These days, not only is Tin Pei Ling a Member of Parliament of MacPherson SMC, she is also head of non-profit organisation Business China.
As you can imagine, life has been extremely eventful for the 36-year-old multi-hyphenate since SmartParents last caught up with her in 2016 when the first-time mum shared her struggle balancing MP work and caring for her then 9-month-old son, with husband Ng How Yue, a Permanent Secretary (Health Development) at the Ministry of Health.
Like any working mother, Pei Ling’s challenges balancing work and family are ongoing. Indeed, she joined Business China in May 2018 as CEO ― which aims to cultivate a bilingual and bicultural group of Singaporeans to strengthen Singapore-China relations ― when she was in the second trimester of her second pregnancy.
Describing adjusting to her new role as a “fresh challenge”, she recalls, “A few signature projects came up then and I had to spend much time and energy on those. Having to juggle that and constituency work, I remember being much busier than during my first pregnancy.”
“My second childbirth was slightly faster than my first,” she notes. “Before I went to the ward, my contractions were painful and my husband thought I was going to crush his hand squeezing it! But the delivery itself was smooth ― a third of the time compared to my first.”
Hi Pei Ling ― how was your second pregnancy?
It was relatively smooth, perhaps because I was more experienced and knew what to expect. I felt healthy but was still very sensitive to smells. It made eating very tough and I even lost weight. I did have some muscle aches, too ― I suppose my core muscles were a bit weaker the second time.
“[Motherhood is]… A lot of juggling! I’m still feeding my younger son breastmilk, so I have to pump diligently and that takes time… Thankfully, I have a good team… I still have to run between places and motherhood has its tough days.”
And the second childbirth experience?
I was feeling quite good and fit. In fact, I even thought I might deliver after my estimated delivery date, which wasn’t the case. The EDD was supposed to be 26 September.
I went to my meet-the-people’s session on 24 September as normal, and reached home past midnight on the 25th. Then I started to feel mild pain. I didn’t think much of it, but it got longer and more intense when I timed it.
My husband was fast asleep then. After I showered, I woke him up and told him I could be in labour. He drove me to the hospital immediately and the nurses helped me change and get ready. They were very helpful but I was distracted by the contractions until the epidural was administered.
How is your first son taking to your second ― any sibling rivalry?
He’s still adjusting but it’s getting better. Recently, he did something really sweet. We were celebrating my helper’s birthday with a cake. He saw me giving a bit of cake to my younger son, and he took some of his cake and fed his brother, too!
He doesn’t usually show him much affection, but he’s definitely getting used to his younger brother. In terms of sibling rivalry, thankfully, there’s nothing serious so far.
What is motherhood like for you now with two sons?
A lot of juggling! I’m still feeding my younger son breastmilk, so I have to pump diligently and that takes time. I did not take the four months maternity leave as a whole either. I took two full months first, with the remainder spread out. Thankfully, I have a good team who supported me whilst I focused on recovering and my kids.
Now, everything is back in full swing. I still have to run between places and motherhood has its tough days.
How do you juggle MP constituency work, being CEO at Business China and motherhood?
It’s really about different priorities at different times. The high expectations people have towards these roles mean I have three full-time jobs. I try to have a schedule for my various roles.
In between, I spend time with my sons. Occasionally, we have free days over the weekends ― we cherish those times and try to bring my sons out. On normal days (and weekends) when I am busy at events, my husband has to step up to be with them. We try not to be absent if we can help it ― and I am thankful for that.
Emotionally, I wouldn’t say that it’s easy. No matter what, you feel stretched in different directions. You have a duty as an elected Member of Parliament ― that is absolutely sacred and you cannot let it slip. With my younger son, I do feel a sense of guilt as I got to spend more time with my older son when he was born.
Sometimes, I can tell that my younger son wants me to carry him as he would stretch out his arms. But all I can do is touch him and say, “I’m sorry, I have to go”. I think I will be heartbroken when he stops reaching out to me.
What kind of help do you have as regards childcare, cooking and housework?
My older son is now in childcare, and I must say that I have a deep empathy for the various challenges young parents face with regard to caring for their kids. Working parents are the norm these days, and parents want to provide the best care for their children. Therefore, it’s important to find ways to support them. I’m glad that the government is expanding the number of childcare facilities, both in quantity and quality. Parents want to make sure that their child is in a safe and caring environment that offers the right stimulation.
