Posted on March 08 2022
My mum and I at Whistler Mountain, Canada after my first ski lesson.
This International Women’s Day, Nicola Wong interviews her mum, Sharon Wong, founder of Motherswork. Sharon shares her thoughts on motherhood, life lessons and her book (Wo)Mum.
Donate to the #JustOneThing campaign and receive a complimentary copy of Wo(Mum).
Nicola Wong: What was the motivation to share your life in this book?
Sharon Wong: I believe that the years of knowledge and experience I’ve accumulated can benefit those looking for life and business advice. I want to tell people about my journey and share in where I’ve come from. Hopefully, by sharing we can all bond and lift each other up.
And the motivation is that I want to make what small difference I can - paying it forward to the next generation of young entrepreneurs. The net proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to Halogen Foundation.
NW: How will the proceeds from the book help to empower the younger generation at Halogen Foundation?
SW: I’ve chosen to partner with Halogen Foundation as their initiative—to inspire and influence a generation of young people to lead themselves and others well resonates with me. As an Institution of a Public Character (IPC) charity, Halogen tackles this by providing all youth with equal opportunity, uplifting those from the fringes of society through their proven leadership and entrepreneurship programmes. By establishing a strong foundation, the generation of tomorrow can grow to be competent, of good character, have positive mindsets and skillsets.
We all have what it takes, deep down. What it comes down to is having someone recognise that potential and bring it out of you. This generation will soon be the largest demographic in the world, with predictions that they will account for 40 per cent of the global population by the year 2028. There is a pressing need to invest in the young, to prepare them to take the helm of our economy, country and world.
NW: What was the greatest difficulty you faced in authoring this book?
SW: Finding time and the headspace to think and reflect on what I wanted to say and what I wanted the book to do. Especially during the pandemic, work from home made the work day seemingly never ending. As you keep reminding me, write the book if you have something to say and not because you want to say something.
When we started school, Mum worried about us making friends and having positive experiences. She had to learn to hold back and let us make our own mistakes.
NW: What are some of your proudest moments as our mum?
SW: When my children are happy; when you and your brother and sister are healthy and happy. One of those moments I can still vividly remember was when we were in a diner in Portland. An old couple came up to us and congratulated Dad and I for bringing up such happy, well behaved children. Do you remember that? Do you recall how proud we were?
NW: When we were growing up, what was the most challenging period you went through?
SW: I worried a lot when you all started school. We worried about making sure you’re all having positive experiences and making friends. It’s a transition for you guys, but it was a big transition for me too. I wanted to be there the whole time, but ultimately I knew that letting you find what you liked and didn’t, developing your own ways of communicating and coping with growing up was important. I think the hardest thing was actually holding back. Being there to guide you but also give you space to make mistakes - that was a really tough balance to find.
The world is scary. That’s never going to change. I saw my job as a mother as being to equip you with the tools to navigate it.
NW: How did you overcome this?
SW: You don’t, really. You just keep dealing with problems as they come and accepting that there will always be hurdles and heartbreak. I think the important thing is to try to find solutions by coming back to your foundations and I keep praying and hoping that you would not forget our family values.
Our family skiing at Aspen Mountain in 2017.
NW: What has been your fondest family memory?
SW: I loved experiencing adventure together. Those weekend ski trips to Whistler made me feel a strong sense of warmth. Your little faces were so red and your hands were so small and always needed to be held to keep your fingers from going cold. We had to make you wear so many layers and the ski boots were so big you had to waddle out in the snow. Maybe it was the snow that made the cabin feel so cosy. At night, we played this board game called Mad Gab and everybody laughed at the funny words that the game made us say.
Especially when you guys were young, the different reactions you had to the foods we tried, the places we visited was always exciting for me. I could really see your personhoods starting to form, sometimes resisting, sometimes embracing. It’s funny because you all had the same upbringing and are only two years apart but you’re all so different as individuals. To see you drawn to different things was always a treat for me.
NW: What were some of the practical ways you were able to manage the family and run Motherswork?
SW: I think it’s about managing my priorities and the time. I kept a strong tab on my apple calendar and all three kids’ schedules. My calendar was a rainbow! It had a colour designated for each of you. Every recital, every class, every parent teacher conference was marked out. Everything to do with Motherswork was marked out in green. But to be honest, Motherswork was a hobby at the time. It was only when you guys starting getting older that I thought about professionalising it.
