Tak­ing the reins

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - WOMAN -

ADELE Cheah lost her hus­band two years ago. He was a tour guide who had taken a group of tourists to a wa­ter­fall. He drowned while try­ing to save some­one else. Their two chil­dren were only four and eight months old then.

Overnight, her world was thrown into chaos. Af­ter “griev­ing” and “cry­ing [ her] eyes out”, she learned of all the chal­lenges she would have to tackle as a sin­gle mother.

“When you have a hus­band,” Cheah says, “ev­ery­thing is split. But now I have to man­age the time. I have to run the house­hold, pro­vide for the kids, and take care of them.”

The hands- on mother free­lances from home, jug­gling phone calls and meet­ings with school runs and meal prep. Her home is airy and cosy, built for com­fort and the needs of young chil­dren. There is a small zoo of stuffed an­i­mals, bas­kets of toys, and an easel where her daugh­ter frees her imag­i­na­tion.

“My par­ents and my church have been sup­port­ive. Peo­ple have of­fered to babysit and to take them to the play­ground,” she says. The pe­tite mother is ac­tive and fit, but there are times she just wants a time­out.

“Sin­gle moth­ers are reg­u­lar peo­ple with our de­sires to do our own things – some­times we need that space to be our own per­son.”

Cheah re­lies on a sup­port net­work of fam­ily and friends who vol­un­teer their time. One of the tough­est is­sues is be­ing both father and mother to her kids.

“I also have to be a father to them now. My father has stepped in, but be­cause my son has no mem­ory of his father, he only has an un­der­stand­ing of what a grand­fa­ther is,” she ex­plains. “I also in­volve other male mem­bers of my fam­ily to be father fig­ures for them.”

For now, she doesn’t think in terms of large blocks of time, fo­cus­ing in­stead on the “here and now”. She says that go­ing from a dou­ble- in­come house­hold to a sin­gle- in­come one is a “fi­nan­cial strain”, but that she’s lucky she’s man­aged so far.

“I know that work­ing full- time at the of­fice would mean I could make more money, but I’ve cho­sen to stay home so I can take care of my chil­dren,” she says. “They’ve al­ready lost a father; I don’t want them to miss out on a mother.”

Her chil­dren are her first pri­or­ity. In the fam­ily’s liv­ing room, they stare out from framed pho­tos: a lit­tle girl with an elfin face, and her grin­ning younger brother. She plans her day around the chil­dren’s ac­tiv­i­ties, from nap times to play time. While she isn’t given to spec­u­lat­ing about the fu­ture, she knows she wants to “raise them well”.

She cred­its her strong spir­i­tual faith for see­ing her through.

“Be­cause of my spir­i­tual faith, I’ve been able to come out of this joy­ful and to know that there is a pur­pose and plan for me, even if I may not know it now.”

And al­though tak­ing the reins has been “em­pow­er­ing”, it has also been daunting: “You’re the one who makes the de­ci­sions and car­ries them out. It can be scary be­cause you don’t have a se­cond per­son to fall back on.”

For that rea­son, she en­cour­ages sin­gle moth­ers not to be “shy” and “ask for help” when they need it. There’s no shame in not be­ing able to do it all on your own, she says, be­cause it does “take a vil­lage to raise a child”.

“Some­times peo­ple don’t step up be­cause they think that you’re so strong and can do it on your own, or other times they take pity on you,” she says, eyes glint­ing. “I think within the com­mu­nity, it would be great if peo­ple could lend a hand.”

— SAM THAM/ The Star

Cheah’s chil­dren are her main pri­or­ity, and she has to be both mother and father to them.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.