Celeb mum Diana Ser: PSLE is a necessary evil!

The TV presenter reveals how she spends time with her kiddos and on gearing up for her son’s PSLE…

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You could say that Talking Point co-host Diana Ser is having an eventful year. Besides a busy work sked that includes event hosting, her oldest child and only son, Jake, 12, just took his Primary School Leaving Examinations this year.

Yet, stressful as it is, the TV presenter, 46, believes that the pressure that goes hand in hand with this national exam is a “necessary evil”. She adds, “I won’t lie — it’s stressful for me. I have friends who migrate because they think this system is crazy.”

Indeed, during this watershed year, many Primary Six pupils attempt endless test papers, gulp chicken essence and cram as much tuition as possible. They do this in their effort to ace their PSLE.

So as not to stress her firstborn out, Diana keeps herself busy with work. She also tries to makes sure Jake gets enough sleep, relaxes or exercises in between studying, so that he has a “balanced existence” in the run-up to the all-important exam.

“I think I am ‘training’ him for the long term, not just PSLE. I hope that, one day, when he is away from us, he will know how to balance work and play

I tell my eldest that wherever he ends up, he will learn something new and make new friends.”

When it comes to homework, Diana, who’s married to Mediacorp actor-turned-bank executive, James Lye, 49, nags and gives all of them constant reminders. However, she notes that her daughters, Jaymee, 7, and Christy, 10, are more “on the ball” than Gor Gor.

“The kids are so different in so many ways, so I find that I can love them in different ways without feeling that I am short-changing any one of them.”

“I was a very studious child, so naturally, I nurture them to be conscientious academically. I believe that doing regular small revisions every day is a better way to pace themselves. But it takes a lot of discipline ― both on their part and mine!”

As a mother of three, Diana says she used to worry about favouritism and middle child syndrome but finds that she no longer needs to. “The kids are so different in so many ways, so I find that I can love them in different ways without feeling that I am shortchanging any one of them.”

Diana tells SmartParents how she spends time with her brood, her rules on gadget use and how to nurture bilingualism at home…

Hey Diana! What’s a typical day in your life like?

When I’m filming, my days start at 4.30am! I need to get my makeup done before getting the kids ready for school. I do the school runs, then go to work. Fortunately, I am able to work half days with my ongoing TV project — Talking Point — so I get to spend the rest of the day supervising the kids.

What are your childcare arrangements like?

I would not be able to do the work I do without the support of my helper. She is amazingly efficient, kind-hearted and mature. She supports me in childcare and housekeeping. I supervise the kids’ work, indulge in their interests — for instance arts and crafts — and make sure they get as much outdoor time as possible.
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How do you and your hubby divvy up parenting duties?

Like most families, mummy is still very much in charge, whether she is working or not. My husband works very long hours, so I am the caregiver most of the time.

Your hubby, James, has left showbiz for about 18 years now. Did he ever contemplate going back into showbiz?

Never! [Laughs] James is very happy where he is ― he never looks back.

Do you all still get recognised when you are out as a family?

Occasionally, but it is never a big deal.

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But, being a celeb, privacy can be a grey area…

Once, when my son was younger, a lady said hello to him by name at the supermarket. I smiled at her, thinking he must know her. But my son said he had no idea who she was. It occurred to me that she must have read his name somewhere in the media. That spooked me a little. But by and large, there is not much to protect. People are generally nice and maybe friendlier when they see my kids.

Does being a celeb parent come with any perks?

Not really. We had to go through P1 registration just like everyone else! And that was stressful!

“All three are still at the age where they can just chase one another around the house and that alone is plenty of fun — I am savouring this stage because they grow too fast!”

How is Jaymee coping with Primary school?

She is doing well, thanks to being the youngest! Just by watching her elder siblings, she was used to the idea of Primary school, way before she started P1.

Who’s the disciplinarian at home?

Me!

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What are your thoughts on caning as a form of discipline?

If you are going to do it, then [do it] only once. Because after that, the child may get desensitised to it. I don’t believe I have actually caned them before.

Do your kids get along and has there been any sibling rivalry?

The girls get along very well and because of the age gap ― two-and-a-half years ― they still play together really well. All three are still at the age where they can just chase one another around the house and that alone is plenty of fun — I am savouring this stage because they grow too fast!

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What are your house rules on gadget use?

My elder kids have basic phones they use to make calls. No smartphones ― yet. Our agreement is smartphones only when they start secondary school. No phones at dining tables and adults need to lead by example. James and I are a bit old school, so meal times are bonding times and catching-up times. As for games and TV, they are allowed only in the evenings after dinner, for a limited period of time. We do have a lot of movie nights, both at home and at the cinema! Yes, the kids grumble on and off, especially the eldest. But I don’t think he finds himself missing out on too much. We keep them occupied with activities and family time, so they have no reason to turn to their phones.

