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Interview: Elizabeth Wu on the myth of work-life balance and “having it all”

Image credits: Elizabeth Wu

In Mumpreneur Series, we speak to mum entrepreneurs to find out the trials and tribulations of juggling family while running a business.

It’s tough enough being a mum, let alone one who co-runs a business. From rising early to send her kids to school to overseeing operations at family-friendly co-working space Trehaus, it’s all in a day’s work for Elizabeth Wu.

In the first in our ‘Mumpreneur Series’, the mother-of-three speaks to us about making time for herself and why she thinks work-life balance doesn’t exist.

What’s a typical day like for you?
A typical day for me starts at 5.50am. I wake my two primary school-going kids, prepare them for school and send them to the school bus. I have to wave goodbye to them, if not they will get very upset. Then I come back home and get my youngest boy ready for school. We take the bus together and chit chat, have breakfast and walk him to school before coming to work. I run the operations here at Trehaus, taking care of memberships, revenue, sales, marketing and communications and every operational aspect of the business. When I’m done, I go home to my kids, have dinner with them and then I tuck them into bed. Before that there’s a lot of homework supervision. That’s a day for me.

It sounds like you’re juggling a lot of things. What keeps you going?
What keeps me going is the support from my family, my husband and my team at Trehaus.

Trehaus, a co-working space for parents

How do you make time for yourself outside of work?
It’s very hard to make time for myself because I have so many things on my plate. I steal time to do things like yoga. I sleep later so I can read or watch K-dramas. I try to make pockets of time here and there to run errands and to get some headspace.

You also run a parenting blog. Tell us more about it.
I started my blog in 2012 when I became a mum of three. I sort of knew I was done having kids. At that time, I was a stay-at-home mum. I felt I had no contact with the outside world, yet I needed to express myself. It was a little insane being stuck at home with my kids, so I documented experiences, recorded conversations I had with them, memories and reflections I had as a mother. I blogged very regularly then, but now with the business, it’s harder to write but I still use it as a platform to express myself. Also, I hope to leave it as a present to my kids. Eventually when I’m gone, they can learn what it was like being with me, growing up.

What have you learnt since becoming a parent?
I think as a parent, you learn things that you would never learn in any school or situation. It’s a life-changing experience. You learn about your weaknesses and your strengths, you learn how mean and nasty you can be. But you also learn about how much you can give, how much sacrifices you can make, and you just get better and better each day.

How would you describe your parenting style?
I have no parenting style. I know there are a lot of people who follow certain philosophies. Certain people, they subscribe to being a certain kind of parent. But I think for me, I’ve found my own parenting groove. Some days I’m tiger mum, some days I’m mean mum, some days I’m chill mum, some days I’m crazy mum, have fun with kids mum. What I know for sure is every child is different and you have to be a different mum to each child, and you have to personalise motherhood for each child, for different seasons of their lives.

At Trehaus, parents can leave their kids to play while they work

Japan recently pledged US$50 million to promote female entrepreneurship. Do you think Singapore should have a similar initiative?
I think female entrepreneurship definitely needs to be promoted here, in terms of awareness and encouraging women to become entrepreneurs. However, I feel that the devil is in the details. Where does the money go and how much of it really benefits the women entrepreneurs? With entrepreneurship, it’s about having a growth mindset. What’s more valuable is finding a community, support, mentors and a sense of camaraderie.

What’s your secret to balancing work and family?
The secret is there is no secret. I don’t think there is such a thing as balance, because when you do a balancing act, I think eventually you will fall, right? That’s what you’re trying to do, trying not to fall. I think the myth of work-life balance is so true, because now what we really want is work-life integration where we have family integrated into work and vice versa, but in purposeful ways.

That’s why we created Trehaus. This business was started because all the founders needed to find their own work-life integration. For me, it’s about finding meaningful time to spend with my children, being present with them, and them understanding that I need to build a career.

Elizabeth and her three children

What advice do you have for fellow mum entrepreneurs like yourself?
I think we’re all in this together. I don’t have golden words or tried-and-tested advice. I think that what works for me might not work for someone else. It’s important as a mum and as an entrepreneur to have clarity in what you’re doing; why you pursue certain things and to have purpose. And being able to say no or yes to certain things when you have clarity is much needed when you have so many things on your plate.

Do you think you “have it all”?
Do I think I have it all? No, I don’t have it all. I don’t think anybody has it all. I think we’re all learning every day to make the best of what we have. There are bad days, there are good days. There are things you wish you have more of, there are things you wish you have less of. I don’t think anybody has it all, and I certainly don’t think I have it all. But what I do think I have, is I have made peace with a lot of decisions that I’ve made, and that’s the mark of success I feel.

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