Inside the Spotlight with Estelle Low
Emcee Singapore: Charmaine spoke to Estelle Low, editor of Singapore Women’s Weekly on the hard truths of parenthood and how magic happens when parents keep cool and adapt their knowledge with empathy and intuition in ‘most’ situations.
Here are highlights of the Inside The Spotlight podcast:
Charmaine : We’re sharing this amazing lesson : what you wish you knew when you started out, now that you are so many years into parenthood? What do you wish you knew earlier?
Estelle : I think the biggest realizations all hit me after I had my child. So it was actually the fourth trimester onwards. After popping the baby, I realized it was just so difficult and that motherhood actually requires so much help and support from people around me. And I think just enabling people to help me was difficult on its own because I just had this mindset that I could deal with most of the things myself.
Because having kids at quite a young age compared to my peers, I had my first child at 28.I think a lot of them were not even in the head space of becoming mothers yet. So I think that was my biggest challenge, like, lack of support around me. And I was just constantly turning to Google for help. But now that I’ve gone through eight years of motherhood, I know better and I have more mum friends now.
And I think that one important thing that I overlooked was actually asking for more help and letting people help me. Yeah. A lot of people talk to me about letting go.
Charmaine: Is that something you resonate with, Estelle? Like letting go of perfection? Can you let go of everything? It depends on how high the standards you have set for yourself and your baby, right?
Estelle: I think I had quite high expectations for everything just because I wasn’t in tune with the realities of motherhood at the time. So I think I set a couple of goals. Like, by the time I return back to work after my maternity leave, I have to be in shape, be mentally well enough to take on my job again. And I expected to actually bounce back to the way I was pre pregnancy.
Charmaine: Did you give yourself a fixed time to bounce back? I’ve given myself two months: I don’t know whether that is, like, crazy stressful.
Estelle: It wasn’t enough for me. I mean, after two months, I still felt like a mental wreck, even though physically I was recovering quite well. I just felt like it’s just not the same anymore. I didn’t feel like I could just switch back into work mode like that.
And I’m glad I took a longer period of leave. So I took four months. And there were people who suggested, just taking two months first and then clear the rest of the leave later on so that you give yourself a bit more flexibility with your work arrangements. But I decided that I would just want to take the four months all in one shot. Sure. Just so I could take the time to recover, be with my baby. But then I realized that four months doesn’t feel enough.
Charmaine: Really? Because every time I tell people I’ll be back on radio in two months. I’ll see you guys in August as my EDD is in June. And quite a few people have said, I don’t think you should put that kind of stress – actually, nobody put this stress on me, by the way. It’s not society or anything, it’s just me.
Estelle: It’s easy to say now, two months, right. That’s why a lot of people talk to me at the month and a half mark. Maybe my mind might change. I think it’s important to give yourself more grace if you need it and if you need more time. Because, after all, it’s a very crucial period of life for you.
Charmaine : Now, you do these stories on Women’s Weekly, right? Every Monday you have MOM story. So have you featured moms, for example, that have spoken about this? The stress of going back to work or bouncing back? Who came up with that? Like bouncing back to be in shape.
Do you recall interviewing somebody like that? Or mom sharing a story like this as part of the hashtag Mom Story Weekly segments?
Estelle: I think of all the moms I’ve interviewed, there’s no one mom who said it was easy. Everyone felt the stress, felt the pressure from outside, and also internally. So these postpartum struggles, these are very, very real.
Charmaine: I think when you cover all these stories of working mothers and their own struggles, we realize we are putting a label on the period of postpartum? Why does it have to be three months, six months, or even two years? Why can’t postpartum be forever?
Estelle: Because it is true that with the birth of a baby comes the birth of a mum.
Charmaine: Yeah, that’s so interesting. You mentioned to me that you’ve been introduced to this concept that postpartum is forever. Is that something that you read about, or is this a personal anecdote?
Estelle: I think it’s coming from a combination of articles I’ve been reading, and also recently we featured a mom who introduced to me the concept of Matrices. Matrices is a relatively new word. It generally involves the process of transitioning into motherhood, very much like adolescence, where a child is slowly transforming, becoming an adult, physically, emotionally and socially.
