This month’s ‘That Mama’ is entrepreneur Theresa Evanoff of Singapore social enterprise Gift-It-Forward
While all of the women that we feature in our That Mama series are influential and accomplished, the best interviews are those where the mamas are refreshingly candid about their strengths and weaknesses. This month’s That Mama, Theresa Evanoff, recently launched the social enterprise Gift-It-Forward, which organises events and gift-giving initiatives to support local charities while also teaching kids important lessons about empathy and gratitude. She is also the mom of three boys 4 and under (Aidan, 4; Jonah, 3; and Brendan, 21 months), and fully admits that her home life can be more than a little chaotic. Read on for more on her fascinating journey from engineer and global management consultant to ‘mamapreneur’, along with some truly adorable photos!
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?
I’m a bit of a global citizen — I was born in Hong Kong, moved to Canada when I was a year old, went to business school in France and moved to Singapore as part of my studies and have lived here for over 12 years now. I have always had a passion for traveling and have been to more than 40 countries!
I met my husband in Canada on a holiday while I was living in Singapore, and fortunately, he agreed to move here and the rest is history! We now have three little boys aged 4 years and under, so the house is always lively!
I started my career in Canada as an engineer, then did my MBA in Paris and switched careers into Management Consulting, which led to an in-house Strategy role for a large multi-national company. After a career break after having kids, I founded the social enterprise Gift-It-Forward this year and love being the CEO of my own company!
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-kids?
Before kids, I worked as the Regional Strategy Director for Motorola Mobility. Geographically, I covered Asia-Pacific, Middle East, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, and my manager was based out of the US so I worked around the clock and travelled A LOT! At the time, it was great because I got to see many new countries and understand new cultures and dynamics.
After returning from maternity leave with my first son, the company restructured and closed the Singapore office, which worked out perfectly for me as I struggled with working full-time anyway. After that, I did some freelance consulting work and some teaching at the NUS business school, but did not return to work full-time as I didn’t feel I could juggle the work-family commitments.
Now, as the kids are starting school, I wanted to find something that would keep me active professionally, but also meaningful enough if it justifies taking time away from the kids. I started Gift-It-Forward because it’s truly a project I believe in, as I really think we can help families, individuals and charities. I loved the idea of building a social enterprise, and the concept really resonates with me as a mother wanting to teach her kids about gratitude and generosity (not to mention reduce toy clutter!). Hopefully we can help other families who want to do the same!
How did you get back into the swing of things after having kids?
To be honest, it took me a while because our kids are so close in age, I felt like I was either pregnant or breastfeeding for four straight years! I am very fortunate to have met a group of wonderful moms through our kids and they have become close friends and we help support each other day-to-day and keep each other sane!
From a professional perspective, it has taken me nearly four years to really figure out what I want to do with my career (though I still question my decision all the time!). I am enjoying this process of being a “mumpreneur” as it’s really taken me outside of my comfort zone to try something different.
How do you maintain an identity separate from your children?
It’s definitely a challenge, and they are really part of who I am now. But when they are at preschool, napping, or sleeping at night, I try to find some time to myself to work, exercise, run errands, or socialise – though I usually only have time to choose one of those options!
How has having children changed the way you define work?
My personality is such that I really throw myself into whatever it is I’m working on.
After having kids, our family became the priority and it quickly became clear that I couldn’t travel as much or work the hours I did previously, nor did I want to. All my life, I dreamed of being a mom and being there for my kids is my most important job. That being said, when I do find the time to work, I now do it more efficiently and around the kids’ schedules.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
Ha! On most days, it doesn’t feel organised at all! We pack the kids’ school bags the night before, we have a weekly menu plan on the fridge that I prepare on Sunday nights (but often that gets adjusted during the week if we have impromptu plans), we bathe all three kids together, and cook one family meal that everyone eats (or at least that is the plan!).
I wish I had more time for…
Exercising! The kids are a constant source of calorie burning, but I wish I could find more time to do it on my own!
I always feel saner after….
I have some time to myself, whether it’s working, meeting a friend for lunch or coffee, or simply running errands by myself!
What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?
We live in River Valley and we love it! I’ve lived in the area for 12 years and every time we think about moving elsewhere, we can’t really do it! We love the convenience of being close to Orchard and the river for walks, shops, and dining.
Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?
We love spending the afternoons tiring the kids out at the Gardens by the Bay Children’s Playground, and then heading next door to the Satay by the Bay hawker centre for a delicious dinner!
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Singapore?
I secretly envy those family with kids I see sitting nicely at restaurants! I must admit that we’d rather go somewhere super casual like a hawker centre where it’s ok for the kids to make a bit of a fuss! For that reason, we often go to Food for Thought at the Botanic Gardens. I like that the food there is delicious (I LOVE their laksa!) and healthy. With the playground there, it lets us have a relatively peaceful meal while the kids run around!
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
With three young kids, we haven’t travelled as much as we would like to, or as much as we used to before they came along. Our most recent holiday was to Hong Kong where we went for a family wedding, and we tagged on a few days at Disneyland Hong Kong. Our older kids are at the age where they could really enjoy it, so it was a fun trip away from our every day life in Singapore!
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
Romance? We could use some tips! Oh, you’re serious – ha! Right. We definitely need to improve in this department! We do try to get out at least once a week without the kids for dinner (or at least dessert!), though it doesn’t always happen. We realise it’s important to do something outside of our daily routines and we need to make more of an effort!
Favourite date night restaurants?
My husband and I both love Japanese food and we just recently discovered Senki, a little restaurant just around the corner from us that does an a la carte Japanese buffet that has fresh sushi and sashimi as well as delicious hot foods! We’ve already been there a couple of times as it’s a little treasure in our neighbourhood!
Do you have any tips for aspiring “mamapreneurs” and other working mamas in Singapore?
Find something that you are truly passionate about and go and do it. Singapore is a great environment for nurturing entrepreneurs, as I’m starting to discover. Any job, whether it’s your own business or a company, is going to take time away from your family, so make sure it’s something that you feel is going to be worthwhile for you, whether financially, professionally, or otherwise.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
“This too shall pass; it’s just a phase!” I know it’s cliché, but cherish every moment as they grow up too quickly. It’s hard to believe the baby of our family is nearly 2 years old! It’s all gone by in such a blur!
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.
Don’t be a hero! It really does take a village to raise kids, so accept the help that you need and seek it if you need to! While we try to be everything to everyone, also know your limits. There is no weakness in needing help now and then. Happy mamas = happy kids!
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Spending more time individually with my kids. With three children, I feel like there is never enough of me to go around for them!
What’s your favourite family ritual?
When my husband isn’t travelling for work, we try to have a family dinner every night. Although it’s usually chaotic, I love that we make it a priority to have a meal together and hope we can continue this until they leave home one day!
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about…
Which one of the kids will be crawling into bed with us tonight!
My favourite moment of the day is…
After I’ve had some time to myself, and am heading to bed for the night, I look in on the kids and give them a kiss good night. It’s amazing how peaceful and angelic they look when they’re sleeping – and they let me cuddle them as long as I want! Ha!
Thank you, Theresa! And thank you to the lovely Kate and Emily of Littleones Photography for the gorgeous snaps of Theresa and her boys!