Christabel Tan is the Digital Communications Manager at Focus on the Family Singapore. She and her husband, Joel, have been married for about five years. Christabel gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Clarissa, in 2019.
(1) What were some of your fears of becoming a mother?
In the past, if you asked me if I wanted to be a mum, I would answer “Maybe?” with much hesitation. I felt unqualified to be a mother, unsure of how to build a strong relationship with my then-imaginary child.
However, after I started working at Focus on the Family Singapore, I saw how my parent colleagues interacted with their children (who often visit the office). My heart stirred whenever I saw familial acts. A father hugging his 8-year-old daughter. A mum giving her 5-month-old a kiss on his forehead. Another mum laughing and joking with her 2 sons. These precious moments gave me hope – that I could build a relationship like that with my own child one day.
(2) How has the journey of parenting Clarissa for the past 1.5 years been?
Before I became a mum, the thought of waking up in the middle of the night was unheard of. I love to sleep by 11 pm latest and wake up at 7+ am. To sleep any less than that was unimaginable! But when my newborn baby arrived, something just shifted in me. When I knew she was hungry, I would get up (most of the time anyway!) to feed her. From having a “me” mindset in the past, I learned to care for another in a way that I never thought possible.
(3) How is your relationship with your own mother like?
During my childhood days, my parents were often hard at work, and my siblings and I did not see them as often as we wished to. However, my mother cared deeply about our education, and would often spend all her earnings on giving us the best education she could afford.
Before I became a mother, I did not really understand her mindset. “Why spend all her money on classes for us?” I wondered. But something shifted in me when I entered motherhood. I finally understood a mother’s wish to give her child a bright future, and to see my child grow up healthy and happy.
(4) How do you balance your work responsibilities with motherhood?
Have you heard of the concept of glass and rubber balls? Life is like a juggling act. Some of these balls are “glass”, where it’s very difficult to fix once broken. While others are “rubber”, which can withstand being dropped.
While it isn’t always easy, I try to prioritise what are “rubber” and “glass” balls, and not be hard on myself when I happen to drop a few rubber ones along the way. A rubber ball dropped could be things like forgetting to put fish into my baby’s porridge, or sending her to school without her milk bottle. While a glass ball issue would be my baby running a high fever, and I would need to drop all other things to tend to her.
(5) What do you think is the main difference in parenting in your parents’ generation compared to parenting in today’s generation?
A similarity that I see in both generations is that every parent wants to give the best for their child. However, every parent comes from different backgrounds and has their own set of limitations and available resources.
While my parents’ methods of parenting were not perfect, I see that their hearts are for us. All they were trying to do is this – to do better.
And same here, I strive to do better too. To grow in my mindset as a mum, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, and as an individual.
(6) Is motherhood as tiring as other mothers say it is? If so, how do you think mothers should take care of themselves?
We’ve all heard that motherhood is tiring. But through motherhood, you will also realise that there lies in you a strength you never knew you had.
A love that you never knew you’d be capable of.
A desire that you never knew you’d have – to see your child grow beautifully and happily.
When we are fully aware that we love our child, we also learn along the way that we need to try giving our child the best version of ourselves.
When I first became a mum, I felt that I had to “prove” my love for my child. To myself, to my family, and to society in general. I felt guilty whenever I had to step away to tend to my own needs or even do the housework. Along the way, I felt terribly burnt out, became angry and resentful, and felt depressed.
It made me think “What kind of mum do I want Clarissa to have? A mum that is there 24/7 but is always upset, tired and crying? Or a mum that is there for lesser hours, but is fully present, happy, and comforting?”
After that difficult period, I have learned to be less harsh on myself. Instead of feeling guilty when my husband and I pass her to her grandparents for babysitting, we choose to enjoy our date night and focus on building our marriage. I am also learning to reach out for help more quickly, rather than waiting for a breaking point before sounding the S.O.S. to my parents and in-laws!
(7) How important is the role of a father in the parenting journey? How would you describe the parenting dynamics between you and your husband?
My child’s happiest smiles happen when she is squashed between my husband and myself, as we embrace her in a family hug. In our arms, she knows that she’s fully loved by both of us.
I find it hard to even begin describing the importance of my husband in his role as a father. When my daughter looks at him, I see a look of intense adoration in her eyes. He is the first man she’s ever fallen in love with, and my hope is that one day she’ll marry a man who loves her as daddy does. A man who loves her unconditionally, sacrificially, and with such delight and joy.
(8) How would you wish for Clarissa to describe you to her friends?
I hope to be a mum that loves her fiercely, encourages her, and yet empowers her to be bold, kind, and loving.