When we lived in Portland, the timezones were different. I used to run around taking you guys from art class to ballet to taekwondo to swimming. Then in the evening, when you guys would do your homework or practice piano, I’d sit at my computer in the yellow playroom we all shared and I’d send emails and write follow-ups. I must admit I caught a break with the time difference. When it was night there, it would be working hours here.
Mum believes in just doing the best she can in juggling between work and motherhood.
NW: Have you ever thought that you weren’t spending enough “mummy time” with all of us? How did you get over that “mum guilt” hurdle?
SW: You know I don’t believe in mum guilt. I can definitely understand how lots of working mums would get trapped into feeling guilty. But at the end of the day, I don’t think it helps anyone. I try to do the best that I can. I have always believed that I am the best mother for you three. The expectations of women and mothers are already immense. We’re meant to excel in the workplace and keep track of our kids’ grades and activities and make sure everyone is eating the right things. It’s juggling lots of different things - trying to balance between what I think my children want and need and what I think they need and want and what I can give. All I can do is give it my best. I don’t need extra pressure or externally-induced guilt getting in the way. I believe in moving forward.
NW: What’s the hardest thing about raising children?
SW: It’s the worry. It never goes away. You guys are in your twenties now and I still worry. That can be hard to deal with. Are you eating well, are you happy and are you having fun?
A photo of grandma and mum taken by mum’s Kaufu who was the only person who owned a camera.
NW: What is your favourite childhood memory of growing up in Ipoh?
SW: Running barefoot on the grass on the rubber plantation and picking up the cleanest looking rubber seed. The shaded grounds surrounded by tall rubber trees was my playground.
NW: What were your favourite hobbies as a child?
SW: Sports! I loved badminton.
Grandpa in a hot air balloon, watching the sun rise – one of the items on his bucket list.
NW: What do you remember most about grandpa and grandma (your parents)?
SW: My dad used to read a lot. He never really left our town but he wanted to keep up to date on everything that was happening in the world. I remember him saying he will travel and open up a bar when Kau Fu (Cantonese for maternal uncle) and I graduated. The closest he got to achieving that dream was when we took him to wine tasting in Yarra Valley in Victoria when we went to attend Alex’s graduation.
My mum was always trying to teach me how to be a wife. She’s a different generation of course. She was more conservative. But I loved that she was so supportive of me. She would secretly give me extra pocket money from her savings.
NW: What was your favourite tradition in childhood?
SW: Sunday outings. We would drive into town and spend the day visiting relatives and to have dim sum or Hakka mian (noodles). Yes, it’s the same Hakka Mian place that you guys like.
NW: What has been your greatest life lesson?
SW: You never know where or who you will learn from. You should never close yourself off to listening. It’s so important to absorb all the experiences and knowledge. Taking everything as a learning opportunity has gotten me really far. I even learn from you guys. I learn to be the mother I want to be from you three, treating you each differently.
NW: What advice would you like to pass on to us?
SW: Embrace yourself, accept yourself and please be kind.
NW: When you were young and living in Ipoh with grandma, what was the one value/philosophy that stuck to you all these years?
SW: My mum told me to do study hard, work hard. “You have to do the work,” she would say. That applies to every aspect of my life. Building relationships, healing, growing, it’s all work too. This is where the work is done.
NW: Did you pick up anything from her that you still use/adopt/say/etc today?
SW: She taught me that strength can come in different forms. Strength can be quiet and gentle too.
Mum, grandma (left) and great grandma (middle).
NW: Tell me more about our great grandma.
SW: She was widowed at a young age with four children, my mum the youngest girl and then I have a Kau Fu. My grandma moved in with her brother and raised four kids on her own. We have a huge extended family of cousins and I didn’t think my grandma noticed me but when it counted most, she stood up and told my Dad to let me go overseas to study since that’s what I wanted.
My other memory of her was during her afternoon naps. She would lie down after lunch and listen to Chinese radio, singing Cantonese opera. She was a terrible singer! Later I realised she had quite the sense of humour as some of the lyrics she sang were of raunchy sex scenes.
About Nicola Wong
A voracious reader, writer and amateur philosopher, Nicola Wong is always excited to embark on an adventure.
Relevant Reads: Legacies from Our Favourite Mums
Images courtesy of Sharon Wong.
WO(MUM) - Living my life as a Warrior, Woman and Mum