It’s no longer just about supporting women, too. Men desire to play a key role in raising families, and are more hands-on and emotionally attached. Having assurance of a good support system lets them focus on other parts of their life as well.
What role does your husband play in childcare?
I’m thankful that he is a loving husband and father. Because I have less time with my kids, he has to make many sacrifices to care for them. I’m busy in the evenings with constituency work, so he spends time with them then.
I cannot imagine caring for our family without him. He is very supportive and pays a lot of attention to their diet. He’s usually the one nagging that sugar is bad, and will conscientiously look at nutritional labels, too.
“I think every parent should define what is important to them individually, and that may differ from person to person. Each parent has to figure out their own path, and I hope that we all find our own balance.”
What does your family do when you and your husband have time off?
What advice do you have for other struggling working mums?
I think every parent should define what is important to them individually, and that may differ from person to person. Each parent has to figure out their own path, and I hope that we all find our own balance.
For me, I love my family and can’t imagine life without my children around. I may not be able to spend a lot of time with them, but I want to work hard for their future. This comes in the form of the topics that I discuss in Parliament and programmes put forth, many of which will affect them and their peers.
What is your parenting philosophy like? Are you a Tiger Mum or more go with the flow?
I’m still trying to figure that out. On the one hand, I hope that my sons can enjoy their childhood. But sometimes, I worry as my older son seems to face challenges with reading compared to his classmates. I’m not asking him to top the class, but I also don’t want him to feel like he can’t catch up. I honestly don’t know what kind of mum I am at the moment, maybe just a kan cheong mum!
What is a typical day like for you?
After I wake up, I will pump. I usually go to the constituency or office, and have to pump a few hours later as well. Nowadays, I arrange a lot of lunch meetings so I can clear some work during lunch.
After that, I pump again and usually go for other meetings or events. If time permits, I try to go home and spend a bit of time with my kids, talking to my older son and playing with my younger son before my evening programmes resume.
In the evenings, I visit my constituency. If my sons are still up when I come home, I play with them for a while and am usually knocked out after.
Do you still have date nights with your husband?
Very rarely. If we do, it would be a late-night movie. Sometimes, we go for late-night dinners too, as I don’t eat until I’m done (usually around 10pm).
What are your wishes for your kids?
I used to have a lot of wishes and expectations for them but now, my most important wish is for them is to be safe, healthy and happy. I would give my life for them, and I want them to find meaning and happiness in whatever they do.
Are you planning to have any more kids?
I’m really not sure! I will leave it to fate!
Do you think Singapore does enough to support working mums? What changes would you like to see?
We can do better in terms of flexi-work arrangements. I think parents are not asking for time off or less work, but simple things like the ability to work from home. In essence, understanding and support from employers, fellow employees and the general society is essential.
“We can do better in terms of flexi-work arrangements. I think parents are not asking for time off or less work, but simple things like the ability to work from home.”
What kind of Singapore would you like to see when your kids reach your age?
I hope it continues to be vibrant and bustling with opportunities, so that they can lead a quality life, whatever they choose to do. As a society, I hope we continue to be caring and inclusive and that we keep reinventing ourselves to be better than we were before.
What do you do for me-time?
Sometimes, I honestly just want to sleep! Or I catch an episode of a drama series, in particular, Chinese period dramas.
Please fill in the blanks:
When I get frustrated with my work/kids/husband, I… Go to sleep.
My favourite outdoor activity to do with my children is… Swimming.
Something I miss about my own childhood is… Time with my mum.
Something no one knows about me is… I’m tougher than I look!
I get my kids to eat fruits and vegetables by… Bargaining! I’ll tell them if you eat this, I’ll give you a reward!
My meltdown-prevention tactic is… Talking to my husband about my worries.
My pet peeve is… Grammar mistakes ― I have this tendency to want to correct them.
I’m totally obsessed with… My sons!
The last movie I saw/book I read was…I honestly can’t remember the last movie I saw. The last book I read was China Reconnects by Wang Gungwu.
The last unhealthy thing I ate was…French fries.
Someone I look up to is…Lee Kuan Yew ― I think he was a great man.
The most used apps in my phone are…WhatsApp and Instagram.
My favorite place I’ve travelled to is… Europe, where I went for my honeymoon.
My go-to song is…Titanium by David Guetta and Sia.
Photos/Tin Pei Ling
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