Forefront

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This Mother's Day, we cosied up with the doyenne of local culinary scene, Violet Oon and her
daughter-cum-business partner, 
Su-Lyn Tay on how they tackle motherhood and building a business together.

How would you describe your mother-daughter relationship? Especially since the both of you work together as well!
SL: We share a really strong mother-daughter relationship but the fact that we work together does make a difference in our dynamics. One thing that I really appreciate about her is that regardless of the challenges or disagreements we may face when it comes to the business, she never pulls the “mum” card on both my brother and myself. I’m thankful that she is okay with us challenging her and for always encouraging us to speak our minds. This leads to a very open and objective relationship where we can easily move on to the next objective after ironing things out.

VO: I strongly encourage them to speak their minds because they’re not supposed to agree with me just because I am their mother. This is how I was brought up by my parents as well.

"Never stop learning and always be
open to new experiences and criticisms."

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Were there any life lessons that your mum taught you and you believe are vital to pass on to your children?
SL: One very valuable lesson that my mum taught me was that if you want something, you’ll have to fight for it. She was never adamant about me having good grades in school and If you are not great at something, you can just take a step back. However, if there is something which you want to pursue then you have to set your mind and fight for it.

Also, she truly encourages us to speak our mind freely. At the end of the day, we always know that there will be no judgement for anything we do or say, and it has been ingrained in us that we can fight for what we want and believe in, which includes fighting with her, to fight to defend our views and there wouldn’t be any judgement for it.

Having said that, I would say that I actually grew up in a very safe yet dynamic environment because you know that the person that is challenging you is coming from a place of love; not just fighting for the sake of getting her ways. 

VO: This is good training for life in the real world because you learn to fight for what you stand for. A lot of us are brought up in a very conservative environment where we are not taught to speak our minds but to obey your seniors. Therefore, we are not used to being confrontational. But this confrontation is actually positive and not destructive. I always say that if there are 5 people in a conference room and everybody is very polite, you get the worst result. Nobody says what they think and you are not arguing to get to the heart of the matter. The decision you derive at is merely a polite solution and not necessarily the best one.

In our family, we can have a major fight on certain issues but there will be no hard feelings and we can immediately move on to talking about the kids. It can be emotional when you are in it - but it is not an emotional experience. I believe that you have to fight and you have to stand firm for what you believe.

Another thing Su-lyn mentioned was that I wasn’t worried about results. This is because children have to have confidence. Once you lose confidence it’s terrible!

SL: I didn’t enjoy school and I found out later on that I was dyslexic - which was why I could never spell and remembering huge chunks of information was very challenging. But I could do math and economics. Then I realised that there are things that you are good at and things that you are not good at and that’s fine.

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Recently we ran a parenthood survey with all the mothers in the office - they are unsure how to define what good parenting is. What do you think being a good parent means?
SL: As times evolve, parenting styles also evolve and we want to equip our children with the life skills to tackle what is out there. Now there are so many options out there and that can get quite pressurizing for parents.

VO: Back in our days, we had math science or art stream and that was it haha. Now there is biodynamics and all the tech-related stuff...

SL: Yeah there are so many things which you want to expose your child to. It really depends on what is important because you can’t focus on this many things at the same time. You have to start by identifying what is important to you. I think schoolwork is not important for me - it runs in the family haha.

VO: Her son is having an exam today (Tuesday) and on Sunday she let him attend the Bruno Mars concert!

SL: I didn’t even realise his exams starts this week haha. It’s ironic because on Sunday he was trying to do papers and get me to mark them. It’s the other way round and he was like, “Mummy are you not anxious about my exams?”.

I think academics are important but more so that you try and not so much the grade. For me different things are important. Be courageous, be kind, be respectful. I focus more on trying to instil these values. Sure I lose my temper but I am very mindful that I do not ever want to lose the connection with them.  I can’t be perfect all the time and I cannot be totally void of emotions and I think he also understands that - that people have emotions and it is not so easy to control them. How do we move on from that and acknowledge what we’ve done and taken ownership of that? I have him to know where it is coming from even if it was irrational at least he knows.

 

VO: That mummy was crazy yesterday HAHA

SL: I want to have that relationship. I can’t be walking around being like ‘ok the parenting book says this’. We try to find different options but there are times when it doesn’t happen. Its not so much about good parenting but just having that connection with your child. Because you want them to feel that they can come to you for anything and that your love is unconditional.

VO: I think you must not confuse good motherhood with merely dispensing information. Good motherhood is actually imparting values. If people try to load their children with different classes. When I went to university I asked my father what I should study and he told me “It doesn’t matter because you should go to university, not for information but to learn how to think. So you can study anything you want.”

The most important thing is that are you imparting values, and to teach them that you behave in a certain way because you believe in it and not because the world says so. You empower the child by letting her know the consequences and implications of her actions.

"Be courageous, be kind, be respectful.
I focus more on trying to instil these values."

It is very easy to lose yourself in the journey of parenthood, were there any moments when you felt yourself changing or simply lacking time for yourself?
VO: I think I am more selfish than her because I am an only child.

SL: yeah because you were an only child, your alone time is very important to you.

VO: You become very self-focused too which is bad haha. Not only was I an only child I went to 7 schools and changed schools every two years so I became very self-sufficient. So I don’t have this problem.

SL: As for losing myself, it happened at a time when I was juggling three kids and a new business. We opened the restaurant in 2012 and after that, I got pregnant for the third time - renovated the restaurant when our business partner came onboard and then we had the national kitchen then satay bar. I lost myself more in the work and how much time you need.

VO: At a certain stage she said stop.

SL: At one point I was just giving and giving and giving everything to make all these things work. And sometimes you don’t realise this because with every new thing you just put a lot of effort into it. I needed to realise that new things are coming onboard and I was getting overwhelmed. That’s when I knew the importance of balance. Thereafter I told my mother that for certain periods of the day, I don’t want to be dealing with work. But instead, to dedicate time to my family and being 100% there with them. It’s all about prioritizing and assessing what is truly important.

VO: In my mother’s time she was the top secretary to chief David Marshall. At the point in time women were only expected to be one or the other, if you have a career you don’t need to be involved with the children or housework at all and vice versa. And people didn’t feel guilty and the children don’t feel deprived either. Sometimes it’s about what you are brought up to expect.

SL: Now it is all about being a super-mom.

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What is one advice that you would give to other women out there?
VO: I don’t think of myself as a woman or a man, but I think of myself as a person; especially when I am accomplishing things in life. Because if you do so then you put yourself into a role. I am an only child and my parents decided to have only one child regardless of whether it was a boy or a girl, which is very unusual for that time. So I was brought up as a person that has to be developed. Whatever talents you are given, you have to make the full use of it. And don’t try to be something you are not.

SL: Never stop learning and always be open to new experiences and criticisms. That was something my mom taught me. Even at 69, she said if you don’t learn 10 new things every day, you are going backwards. It can be something as simple as learning a new thing about yourself.

"I don’t think of myself as a woman or a man,
but I think of myself as a person; especially when
I am accomplishing things in life. Because if you do
so then you put yourself into a role."

In celebration of the super mamas out there, we did a little shoutout and received so many beautiful stories
on these inspirational women. We have selected 3 of the many amazing stories that caught our hearts to share with you.