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