Modern Mums: Yan Lim on juggling WFH and raising four children

"Every working mum is a superwoman"


By Natalie Khoo

Modern Mums: Yan Lim on juggling WFH and raising four children

Motherhood today is a very stark contrast from what it was pre-pandemic. Like every other area of life, from business to relationships, the Covid-19 pandemic has completely overhauled the role of a working mother with school-age children.

Yan Lim experienced this first-hand as a business owner and mother of four—Isaac Isyraf (aged 18), Sophie Olivia (8), Lucas Oliver (5), and Layla Elisabeth (1). She is also the founder and CEO of iOli Communications, an Integrated Communications Agency, as well as iOli Malaysia, a fashion line for nursing-friendly corporate wear. On top of that, the self-professed over-achiever serves as the co-founder and/or board member of several organisations that champion women empowerment.

With so many hats to wear, she is no stranger to the challenges of working from home (WFH) while taking care of the household. We speak to Yan about her experience and tips on juggling these responsibilities and what she is looking forward to as the world gradually transitions into endemicity.

Yan Lim

Describe your experience of parenting during the pandemic these past two years.

“Prior to the pandemic, we had a fixed schedule—what hours to focus on work and when to parent. It was something we needed to keep sane and perform both roles well. During the pandemic, especially the compulsory lockdowns, we saw our children from the moment we woke up until we went to bed, every day. We needed to make adjustments, like stepping aside from an important work meeting to make sure they were well-entertained, fed, and participating in their online classes. On one hand, I was absolutely honoured and thankful to be present to attend to their needs, but it could also be stifling especially when rushing to complete work and attending virtual meetings and phone calls.”

Yan Lim and her family during the recent Hari Raya celebrations this year. 

We’ve heard about the horrors of WFH for parents with young kids. How do you juggle WFH and personal life while raising four kids?

“I won’t sugarcoat things and say that WFH and raising four kids is a breeze. Sometimes I would find myself walking around in my pyjamas at half past noon, trying to ensure the remote learning for my kids was going well; lunch was being prepared or cooked in time; while attempting to complete my work and respond to my employees’ needs in a timely manner.

“As much as possible, I tried to do things as I would pre-pandemic. I would have my daily to-do lists and I tried to clear them by the end of the day. This helped me focus on the important tasks at hand and have control over the things that I needed to do. Whenever I could, I would also do things to keep me sane. The occasional pleasure of catching up with Netflix or drawing a warm bath at the end of the day did do a lot of good in the sense of rewarding myself after what may seem to be a never-ending day at work.”

As a mother of four, how do you ensure each child receives enough attention and support?

“We have made it a thing to always spend family time together. This could be going out on the weekends, travelling for family vacations, and even doing house chores together. During the pandemic, Sundays were typically spent cleaning the house, catching up on Netflix, and organising laundry together. After some restrictions were lifted, I took the opportunity to take my children out on individual dates. It gave them the feeling that they were getting that extra special attention when I took them out to run errands or even have a meal of their choice.”

The Lim family’s first trip out of the house during the pandemic.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced as a working mum during the pandemic?

“I have always been a hard-worker and a little bit of an overachiever. I am not great with downtime, to be honest. When the first lockdown happened, I thought that I was going to finally have time to do all the things that I never got around to. But I was wrong. There was no downtime at all for me during the lockdowns.

“I remember hating the fact that I constantly needed to say no to my kids. The default answer to most questions were answered in a variety of ‘no, later, mummy is busy’ or ‘no, please don’t disturb mummy now’. I hated the fact that I was always upset because I felt so overwhelmed with work, house chores, children, and life in general. It sometimes amounted to a level of anger that would result in me lashing out at my children.”

How did you overcome these challenges?

“In all honesty, the pandemic threw my usual coping mechanisms (socialising with friends, going for date nights, or shopping) out the window and I’ve had to adjust both my behaviour and mindset. My husband and I decided to stop trying to be ‘the perfect parents’, but just do our best. For example, I would allow my children to ‘have access’ to me or be physically near me if they needed to, even when I was doing work. Many of my clients have become close to my children as they saw them almost every day in our calls.

“I also let them make their own decisions, with guidance from my husband and I, of course. For instance, there was a point during the pandemic when my daughter Sophie was feeling overwhelmed and was almost hitting her breaking point with online classes. Instead of being typical ‘Asian parents’, we let her decide whether or not she wants to join the classes or do her homework. I know that she’s capable of making her own choices. I also make sure that she’s aware of the consequences. This small sense of control has made her more independent and happier. Now she would happily remind us about her homework.

“Education and learning matters because it empowers us all to make better decisions and achieve greater impact, but not at the expense of happiness. I would rather they skip schools than end up depressed at such a young age.”

Life of a WFH mum like Yan during the pandemic

Have you ever suffered mum burnout? If so, how do you deal with it?

“I am quite clingy as a mum, so no, I don’t get mum burnout. I know that there will be a day when they won’t need me as much, so I will try to create as many fond memories as I can with them. However, I understand that feeling burnt out can happen to any mum. Same as work burnout, this would mean that we need our ‘downtime’.

“For me, even with the privilege of being a mother for the past 18 years, I still retain a part of me that’s me. I am not just a mother. I am a wife. I am an amazing friend too. And I take pride in being a very good leader at work. I find it very important that I do not compare myself to other mums. This happened more often when I was younger, but as time went by, I stopped doing so, and it has helped a lot with how I view myself as a mother. I know that I am enough.”

On the other hand, is there anything you enjoy about parenting while working from home?

“Despite my initial struggles, parenting while working from home has given me the chance to see my children almost all the time. It reminded me of my dream to be able to spend more time with my family while I was a young working mum struggling to make a name in the PR industry. This allowed me to focus better on their needs and reminded me of my ‘why’ in working hard. It is all for them.”

The Lim family during Christmas in 2021.

How do you feel now that the world is opening up again and the kids can return to school?

“On one hand, I am grateful. The kids have lost so many precious memories that they are only able to make at school and through playtime with friends. They are now also able to catch up on education, as remote learning has taken a toll on them. But as parents, I am also concerned for their safety and health. However, life must go on, and the only thing we can do is take the necessary precautionary measures and steps to boost their immunity.

“That being said, I am actually very excited for my boy Lucas. Recently, he just started kindergarten and he has been enjoying himself very much. He would come back every day and talk to me about all the things that he has learned at school, and I look forward to what he has to share with me every single day.”

What tips or advice would you give to other working mums?

“Society is divided into two: Those who look up to working mums, and those who think that working mums are not tending to their children enough. I understand that; I’ve been a mother for 18 years now, all while building up my career.

“My sincere advice to all the mums out there is this: rather than dwelling on how you’re not with your child, think about how your role as a working mum is benefiting not only your family, but also the society. Believe that all that you are doing and providing for your children is enough. As long as your children are loved and taken good care of, being busy with work does not make you any “less” of a mum. Try not to forget that being a mother is not your only role—that has helped me a lot.”

Yan pregnant with her fourth child during the pandemic. 

What does motherhood mean to you?

“Motherhood to me is being able to give all the love that I have to those who came from me; to shape them to become happy and whole individuals; to prepare them to face anything that the world might throw their way; all while making sure they know that no matter what, both my husband and I will always be their ultimate safety nets.”

Keep up with Yan on Instagram @zieyanlim.

Read more stories on motherhood here.

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