How do you respect their privacy on social media?

Gosh ― I will cross the bridge when I get to it! They do not have social media accounts yet because they don’t have smartphones. But I must do my homework before my son gets his smartphone by the end of this year. [Probably] speak to other parents, do a bit of research online etc [laughs].
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Tell us about Crazy about Chinese — the edutainment YouTube series you’ve created with Jaymee…

I mainly share the videos and stories on Instagram, Facebook and my website. In a nutshell, I hope to rally parents to do more for bilingual education. By sharing my experience or putting together stories, I hope to share ideas and inspire other parents. Kind of like a cheerleader, or gym buddy equivalent. The preschool years are so critical to lay the foundation for bilingualism.

Indeed. So, why do you think a lot of parents and their children face challenges in being effectively bilingual?

In Singapore, we can get by just by speaking English. There is no real imperative to be good at a second language except to get through exams.

“I avoid saying things like ‘Chinese is so difficult’ in front of them. If mum is saying that, then they will have an excuse not to do better.”

Any tips for our parents on cultivating bilingualism at home?

The simplest and cheapest is to listen to podcasts. I am a huge fan of podcasts. When parents feel they cannot speak good Mandarin themselves, listen to podcasts together. My kids listen to stories, usually when travelling in the car. I don’t like them looking at gadgets too much, and listening encourages them to imagine, too. It is way better to do the activity together with them, of course. So after a story, I can explain to them what certain terms mean.

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But most parents struggle with speaking Mandarin on their own. What can they do to overcome that?

Learn together with your kids! I don’t profess to know everything, so very often, I check the dictionary with the kids, so we learn together. I avoid saying things like ‘Chinese is so difficult’ in front of them. If mum is saying that, then they will have an excuse not to do better.

How do you spend time as a family?

Church on Sundays; movies, which we love; meals and family holidays. We ski every year and it is something we do together as a family.

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Do you spend one-on-one time with your kids?

Both James and I do, actually. All three went on solo holidays with their dad before they started P1. For me, it is more opportunistic. Some days, I have one child with me before I pick up the rest, so I squeeze in some solo time doing the things that particular child likes. For instance, my son just wants a big, fat burger or browsing in bookstores.

Did you always know you wanted to become a mum of three?

Both James and I come from families with three siblings, so having three [children] ourselves seems natural. I would love to have another one if I had started younger!
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Do you hope that your children will follow in your footsteps and become a journalist like you?

Not particularly. I do like to take my kids to work when I can, because I like to expose them to as many experiences and people as possible. So, I won’t be surprised if one or two of them follow in my footsteps.

Has any of your children shown interest in this regard?

Only my son. He loves soccer, but he reckons he is not good enough to play professionally. So, he says being a sports journalist is “good enough”.

Cuddling them! My son is getting a bit shy about being physical, but my girls are always “choping” us at bedtime. As in, I “chope” Mommy or Daddy to make me sleep. Nothing like the smell of my babies!”

How do you juggle parenting duties with the pressures of work?

By being very present in the moment, so that I can focus — and in this respect, my job helps a lot [because] hosting live TV shows and large-scale events requires a great deal of concentration! I find that when I do that, I get things done faster and enjoy the process a lot more. Planning ahead helps a lot, too! Although I can be a bit haphazard in my planning sometimes. Lastly, get sufficient sleep! I find that when I get enough rest, it really helps to destress. [Getting] massages and online retail therapy [helps, too]!

What do you enjoy most about being a parent?

Cuddling them! My son is getting a bit shy about being physical, but my girls are always “choping” us at bedtime. As in, I “chope” Mommy or Daddy to make me sleep. Nothing like the smell of my babies!

On the flipside, what do you miss most about your life before your kids?

Not having a single care in the world.

What’s your secret to dealing with mummy guilt?

I suck it up!

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How do you and your husband spend time as a couple?

Not as much as we want to. On occasions that we do, the kids will whine because they feel they have been ‘abandoned’. We tell them it is important that we get time to ourselves, too.

You’re 46 this year and a mother of three! What’s your secret to looking fab?

I had my kids relatively late [when I was 34], and I want to keep up with them! Ageing gracefully takes effort, and I guess I am willing to invest time and effort. I try to eat well and work out as often as I can. And I sleep quite early ― by 10pm whenever possible.

What is your proudest moment as a mother so far?

When I first laid eyes on them after they were born via C-section. It was like I made it to the first milestone ― bringing them safely to this world.

Complete these sentences:

* If I hadn’t been a TV presenter and journalist, I would have been a… Teacher.

*The one thing I always tell my kids is… C’mon guys, move it already!

* The one superpower I wish I had is… Making every sick kid well again.

Photos: Instagram/Diana Ser

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