Matrices refers to that transformation for a woman to become a mother. And there shouldn’t be a timestamp on that. But I think somehow society likes to dictate that we just immediately snap and transform into moms the minute our child is born. Right. Like immediately after the child is in your arms, you become a mother.
You have to be all loving to cradle your baby and know exactly what to do. That’s quite insane. Actually, now that I think of this because I’m very hyper aware of this postpartum depression or rather just a postpartum life.
Charmaine: When you interviewed me (for the Singapore Women’s weekly article), we were talking about everything from my egg freezing journey to preparing for motherhood. But you just put that spotlight on postpartum, maybe let’s talk about that. It starts with Matrices?
Estelle: So, Matrices was coined to describe the process or the transition into motherhood that involves the physical, emotional and social development of a woman. So it’s trying to say that becoming a mother is a process, it’s not instant. Matrices have also been compared to adolescence, the period of time where a child slowly learns to become an adult. So matrices likewise means a woman slowly learns how to become a mother.
And I think this is a very important concept for us to know in this day because the pressures of becoming a mother are just getting more and more insane. I think it’s important that we keep this in mind. It is a process, it’s not instant. And everybody develops differently, right? And everyone at their own time and own pace.
And even people who seem to want to have children and look like they are the most motherly sort, they themselves also face struggles in learning to become a mother. So I think if we just give ourselves more time, more grace to ease into this and just kind of not be so bothered by the external pressures that we have from other people and just be a lot kinder to ourselves, I think that’s how becoming a mother would feel easier for ourselves.
Charmaine: We see a lot of things on social media, right? Like there’s so many perfect looking moms. Is there something that you saw on social media before you’re eight years into parenthood? And after you became a mom, you’re like, ‘Nah, that’s not true’. Is that something that you just avoid it as best as you can.
Estelle: Yeah, totally. Just take it with a pinch of salt. It’s natural for everyone to want to put forward their best selves when they’re online. Even I do that. I mean, I will post happy family photos, but I wouldn’t post pictures of my kid crying or myself losing my mind.
I do know parents who do that though : when their child has a meltdown, they are properly recording them. Look at this child. Some parents like to keep it real, right? Yeah, I guess that’s a good one. But yeah, some interesting moments that we spoke about.
Charmaine: We were having a chat about this yesterday – that social media gives you so much pressure.
Estelle: I think the best thing for recovering postpartum mom is to just avoid it as best as you can. You’ll see all these happy babies. Well, I think if you can’t avoid, at least rewire, just reframe your mindset and tell yourself that these are people just showing the highlights, the best parts of parenting. I mean, who doesn’t want to show the best parts of their lives online?
Just know that behind every happy, successful looking post is a story. Everyone has a struggle behind everything. So keep that in mind, okay? Because we don’t often get a platform to share our motherhood struggles and that’s what we want to do with our weekly series called Mom story on womensweekly.com SG.
Charmaine: I always see people share pictures during Chinese New Year, Christmas or any holiday. I see parents say this was the best photo we could get and one child is looking, one child is facing the other way, the other child is about to run off and only the parents are smiling right at the camera. And it’s like they took about 500 photos and this was the best shot. I do appreciate the realness to it as well. Right? Well, I think it’s definitely relatable at some point. The kids might not even want to be in the pictures at all once they grow up.
Estelle: Oh, true. Like mom and dad. You have understood the concept of consent. They’re just going to run away, hide their faces. Even my kids are starting to realize that whenever I try to take pictures together with them, they are quite conscious and if they are not feeling up to it, they will just hide their faces or run off.
Charmaine: So, you know in our article where you interviewed me? We spoke about parenting styles. And when you go online, there are so many parenting styles, right.
In fact, there’s authoritarian, helicopter parenting and gentle parenting. We actually brought this up with on radio once, and I remember many of our KISS fans support gentle parenting – essentially like not being so harsh to your child.
Estelle: Right. So if let’s just say you’re upset with your child, the child is still in the same room as you, they know that you are still there. And we had quite a few parents actually say that gentle parenting only works to a point.
Charmaine: You’ve interviewed so many moms and dads. What seems to be our Singaporean parenting style? Do we have one? I really think it’s not that uniform.
