my own things going on allows me to be my own person. I love my children to bits, but my life does not need to revolve around them throughout the day. When I’m at work, a different set of people seek my attention and I get to take off my mama hat and put on my manager hat. Of course I miss them when I turn on my mobile and see them on my wallpaper, but I am so grateful to be blessed with the opportunity and means to be a working mother with flexible working arrangements.
How has having children changed the way you define work?
It hasn’t. I still prioritise my business when needed; without work it would be hard to provide my children with quality education and a comfortable life. Sometimes the scale tips more on one side and sometimes the other. And that’s ok for me for now.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
I get most work done in the three hours the boys are in school. I can get an hour of workout in, plus reply to most of my emails. I keep away from Facebook or people that drain me; spending time with things and people that do not add to your wellbeing are a waste of time and energy.
I wish I had more time for…
Time is something we all have and can control, its just about prioritising and making it happen. However I am working to achieve a clear mind and compartmentalising work and home life better. Do not wish it….Work towards it!
I always feel saner after….
Hanging with my favourite girlfriends, amazing sisters and mum. Also, after I declutter my closet and storeroom. I keep myself sane by thinking about what exactly I am stressing about and what exactly my “problems” are – some perspective is always good. I then realise how fortunate I am to have health, my family and a safe, comfortable life.
What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?
We live in the East. We like the park connectors, being close to beaches and my mama.
Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?
The boys love Universal Studios for the Jurassic Park section. Also, any water play areas, parks, beaches or outdoor areas where they get to run free.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Singapore?
FIKA SWEDISH CAFE AND BISTRO of course! Hehehe, but we seriously do have an awesome kids menu. At our OneKM outlet, we are also introducing a kids’ play area so parents can eat in peace.
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
Unfortunately we haven’t quite explored Asia after having the kids, most holidays we go back to Sweden to see Joakim’s family. I would love to take them to Sri Lanka; Joakim and i were there with Mika when he was young, the people and nature are so beautiful!
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
This has been our biggest challenge, especially since we work together. We do plan dates together and we make it a point to hold hand hands with each other when out.
We both love movies, music and comedy. Our last night out was to watch Russell Peters live.
Favourite date night restaurants?
Home! Joakim and I eat a healthy home cooked meal at home and watch Bones on TV.
Do you have any tips for aspiring “mamapreneurs” and other working mamas in Singapore?
You can do it! Initially it will be hard but with determination and will, anything is possible. Remember that your children will appreciate having a mother who is strong, smart and savvy as a role model!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
From my big sister when I was in a funk after giving birth, exhausted and unsure of what I was SUPPOSED to be doing to be a good mother, she said, “Tas whatever goes sometimes, just do what makes you happy or keeps you sane. When you are sane and happy you become a better mother. Babies are resilient, don’t worry, it will get better, I promise”.
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.
Breast milk is awesome and the best thing ever for the development for your child, but if you can’t or it is hard – it’s okay! It doesn’t make you less of a mother if you don’t or can’t. When I had Mika, I was depressed because I couldn’t get him to latch on and I felt like I couldn’t provide for my child. My sister got her doula friend to help me out and it worked! When I couldn’t breastfeed because I was in surgery, I was lucky enough to have my sister who’d also just given birth to share some of her expressed milk with me. It’s okay to ask for help.
Use natural products on your child with no fragrance, unless it’s natural fragrances that have no nasties in them like SLS or other toxic ingredients that will harm them. Start nutrition awareness with your child from an early age. My sons now know that cows milk is not good for them and are educated about sugar in sweets. That doesn’t mean they are not allowed any, but they can make better decisions for themselves and understand why when you say NO.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Being patient and being a conscious parent, watching what I say and how I say it. It’s a lot of pressure being responsible for moulding two good human beings!
What’s your favourite family ritual?
We love LEGO! Joakim was a LEGO champion in his hometown in Sweden. The boys now are crazy over LEGO. We have LEGO’s from Joakims childhood….43-year-old LEGO pieces!
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
Why the bed is wet….
My favourite moment of the day is…
When I realise I am happy. Also when we get home and the kids are so happy to see us.
Thanks Tas! And thanks to the wonderfully talented photographer Gunilla of Sugarlight Photography for taking these lovely photos of Tas and her sons.