When it comes to wearing many hats, Nichol Ng makes it look oh so easy. She is the CEO of X-Inc, an $80 million business with five subsidiaries across the food distribution, logistic and property sectors. She's also the co-founder of Singapore's first food bank.
Plus, the boss mum manages all of this while being a mum to four lovely kids — she sure knows how to handle all top tier responsibilities with absolute ease!
While it all looks ideal now, Nichol says her journey has been anything but smooth sailing. Nevertheless, she credits her success to her family's constant support.
Now, the mum wants to give back and she plans to do so by using her organisational skills to solve Singapore's hunger problem.
With Food Bank Singapore, Nichol aims to reach out to the 10.4 per cent of people facing hunger issues and manage food resources better. She also aims to help people strengthen their marriages and family relationship with different initiatives.
To understand more about her work and the art of juggling so many roles, theAsianparent recently caught up with Nichol Ng.
Here is an excerpt where she sheds more light on her parenting journey, her mission to reduce food wastage, and why it's important for parents to seek help when necessary.
How to be a boss mum
TAP: Please tell us a bit about your journey as a parent.
Nichol: It has been fulfilling with doses of challenges, and enlightening with elements of surprise. With each conception, pregnancy, birth and development, it's like opening Pandora's box. You really cannot predict what you will be getting. It sometimes takes some magic to keep yourself on track.
I have been fortunate that most of my pregnancies and all my births have been uneventful. The natural, painkiller-free births have been very swift, which helped me start my parenting journey on a positive note. It helps that my husband has been a supportive cheerleader and he trusts me to make the best decisions for our family and children.
TAP: What were the five things you learned only after becoming a mum?
Nichol: Every child is truly unique despite coming from the same set of parents/DNA. Parents can learn to develop their children's weaknesses into strengths, which allows them to embrace themselves for who they are.
Do not be too quick to judge when mistakes are made.
Parents can learn to be less uptight and more free-spirited — nothing is truly that big a deal. Also remember that the child is not me. I should not apply the same high expectations that I have on myself to them.
Juggling between being a wife and a working professional
TAP: How do you manage the stress of being a parent, a wife and also a working professional?
Nichol: First and foremost, I do not see any of the juggling as stress at all. In fact, I constantly remind myself that being a wife and parent was a choice I made, and like all choices that I make in my life, I savour every part of the journey of the life that I chose.
Secondly, with all honesty, I truly enjoy being a mother. From nursing to nursery rhymes and from the milk bottles to teaching mathematics, I try to love and embrace each milestone with bravado and smiles. Indulge in the small successes and fret less about the stresses.
I have learnt to treat my husband as my eldest child and therefore on many occasions, I have learnt to prioritise our marriage and relationship above our kids. When the parent partnership is stronger, everything falls more easily into place.
My own schedule leaves very little time for myself as I eat once a day, sleep four hours and survive on three cups of black coffee. Yet with every little moment that I get to be on my own, I enjoy that moment of bliss, even if it's just 15 minutes of it before the madness starts again.
Marriages and family relationships: The small moments matter
TAP: When you are not in the office, how do you spend time with your kids?
Nichol: We drive a Jeep truck and we love to buy food and have picnics under the stars.
I am also a closet housewife. My hobby and passion are cooking, baking and sewing. And I got my kids to join me in these activities when they reached two years of age. Now we enjoy those domestic moments together.
Every Saturday when they have swimming classes, our family spends a day outdoors where we soak in the sun and do something fun like visiting TimeZone arcade or Universal Studios Singapore.
I also love to watch plays, musicals (Think Phantom of the Opera and old movies like My Fair Lady) with my kids and hubby. I also love to chat with my kids when we drive around in the car. We will blast the music and dance in the car or sing out loud. Sometimes, my kids' friends think they have a crazy mum.
The extended family's role
TAP: Can you tell us more about your views on the support of the extended family e.g. grandparents and relatives, and how they can take the pressure off parents?
Nichol: As parents, we are the key pillars of support at home. Our children and our own parents depend on us to keep things going. This makes it even more important for parents to carve out time to maintain their own mental and physical health.
To achieve this, it would mean getting the support of your spouse, your children and sometimes even abled grandparents. Shouldering household responsibilities and supervision of children together with your spouse can help foster closer relationships, while empowering your children will help them build life skills and independence.
I also feel it is very important to understand and respect that grandparents and relatives are also humans, and they will have their own moods, personality, their need for space, and the need for time off.
If you choose to seek their support, it is also important to trust them and give them some room to do what they need to with the kids.
It is inevitable as parents that we want our children to grow and develop in our own way of parenting and expectations. But sometimes, it may not be fair to expect the same from our own parents or relatives when caring for our kids.
While parents can seek practical assistance from childcare or domestic help, extended family members could also teach the kids the family values. Building this bond will provide a long-term benefit for the child's development.
Overall, the key is to know the caregiver and know what they can and cannot do, so when the expectations are set, there is less ambiguity.
Marriages and family relationships: Keeping communication lines open
TAP: Can you share some tips on how to communicate with one's spouse and family in times of emotional stress?
Nichol: The five languages of love is something that I read before I got married. And I truly try to apply some of the philosophies in my marriage. You need to know what is truly important to your spouse and learn to accommodate and communicate.
