Michelle Lim is the English Literature Subject Head at Victoria School. Besides teaching, she also leads a team of teachers in planning the school's Literature curriculum, lesson and assessment resources.
Michelle pursued her Masters in Education in a continuous effort to develop better lesson design and teaching pedagogies so as to make teaching Literature engaging and relevant for students. Not shying away from discussing difficult issues with her students- Michelle facilitates thought-provoking activities such as Privilege Walk where she assigns her students identities and ‘privileges’ for auction in a bid for students to gain multiple perspectives, and build empathy and global awareness.
In her free time, the mother of two (22 and 3 months old) enjoys reading a good book, listening to music, watching theatrical performances and visiting museums. To stay active, Michelle prefers the outdoors, going cycling and running.
Michelle sat down to share with us how having two pregnancies back-to-back did not stop her from pursuing her career as an educator. Strong support from her husband and family, as well as hired help allows her to stay committed to her deep love for teaching and engaging with her students, while spending meaningful moments with her children.
It was love at first sight with my children, finding myself being so willing to do anything and everything for them. I could stare at my babies for hours on end, and I never knew I had so much more love to give till my children came along. Of course, there is tiredness with taking care of them but watching them grow is very fulfilling.
However, having had my children in 2020 and 2021 respectively, I felt the strain as it was almost impossible to have some time to myself. As someone who thrived on having me-time to unwind after a hard day’s work, the lack of alone time led to pent-up frustration because I could not unload my stress(es) from the day before and I had to take on whatever the day after would throw at me. I had to consciously make the effort to regulate my emotions through listening to my church’s sermons and going for walks.
Words are not enough to tell you how sleep deprived I felt and it certainly did not get any easier when my second pregnancy came about. I had inexplicable, worrying abdomen pains till my second trimester while my morning sickness was excruciating and exhausting. With the pressure I exerted on myself as a mom and at work, my mental state deteriorated for quite a while. I found myself struggling and feeling like I was not being a good mom to Zechariah (especially on days when I was incapable of doing much because of my morning sickness and abdomen pains) and a lousy teacher for needing more time to finish my work.
Eventually, I did overcome this challenging period with support from my husband. He constantly reminded me that things like not being able to cook for Zechariah would not make me a bad mother. He assured me that my best was enough. It took me a while but I learnt to let go of my unrealistic ideals of managing motherhood and my career. With a clearer and less cluttered mind, I gave myself more breathing space to enjoy motherhood with Zechariah instead of stressing over whether I was doing enough for him. I still brought work home (that is the nature of teaching I think) but I became more forgiving towards myself.
Teaching is my passion. I have always been driven by my desire to impart my love of Literature to my students. This desire has not changed even when my children came along. My career as an educator was inspired by two of my teachers who made me feel safe and believed in me even when I was going through some challenging times growing up. I always hope to repay their faith in me by doing the same for students who need that bit more love and support. That being said, returning to work was hard as I was newly posted to the school I returned to, in addition to intermittent home-based learnings that were introduced as part of covid precaution measures. I was then returning to work with the expectations that I would be learning the ropes of, and fulfilling my roles and responsibilities as a key personnel.
At the same time, I wanted to be a good mother. Even with a heavier workload, I wanted to ensure sufficient time with Zechariah (my first born). This meant I tried to be home by 5pm for bath and dinner time. We also have our nightly conversation, reading and singing routine before he goes to bed. When Zechariah is asleep by 9pm, I would take a short nap and wake up around 1am to complete my lesson preparation and/or marking which could go on till 6am then I have to leave for work.
While admittedly, I am still finding a balance between my career and personal life, I have become happier managing the two when I stopped overwhelming myself with comparisons to other working moms. I also procrastinate less and become more efficient in managing my time as I am conscious of wanting to have time for my children in the evenings when I get home after work.
I currently wear a lot of wrap-around dresses as well as button down shirts and pants because they are easier when I have to breastfeed. Other than that, my dressing remains the same as I love classic pieces that are easy to put on, introducing plenty of prints to reflect my happy personality. I am still as vain as before so I do make the effort to look good at work.
My husband is definitely my bedrock in our parenthood journey. From the day I birthed Zechariah, my well-being has been my husband’s priority. He is also a very hands-on father and he makes it a point to take the children on weekends’ mornings to let me catch up on sleep. There are my aunties and mother-in-law too. They come by my place frequently to spend time with my children and check on me. My mother-in-law would prepare meals for us that we could easily heat up. Being well fed is essential to keeping my spirits up!
I have a helper so more often than not, people would comment that she must be the one taking care of my children since I have to work. I get quite aggrieved when I hear such comments because I am a very involved mom. As long as I am with my children, I dedicate myself to caring for their needs. Having a helper does not make me any less of a mom. Rather, I have more to give because I do not have to busy myself with household chores. I guess I do not see the need to have to overcome this bias as I am accountable to only my children and myself but I do wish for society in general to be less judgemental towards working moms. We are doing our best everyday even with the presence of hired help.
I am also thankful for the four months of maternity leave which I am entitled to. In addition, there is the unpaid infant care and childcare leave that enables me to be there for my children should they fall ill.
Being an educator led me to see and realise the amount of stress parents can place on their children. That probably shaped my approach to motherhood. Rather than forcing my children into a certain mold, I want them to learn and develop by exploring. Zechariah is at the stage where he is learning to assert his independence and I encourage it at home. I give him choices wherever possible and even when he experiments with crayons on my floor or walls at home, I do not tell him it is "wrong." I just make sure that I buy washable crayons and markers. At the same time, he reminds me, children learn through different means. I put more thought into my lesson design and delivery to cater for different student learning profiles.
“We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.” – Katherine May, Wintering. I think this quote best describes our experiences as working moms. Some days are harder than others but our children know we never stop giving our best so keep doing our best and let our hearts do the rest.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photos c/o Sabrina Wee
This series is part of our International Women’s Month where we catch up with amazing women who live, as intended. With many amazing women in our community, As Intended will be celebrating an entire month to feature amazing women to #breakthebias of Working Mothers.
As part of this celebration, As Intended will be donating 10% of proceeds from purchases made in the month of March to Daughters of Tomorrow (DOT), to help raise funds for low-income working women in need of child minding support.
Daughters of Tomorrow is a registered charity organization with IPC status in Singapore whose mission is to facilitate livelihood opportunities for underprivileged women, and support them in achieving financial independence and social mobility for their families.
The lack of childminding support can be one of the biggest factors preventing a woman from being gainfully employed. Singapore Tote Board will match dollar for dollar for donations made and Tax Deduction Receipts (TDR) will also be issued for donations above $10. You may like to learn more, and choose to donate directly to: https://www.giving.sg/campaigns/as-intended