Multitasking maven Tjin Lee, 44, is a force to be reckoned with. Her name is synonymous with Singapore Fashion Week and she’s also behind public relations firm Mercury Marketing and Communications.
When she’s not trying to take over the world, the always well-turned-out working mum is tending to Jake, 1½, and Tyler, 3 ― also affectionately known as JJ and Bubu respectively.
After motherhood beckoned, Tjin Lee also co-founded Crib ― a social enterprise that helps women, especially mums, become successful entrepreneurs while achieving work-life balance.
So, what’s next for this go-getting fashionista, who is married to commodities businessman John Lim, 36? Also, what’s it like living in a testosterone-fuelled household with no little girls to pass down her stellar wardrobe to? Tjin dishes all to SmartParents…
Congratulations on your second son, Jake! The last time we spoke, Tyler was six months and you said you might stop at one. What made you change your mind?
Human beings have very short-lived memories, especially when it comes to reproduction [laughs]. After we had the first one, we realised he might be lonely, which is the reason why many people who don’t intend to have many children decide to have a second one. More importantly, I felt that Tyler shouldn’t have the emotional burden of caring for two elderly parents by himself. So, we wanted him to have a support group and also someone who would be there for him when we are no longer around.
How did you react when you found out you were having another boy?
Of course, I will have to say that when you have a boy you’re hoping for a girl next. I found out the gender of my second baby during a gender reveal cake cutting during my baby shower. Only the doctor and baker knew the gender of the baby until that day. I suppose I was hoping for a pink cake, but the minute Jake arrived, I knew I wouldn’t trade him for anything. He’s so cute.
Also, I think it’s really nice for boys to have brothers. Someone they can really play with, kick the ball with, build Lego and airplanes with. Not that they can’t do that with girls. I think it’s just different when you have a little brother.
Bubu is very cheeky, he always has a big grin, and Jake takes everything very seriously.
What’s it like to parent two toddler boys?
Hectic! They have different demands. Tyler at 3 years old is so interactive, he wants to play all the time and be heard. He wants to go out, spend time with me and sit on my lap. It’s such an adorable age and part of me wishes he would always stay that way. The 1-year-old is very different. Right now, it’s all about him and he’s trying to hit his milestones ― learning to talk and trying to communicate. It’s really cute.
Do the boys get along? How different are they from each other?
They are at the age now where they fight over everything. The small one wants what the big one has and the big one won’t let the small one have any of his toys. Bubu is very cheeky, he always has a big grin, and Jake takes everything very seriously. Tyler is more like me. For Jake it’s a bit too soon to tell, but I think he will most probably be like his father, not that John is particularly serious [laughs].
Find out next why Tjin insists on being a working mum…
How do juggle your career with motherhood?
I never judge and I don’t think people should. Whether you are a stay-at-home-mum or working mum, everybody has their own story and what works for them. For me, I like to work, I think that’s what keeps me alive and I do like for the boys to have a working mum as a role model.
I think it’s good for children to see two parents who are working. I grew up in a family of four girls and my mother raised us strong and independent. Having a mother who worked in our younger years showed us what strong, independent women should look like. Although it may be much more important for girls to see that in their mothers, for boys, in terms of transference, I would want them to give their wives the choice to work. Ultimately it’s all about empowerment, whether you choose to be at home or working.
So, how do you cope?
People have said it’s exponentially harder when the second one comes along but I don’t think so. I’m much more relaxed about motherhood the second time round because I knew exactly what to expect. And I already have a system in place and the family support that was set up for the first child. Everyone helps out ― from my parents and our nanny to my mother-in-law. It takes a village to raise a child. You got to do what you got to do.
Travelling just one on one with your child really bonds you. When there’s no one else, no helper, just you and your child ― it changes the dynamics of the relationship.
What’s a typical day like?
I go to work every day, but I also have the option and flexibility to bring my kids to work with me. I recently founded a family-friendly co-working space called Trehaus. They have child-minding services and workstations for you to do your meetings while the kids play. Sometimes I have to work late, other times I knock off at 3pm and take the boys out to the zoo. We have annual memberships for everything ― the zoo, the bird park, you name it, we have it.
What do you enjoy doing together with the boys?
I love travelling with my boys ― when you escape with them and show them new worlds. That’s my thing with Tyler at the moment. We’ve done a lot of mother-son travelling. We’ve been to Colombo, Hong Kong and recently, Los Angeles. This year we will be doing New Zealand and London.
Travelling just one on one with your child really bonds you. When there’s no one else, no helper, just you and your child ― it changes the dynamics of the relationship. Jake is fairly well-travelled, too, but we do it together as a family ― I can’t travel alone with the two boys. We’ve been to Bali, Da Nang and Melbourne.
Stay tuned as Tjin talks fashion and raising boys in the tech era…
Your boys are always so immaculately dressed on Instagram. Are they following in your fashionable footsteps?
It’s more like mummy likes to dress her boys up because she has no girls! If I had a daughter, I would have shopped myself broke. When Tyler was born, it was really hard to find cute and stylish boy clothes. It was always the same grey, blue, white and black things with “choo choo” trains and teddy bears. So, a couple of friends and I started Baby Style Icon, a local online store which focuses on boy’s clothes.
Tyler is an “Instababy” ― he really took Instagram by storm from the very first few pictures I posted of him when he was a chubby little baby. Once he wore a pair of gold Adidas sneakers, and suddenly, everyone went out and bought their kids the same ones. He does have his own sense of style and right now he’s going through a phase where he refuses to wear anything but tank tops!
Ever worry that you’re overexposing your kids on the Internet?
The rule of thumb I live by is ― never put up anything about your child online you wouldn’t want your worst enemy to see. Our children are growing up at a different generation from us, they won’t grow up in a generation without social media. People want to see if you have an Instagram or social media following. And if they do, this will be a leg up in the future for them ― and why not?
Although Tyler may next time think a pix of him at 6 months dressed up as a fat dinosaur is embarrassing, I think the perks far outweigh the downsides. When you are in vying for a job next time in your 20s or 30s ― especially a marketing, advertising or creative job ― having a strong social media following is never a liability as long as whatever you post has dignity. As an employer, I do look at the social media accounts of the people I’m about to hire.
Yes, we should ban the iPad during mealtimes, we don’t want our kids staring at them all the time, but we should also not discount the fact that they are great learning tools.
So, you’re a pro-tech mum?
We all grew up plugged one way or another, from Walkmans to Discmans to the iPod. For our kids, now it’s the iPad and I believe that by the time our children go to school, they will do away with textbooks and transfer everything to the iPad. To deny our children these tools now, would be denying them access to the tools that would help them learn in the future. The digital wave is coming and it’s really whether you are ready for it or not. Yes, we should ban the iPad during mealtimes, we don’t want our kids staring at them all the time, but we should also not discount the fact that they are great learning tools. Everything in moderation. They should be educated and taught how to use those tools instead of just saying iPads are evil, you can’t have them.
How will you teach your boys good social-media manners?
I tend to think if you have manners in real life, it will spill onto your social media manners as well. It’s not something you necessarily teach. It’s more of your personality. You either grow up a gracious person or not a gracious person. So, I hope to raise gracious boys and that should spill into everything else that they do.
Photography: Kelvin Chia
Art direction: Lim Jae-Lynn
Styling: Daryl Alexius Yeo
Hair & make up: Angel Gwee, using Sulwasoo and Korea Professional
Tjin Lee wears dress by Hugo Boss. Necklace Model's own