Some may think that my hubby was more hands-off as a dad when the kids were infants. However, as the children grow older, I trust him to take on other roles in their lives.
I also know that men and women will always manage the kids differently, no one is truly right or wrong, but we just need to let them have their way when you leave the kids with them. Even as daddies, they will need to learn in their own time.
As a couple, you learn to lean on each other's strengths during the different phases. Couples should know that parenthood is a journey and not a destination, and minimise blame on each other.
For me, I love to write and therefore, sometimes I still use that to communicate with my loved ones. The written word can be used when it gets tough to speak. And when things get heated, it helps to use what you learn during childbirth… breathe.
Why start Food Bank Singapore?
TAP: What gave you the motivation to start Food Bank Singapore?
Nichol: I have always been a kay poh (busybody) kid. My grandma was truly the one who spotted this talent of mine. Since I was five years old, I was always the first to raise my hand to support, help and assist. So much so that I nearly sacrificed my grades in return for being a busybody student leader.
But as I grew up, I still could not stop being concerned about those around us and in society. Having gone through a rough patch when our family went bankrupt, I vouched to give back if we ever had a chance to revive my grandfather's business.
Therefore, after buying over the family business in 2007 and breathing some new life into an old business, my brother and I decided to get in touch with our business network to do something about food waste (saving the environment) and routing excess foods to those in need.
With 10.4 per cent of people in Singapore facing hunger issues, there is so much more than we can do with the 30 per cent of excess foods that we are dumping.
Compelled by our love for society and our family, we bit the bullet and started the Food Bank in 2012. We never expected the two tonnes of donations in 2012 to turn into 1,600 tonnes in 2020.
Marriages and family relationships: Five tips working parents need to know
TAP: What are your five tips for working parents amid the pandemic?
Nichol: Prioritise your wellness and sanity above all else to ensure you have the ability to look after everyone else. If it's that coffee break at a coffee shop that you need, go grab it.
You will not ace everything. From HBL to Zoom meetings, we had a lot to learn over the past 20-odd months. It is okay that we do not complete everything 100 per cent.
Manage your relationship with your spouse well. Too many couples have ended up squabbling and arguing over small things that may come from added stress from the kids. Make sure your spouse knows that they are important too.
Give everyone some room to have some fun. Go out, cycle, go crazy or simply play. Things go astray when everyone is simply too uptight.
Tomorrow is always a brand new day. Press the restart button and hustle on.
Marriages and family relationships: How can parents seek support?
TAP: Are there any programmes parents can participate in should they need to seek support in parenting?
Nichol: As parents of today's generation, I think we are far more fortunate than the parents of the past generation, at least in terms of resources. We are surrounded by great information from many reliable platforms.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF) appointed Parenting Support Providers work closely with schools and community partners to support parents through Evidence-based Parenting programmes (Triple P and Signposts) and referrals to services depending on the parents' needs.
MSF's evaluation studies found that the evidence-based Positive Parenting Programme (also known as Triple P), has positive effects on parenting and child outcomes in Singapore.
These programmes aim to equip parents with techniques to promote their children's psychological, social and emotional competence.
About 85 per cent of parents endorsed the programme as being relevant to their parenting needs.
Parents with secondary school-going children showed a sustained 31 per cent reduction in their emotional distress scores. And a 22 per cent reduction in their child's problematic behavioural scores.
Parents with primary school-going children sustained a 15 per cent improvement in their parenting satisfaction and efficacy scores. And an 18 per cent reduction in their child's problematic behavioural scores.
Triple P is available through sessions conducted by Parenting Support Providers, as well as through Triple P online for parents to learn at their own time and pace. Parents can visit https://familiesforlife.sg or https://go.gov.sg/ffl-parenting-programmes for more information.
If you're facing marital or parenting stress, they can reach out for a free online counselling service by the Community Psychology Hub (CPH).
There is also a Parent Support Group that was started in January 2021 to support parents in learning more about the different milestones in their parenting journey.
Parents may want to join the community facilitated by FFL volunteers at https://go.gov.sg/fflcommunity.
Marriages and family relationships: The challenges
TAP: How will the Alliance for Action support family relationships in Singapore? What are some common challenges between couples and in families you've seen?
Nichol: I feel that MSF's Alliance For Action for Strengthening Marriages and Family Relationship has just started on our journey towards building a stronger network of parents to share and support each other.
With the evolving times and the changing landscape of parenting, we hope that the AfA can create a safe network for more parents to share.
The AfA also plans to strengthen support for Parent Support Groups (PSGs) in schools through the sharing of parenting resources.
Helping parents with their parenting skills
Through these PSGs, we will raise parents' awareness of community resources and evidence-based parenting programmes to help them enhance their parenting skills.
We hope to re-orientate public views about parenting that prioritise the social and emotional well-being of our children.
Personally, I feel that one big taboo is still speaking about children with special needs or children who need to learn differently.
Our current education system still has a gap in addressing these needs. We can create that sense of camaraderie and good solutions to bridge these gaps.
I feel that in a world swamped with excess knowledge and resources, having a trusted and reliable network of parents may help more parents struggling in their journeys to know that they are not alone.
The more we share, the more we can learn from each other. There are no perfect parents, just parents perfect for each child.
Keep the love alive and stop comparing ourselves! Enjoy the ride.
This article was first published in theAsianparent.