In honour of International Women’s Day this week, we’re showcasing just some of our favourite mummies. Here’s how a work-from-home hairstylist — with a toddler in tow — is living life on her own terms.
INTERVIEW LOW LAI CHOW
Passionate, but forgets to take care of herself. Open-minded, but so much so that she often has to “learn lessons in life the hard way.”
Asked to describe herself, Katherine Tan, as she readily admits, has an infuriating love-hate relationship with herself. Still, one quickly realises that this 32-year-old mum clearly has a mind of her own.
Just 16 when she decided that Singapore’s “dogmatic education system” was not for her, the self-made hairstylist would go on to pursue a path in hairdressing that saw her involved with big industry names like Kimarie and Toni&Guy for a great many years before she left to co-found a joint salon venture. Today, she single-handedly operates a thriving hair salon right from home.
Coincidentally, the idea of taking up hairdressing came to her as it was the unfulfilled dream of her aunt, who stepped in to take care of Katherine as a pivotal mentor and mother figure in her formative years; her parents separated when she was just five.
“Dad had my custody but was never there, so I was raised by my aunt and my grandmother,” she explains. “We (Katherine and her aunt) had our fair share of arguments and disagreements. What didn’t help is the fact that she is a very traditional lady who adopted a very conservative way of parenting: tough love.”
“Now that I am a mother, I understand her intentions and appreciate her kindness and patience. She taught and demonstrated to me many important values in life, which I will always be grateful for.”
These days, with her three-year-old daughter Millie in tow, Katherine has made greater peace with Singapore’s school system: “What I observe from today’s education system in Singapore is that there are definitely heaps more options. It is very consoling to see our local school system proactively keeping up with the changes of current society.”
The Choice was Clear
Being a stay-at-home mother who continues to pursue her passion for hairdressing from home was a choice Katherine gravitated towards as she had witnessed how hard it was not to have her own mother by her side while growing up: “I had the idea shortly after Millie was born and decided that it could give me the best of both worlds.”
Life has a wonderful way of working out, and this arrangement seems to have set
Katherine on a healing journey with her mother too.
“The deal breaker (to work from home) was having someone to trust Millie with while I attend to clients,” says Katherine. “So, I convinced my mum to quit her job to help me in the day. We did that for the first two years of Millie’s life until I was ready to have a nanny.”
Work-life balance, as Katherine laughingly observes, was hardly a consideration during her first two years of motherhood.
“Keeping both of us alive and clocking in enough rest was the only daily goal!” she attests in recollection. These days, though, Katherine is a lot more unabashed about saying ‘no’ — be it to Millie herself, work clients, or a marriage that doesn’t work out (Katherine is now waiting to get a divorce from her husband).
“Each time I say no to others, I am saying yes to myself,” she says, adding that being firm with her time has led her to start exercising regularly, be with loved ones, as well as staying centered with new hobbies such as knitting — “It’s really therapeutic and rewarding” — and cycling.
The Rules of Life
Living life by the simple rules of honesty and integrity is one thing she holds dear to her heart; it remains consistent even in the way she parents.
“I always believe that a child rarely listens to what we say, but they observe what we do,” Katherine says, revealing how she herself looked towards her parents while growing up, only to realise later on that they were really “clueless” at times.
“With Millie, I try my best to be as Katherine Tan as I can, instead of society’s expectations of how
a mummy should be. Our society has too many unrealistic expectations of women. Since she is a girl,
it is even more important to demonstrate to her how much conforming is too much.”
Clients and Friends
She is grateful to her clients — many of whom return to her — for a flexible work arrangement that does not tie her down. While privy to what’s going on in her clients’ lives, Katherine humbly rejects the idea that she is a go-to therapist of sorts to them.
“Most of my clients are friends by now and we often listen to and support one another,” she says. “It’s definitely two-way...even when we share unfortunate events in life, there is always positivity that we can focus on.”
The Teachings of Motherhood
Motherhood, she admits candidly, has been harrowing at times — and led her to unlearn and learn new things. “What blows me away the most about being a mother so far is the realisation that it is a whole new learning experience and not like, ‘Okay! I am a mummy now and I am going to teach you all that I know.’”
“I used to over-romanticise the whole idea of having a baby,” she admits. “From my experience, the first one and a half years of raising Millie felt like raising a parasite. She literally sucked me dry, especially physically.”
“The feeling of reward only came when she started interacting, and when we were able to do things together.”
Katherine’s greatest source of support? Life itself.
“The world is beautiful, and we are so lucky to be able to experience all of its beauty. No one says life is easy — it can be brutal too.
“But it’s all part of life.”