Many mothers are finding creative ways to balance family and work. Through freelancing, part-time jobs or starting their own businesses, they trudge forward to redefine the picture of a successful and content woman. These are but a few of such individuals.
Lim Tuan Fern with a patient.
Lim Tuan Fern
Lim Tuan Fern graduated from Murdoch University in Perth, Australia in 2007 and worked as a chiropractor Down Under for two years before she was beckoned home by family and an ailing grandmother who passed away just six months after her return.
The option then was to return to Perth, but Lim, 34, wanted to make her hometown more aware of the options chiropractors could bring. “Chiropractors are not very common here and female chiropractors are even rarer. People are used to expecting big, burly and usually Caucasian men doing the job. Not many think of small, petite women in the field,” she says.
Breaking stereotypes, however, is often fraught with obstacles and Lim – believed to be the first femae chiropractor in the state – has had to overcome prejudices on both her gender and size to become established in Penang. “In Australia, regardless of your experience or size, patients will try you out and give you a chance. Back here, I’ve had a lot of questions on how many years I’ve practised, or being small, whether I have the strength to do the job.
“Some patients take one look at me and promptly opt for someone else. In actual fact, technique is what’s important and the size of the chiropractor plays a small part in the job.”
Lim with her husband, Darren Lau, and their two daughters.
After getting married and settling down, Lim gave birth to her first child in 2017, which marked a big shift in how she approached work. From full days in the
office, often working till 7pm, she switched to part-time hours. Now, with two children, she works two to four half days each week. “It has always been my intention to work while my children are in school and be able to be at home when they are. I have always tried to avoid a 9-to-5 job so I would be able to raise my kids,” she says.
Working part-time has understandably required adjustments for Lim and her family, with her in-laws helping out when she puts in hours at the office. Lim adds that one of the pitfalls of being a full-time mom who works part-time is trying to do too much, with moms in similar positions often attempting to be both full-time caregivers and full-time workers at the same time.
“Apart from the obvious point of finances, I feel a big sense of responsibility to go back to my patients, and work is also something I enjoy doing. In a way, I think working makes me a better mom and it’s never crossed my mind to stop entirely,” she says.
As a software engineer by profession, teaching kindergarten was an unexpected job change. Teacher Terry (a nickname she’s picked up and what she prefers to be referred to here) arrived in Penang in the early 1990s for training at a multinational corporation she had just joined.
Hailing from Cavite, a province in the Philippines about an hour’s drive from Manila, the trip was meant to be for one short month, but fate had other plans. She met a local engineer and two years later, they wed and made Penang their home.
“The company we were both working at offered to absorb me (into the Penang plant) but when I arrived here, I was having difficulty socialising and dealing with my new surroundings so I felt like I needed to settle down more before starting work,” she says.
She became pregnant soon after and upon giving birth, Terry found it difficult to be separated from her daughter, especially when the time came to enrol the child into kindergarten. “The principal at the kindergarten I chose said to me, ‘I know of other kindys that have a number of Filipino teachers. Why don’t you come work for me?’” she recalls.
There are a lot of new avenues in working from home that my friends back in the Philippines are trying. My husband will be retiring in a few years and we are also thinking about starting a business of our own. I’m not sure what the future holds but I’m open to anything.
Terry had worked odd jobs before, putting in night shifts at a fast food chain back in her college days and also trying out home-based jobs in Penang, so a foray into another unknown industry was not something new.
Nevertheless, the first time she was put in front of pre-schoolers was harrowing, she says. “My accent is different from the children’s and even the younger ones hardly understood what I was saying. I was very nervous! But slowly, I learnt from the other teachers,” she says.
Teaching, Terry explains, is not a natural calling to her but the offer to be around her daughter during the day was too good to pass up. “There are good parts about the job. When you are teaching, you’re allowed to bring out your own inner child. When you do well and find satisfaction in achieving something, you can learn to love it,” she adds.
Terry taught in the kindergarten until her eldest moved on to primary school. Her daughter began attending partial day care and tuition to help her with her Chinese studies, and Terry followed along. “I taught at the tuition centre for five years until I felt burnt out. I then worked in a (five-star) hotel nearby until I found I was pregnant again. Then, I went back to teaching kindergarten when my second child was four.”
Now in her late 40s, Terry does look back on opportunities not taken in favour of choosing to be near her children but, true to her nature, remains optimistic about the future. “There are a lot of new avenues in working from home that my friends back in the Philippines are trying. My husband will be retiring in a few years and we are also thinking about starting a business of our own. I’m not sure what the future holds but I’m open to anything,” she says.
IKEA Batu Kawan Business Analyst Rozaimah Mohd Daud.
Rozaimah Mohd Daud
Rozaimah Mohd Daud, better known as Rozie, met her future husband during a stint in Kedah, and eight years later they tied the knot. She stayed in Shah Alam for three years and achieved her master's degree when she was working in Tangkak, Johor.
“My husband secured a lecturing position in UiTM in Merbok so I requested a transfer to Penang to be nearer to him. I had my first child in 2008 and soon after, my husband received a government scholarship to pursue a PhD in Information Management in Perth, Australia,” Rozie, now 44, says, adding that she then resigned to relocate.
A second child followed and in 2012, the family moved back home after Rozie’s husband completed his studies. “I decided I would take at least a year off (before rejoining the workforce) as my children were facing some difficulties adjusting to life back in Malaysia. One year turned out to be five!” she exclaims.
Although Rozie describes this time as staying home, in actual fact, she was frequently working.
From a research assistant position to dabbling in online retail sales and running a small, home-based baking and food business, the Pasir Mas native has tried her hand in a variety of part-time work.
“In 2018 I decided that I wanted to do something for myself. I heard that IKEA was opening in Batu Kawan and holding walk-in interviews so we packed up the whole family and went,” she says.
She landed a job in sales, which required a two-month training stint in IKEA Damansara. “That was the first time I ever left my kids for an extended period. Fortunately, as a lecturer, my husband had some flexibility so he was able to manage the children’s logistics,” she says.
Rozaimah helping out at her previous department in the showroom.
Rozie then returned to Sungai Petani and began commuting to IKEA Batu Kawan five days a week for five-hour work shifts. “I was on a flexible working hour scheme and at IKEA, we work out our schedules at least a month beforehand, so that really helped me plan ahead,” she says.
Due to her friendly nature and positive disposition, she was quickly singled out by her peers and superiors as an exemplary worker and was offered the position of accounting manager at the new IKEA store. “I took some time to think about it because I was really loving what I was doing then – as part of the team in the bedroom department, we had started from zero in an empty store and I wanted to see that task through. Eventually, the managers and my husband encouraged me and made me realise what an incredible opportunity this was and I started at my new position as Business Analyst on March 1,” she says.
Rozie now works full days at IKEA, and with both her children in primary school, coordination of her family’s schedule is manageable. “My husband says I look happy working, and I am. I would say to mothers who hope to eventually return to the workforce: go for it. You have responsibilities as a wife and a mother, but you also need something for yourself.”
Andrea Filmer is a freelance journalist who has lived in the US and Australia but, for reasons unknown to herself, finds it impossible to call anywhere but Penang home.