I know parents who will not hesitate to do the disciplinarian style of parenting where they believe in physical discipline or even, like, verbal discipline by shouting or scolding their kids. I think that’s still a very common form of discipline here. And gentle parenting, I think it started to pick up pace in the recent years right.
Estelle: When we were more exposed to Western concepts of parenting, I feel, because it’s quite different from the traditional Asian styles of parenting that I was exposed to as I grew up.
It was more like: you listen to your parents, and if you don’t, then your parents can cane you or they can scold you. But now it’s no longer that acceptable anymore in this day and age when it comes to millennial parenting; if you scold your child or you can your child in public, especially, people are going to judge you and they’re going to take videos of you and put it up online. It’s so easy to get that.
But personally, I think I would definitely be adopting a mix of parenting styles. Like, really whatever works for me at the moment. Maybe it’s a blessing to be a working mom because I spend my day away from the kids, so I essentially only have my weekday nights and weekends with them.
Charmaine: But that’s a lot of us, working parents.
Estelle: I think I am the gentler parent of the two.
Charmaine: Oh, your husband is the disciplinarian.
Estelle: Yeah, he is the one. He’s the bad cop. And because of that, the kids actually listen to him, and they know how to be on the best behaviour when he’s around, whereas the kids, they will try to push boundaries with me. They can climb onto my head.
So I think our approaches are very different, and we have discussed and realized that it’s okay because kids are wiser than that. They know how to adapt to parents with different styles. And because my kids are cared for by grandparents during the day, and obviously they use their own methods of parenting, which are also very different from ours.
Charmaine: Yes. This is a big topic – grandparents or your village supporting you, right. So how do you make sure that they follow the way you want to parent?
So let me give you an example, right. My husband and I, we want to minimize sugar. Actually, no sugar in the household. And I was like, actually my mom and dad asked me, okay, so what rules do you want?
I say no sugar : don’t take the child out for ice cream when we are not around. Have you had similar experiences when you were with your two kids?
Estelle: Well, I think I would take some of the blame by saying that in the beginning when we were entrusting our kids to the grandparents, we actually did not set clear boundaries as relatively new parents. We didn’t know better. We just thought like, oh, it was just very grateful that we had grandparents to help, but for sure so that we could go through our jobs.
I think all these little things just came along because I think due to the lack of communication and then we realized that when the kids were around the grandparents, they were fed a lot more things than I would have liked them to be fed, like sweets, sugar, snacks, just snacking in between meals. I think obviously in the beginning it bothered me a lot, but that’s one of the things I’ve learned to let go.
Charmaine: So if your kid comes back and says, hey, Mom, I had a wonderful Haagen-Dazs ice cream today, you’re going to be okay with it? Have you reached a point where you’re like, ‘Cool’!
Estelle: I think over the years I have been investing in educating my kids about portion control, knowing what sorts of food they should eat more of and what sorts of food they should eat less of.
Charmaine: But which kid is going to say no to, like, McDonald’s? They’re not going to say no, but at least I just hope that when they are eating it, they know how to control themselves and they know that mom will not be happy about it.
Estelle: So these days they’re a bit smarter. Like, they don’t usually come and tell me what they eat, but I can see it in their mouth, so they’re not going to be like, hey, this was a six piece Chicken McNugget. I’m only going to have four. No such thing. I don’t think kids are like that. Right, okay, so what are the what I wish I knew moments. I think that’s a good one.
Charmaine: And then there’s this dream of like, I just had a baby shower over the weekend, right, and a few parents kept it real for me.
They said, ‘While we were pregnant, we said, no screen time, no iPad, only educational games, no sugar, no junk food’. And all that went out the window the minute they wanted a few seconds to themselves.
As parents, can you verify whether this is something I might experience? At what point will I introduce the iPad?
Estelle: Yeah, just get ready for it. I’m just not telling my husband. I think we’ll need it for some sanity. And I’ve had a couple of friends also tell me, as a parent, I just want us to chat at lunch.
And the children are watching, like, a little fun documentary, right, that they enjoy. And why not, right?
And it gives you an adult one to one time, because we actually stayed out for lunch and we had a great time.
Listen to the full Inside The Spotlight AWEDIO podcast here: