Celeb mum Genevieve Woo: I’m glad I became a mum later in life

The Channel NewsAsia presenter reveals that she appreciates her daughter even more because she became a mother in her 40s.

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While Genevieve Woo still gets butterflies whenever she goes on air after 12 years, she’s pretty chill about raising her 6-year-old daughter Katherine Isabelle Kern.

In fact, you could even say that the 48-year-old presenter of Insightan hour-long weekly Channel NewsAsia current affairs programme ― is pretty composed eventhough she is a first-time mum.

Sometimes, she may even be accused of being a little too lax, she confesses. Genevieve recalls how her American film-producer hubby, Tony Kern, 48, has caught her with their daughter still up well past their little one’s bedtime.

“As kids do, they will come up with some funny excuses or try to push the envelope and ask for another five minutes, another five minutes. Before you know it, the five minutes turn into an hour past her bedtime and my husband will come into the room and ask us: What are you still doing awake?!”

The presenter’s more relaxed parenting style could be the result of becoming a mum at the age of 41. Genevieve says that becoming a mother later in life has helped her value her daughter all the more. “Because I don’t feel so harassed in terms of my time and in my career, I’ve also achieved some form of stability.”

Indeed, while many may know her as an anchor person, Genevieve actually wore many hats before she became a presenter some 12 years ago. She not only headed the group corporate communications department at Mediacorp, in 2008, the film buff even produced a feature-length movie, A Month of Hungry Ghosts, which received a Best Film nomination at the Singapore International Film Festival.

“But not with my daughter, she didn’t cry a single day! She can’t wait to go to school the next day. I was thinking to myself: okay, this was easy…”

Genevieve reckons if she had become a mum at a younger age, things would have been a lot different, especially since she’d probably would have had more to prove. “At [a younger] age, it may have come at the expense of spending time with Katherine because I suppose the priorities are a bit different. So, if anyone’s thinking of starting parenthood late, barring the biological [challenges], I’m all for it.”

SmartParents sits down with the presenter to find out how she juggles her hectic schedules with motherhood and her daughter’s upcoming transition to Primary 1.

 

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Hi Genevieve! How’s Katherine doing in preschool so far?
Oh, she loves school! When she first started, you’ll hear stories where preschoolers take anywhere between a week to six months to get used to preschool or they can go through school crying every single day. But not with my daughter, she didn’t cry a single day! She can’t wait to go to school the next day. I was thinking to myself: Okay, this was easy… [laughs] So, it’s a joy for us because we didn’t have to look forward to her bawling every day [laughs].

So, no separation anxiety at all?

No. Not at all. In fact, I get the feeling that she seems quite happy to say, “Bye, mama!” [laughs] Not sure whether I should feel, err, insulted by that [laughs]! So, that was a pleasant surprise.

What is Katherine’s personality like?
Hmm, where do I begin [laughs]? It’s like they have so much personality cramped inside that small body of theirs. Well, she’s an extrovert ― she loves creative things like most other children do. She loves to sing, to dance and she likes to draw. She is particularly good at sports, I’ve noticed ― her hand-eye coordination is spot-on. Based on the sports that we have introduced her to, I’ve noticed she has pretty good ball sense. She catches everything very easily — it’s almost instinctive.

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So, whom does she take after in terms of her sporting abilities — you or your husband?
I think we both are, we’ve both been quite active and both of us also play tennis. But like most kids, Katherine also loves the water — you could say that she took to swimming like a fish to water, literally. [Laughs] She really enjoyed that. Tennis was more of a decision made by me and my hubby because we can both play and we also want to be able to play with her, too. But she likes it. She’s taking classes at the Singapore Tennis Association ― they have a junior class, so she goes once a week.

Does Katherine have her own social media account?
At 6 years old? [guffaws] You mean there are toddlers who have their own Instagram accounts? [Laughs] I must imagine it’s managed by their parents, of course? But that’s new to me, I have to say I haven’t thought about it. My first instinct will be resist it.

 

 

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How so?
I guess the exposure at her age. But having said that, my Facebook and Instagram pages and those of my husband’s — we do post family pictures. But she isn’t tagged in any of them and isn’t identified. We’re not setting her up as her own personality.

What is your daily routine like?
I work in Channel NewsAsia’s current affairs department and present a weekly show called Insight, for which I’m also the senior editor and producer. We do regional stories, so this means there’s a fair bit of travelling involved. But this is planned in advance, so I can carve out time for it. It’s pretty much a 9-to-5 job. On weekends, I present News 5 if I’m rostered.

What are the childcare arrangements like when you travel for work?
We have a helper, so we rely on her quite a fair bit. If not, my parents are also around, so I’ll ask them to come and keep an eye on Katherine. My hubby runs his own production company, so there’s some flexibility there, too. But we try not to travel at the same time.

 

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Can Tony care for Katherine on his own?
I am going to say that between the two of us, he’s probably the better parent. So, I think I am blessed [laughs].

What do you enjoy the most about your job?
I work with my producer and editors to come up with how I’ll like to shape a certain story. We have more leeway in how we want to tell the story because the show is in a longer format, as opposed to news, which is all about the headlines and a bit more factual. I find the crafting of such long-form shows more challenging… I would say it’s a lot more creative. Of course, you are not creative with the facts [laughs] but you are creative with the way you tell the story.

“We also make a very conscious effort that there’s certain No-Work Zones like when I get home from work, we really do not want to talk about work. I want to spend time with Katherine.”

Can you recall Katherine’s reaction when she first saw you on TV?
She cried! She was young, probably about 3 or 4 years old? I was on the news reporting “live” and she was watching with my husband and when she saw me coming up on that box, she started crying and she didn’t understand how mama was in the box. And when she wanted to talk to me, I couldn’t respond and that made her cry even harder [laughs].

What are your thoughts on fake news?
Your first reaction will be: Who’s your source, where did you hear that? And if your source is someone dodgy, then you laugh. But that should be your first reaction. If something sounds too ridiculous or too good to be true, it probably is.

What’s your secret to juggling your parenting duties and work pressures?
A lot of it is about being a tag-team with my husband. I think that there are certain areas he’s better at and certain areas where I’m better at, so there’s a division of labour that way. We also make a very conscious effort that there’s certain No-Work Zones like when I get home from work, we really do not want to talk about work. I want to spend time with Katherine until she goes to bed. Then I can pick up the conversation or I can work on my laptop and answer my messages on my phone.

 

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What is your “go-to” family activity on weekends?
We live right by the beach, so, it’s literally our backyard [laughs]. We also wanted to have access to the entire East Coast Park [laughs], so, every weekend we’re there either cycling or at the skate park or we’ll have a picnic.

What are your thoughts on caning as a form of discipline?
I know that in my generation, it is totally acceptable, but, I believe that violence begets violence. So from Day One, the thought of caning has never crossed my consciousness.

 

 

 

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Katherine will be in Primary 1 next year, how are you all preparing for that transition?
The school will be one that’s situated within the neighbourhood — I won’t be making her wake up at 5am, just to go to some choice school that’s located at the other end of Earth. [laughs]. So, I went to a convent school and I would like her to continue that tradition.

Any thoughts on tuition? Some say it causes unnecessary stress, others says it’s a good way to be prepared in school…
The school I’m hoping to send her to is CHIJ Katong, and I’ve heard good things about the school. The teachers have stressed that as long as you follow our curriculum, you do not need tuition. It’s the teacher’s commitment to you and I was sold on that. And as it should be, right? If the school is providing the education, there shouldn’t be [a need for tuition], theoretically. I like that concept and I hope it all pans out [laughs]!

What do you miss most about life before motherhood came along?
Picking up and travelling on a whim —I miss that the most. I mean as a couple, you can pretty much go to any of the Lonely Planet destinations [laughs] and live dangerously. You can’t quite do so with a young child. You have to choose family-friendly places and there’s also a lot more things to pack along. I look forward to the age when Katherine’s a little older, a little more able to rough it out with us.

What do you enjoy the most about being a parent?
I mean kids say the darndest things, don’t they? Katherine will say things totally out of the blue ― totally unexpected but I look forward to it!

“May she never let society or convention restrict what she wants to do… I also wish for her to have the courage of her convictions.”

Any examples you’d like to share?
She was moody about something and she was being uncharacteristically quiet, so I prodded her and I asked her, “Hey, what’s up” and she didn’t want to say or talk and that’s very unlike her. So, I asked again and she said, “Oh, you know, my heart’s broken.” And I was thinking what? At 6 years old?! [laughs], so I asked, “Why is your heart broken?” She refused to say. So, I repeated my question and she said because it’s made in China. [Laughs] I don’t know who she picked that up from! Clearly, somebody who’s not happy with some made-in-China goods. I don’t see how she put two and two together but she could be talking about something fragile, as well. [Laughs] I had a good laugh over that one.

What sort of childhood would you say you had?
Pretty happy. My younger sister and I were both held to pretty high standards. My mother, being both the Tiger Mum and the homemaker, made us her career [laughs] ― she had very high standards, so that was transferred to me and my sister. But her strict ways were at the same time balanced by my dad, who’s quite chill.

How do you and your hubby sort through differences in parenting styles?
No corporal punishment is one we agree on. There are a couple of things that I’ll say I’m a stickler for, like basic etiquette. No handphones at the dinner table. As Asians, we always greet our elders first before we eat. That’s a bit foreign to my husband but I’m a stickler for things like basic manners. I suppose the Americans are quite casual about those sort of things — I’m not. It’s part of our culture and I want her to continue the culture. So, for example, if she’s a guest at someone else’s house, she has to first greet both aunty and uncle, she can’t run to a corner and just play with her toys.

What is your biggest wish for Katherine?
I wish that may she never let society or convention restrict what she wants to do. May it not restrict her thoughts and may she not self-censor or second guess herself. I also wish for her to have the courage of her convictions.

Complete these sentences:

If I weren’t a news presenter, I would be a… Tennis player.

The one thing people don’t know about me is… That I can sing pretty well. I’ve actually been in choirs all my life — from Primary school all through university. So, that has exposed me to different genres of music and performance. I’ve always performed in public as part of the choir but I think I’ll never do so as a solo artiste because I’ve kind of missed the boat? [Laughs]

The one thing I always tell my daughter is… Hurry up! [Laughs] She dawdles so much.

The one superpower I wished I had is… To be in two places at once. This way, I’ll be getting more done in half the time — which kind of boosts your productivity? [Laughs]

Photos: Genevieve Woo

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