It was a Thursday evening in 2010 only a few days after her second daughter was born, when the police knocked on Peggy Chan’s door (name changed for confidentiality reasons). It turned out that her abusive husband had jumped bail and the police were searching for him with a warrant of arrest for Peggy. She was put in handcuffs and brought to the police station. She was released after the interrogation, conditional on her turning up on Monday for the court hearing, where she had to either provide her husband’s whereabouts, which she did not know, or pay a $20k bail fine. Peggy was devastated.
Her only way out was to ask her mother for help, despite not having a good relationship with her. Peggy’s mother agreed to help and saw how her daughter was being handcuffed and put in the docks on Monday. Peggy’s mother paid the $20k fine. After this incident, Peggy filed for divorce and had to move back in with her mother. This was far from easy. Her mother was a tough and strong-willed person and everything had to go her way. On the positive side, her mother pushed Peggy to further her education and so Peggy started a bachelor degree with an Australian university at the end of 2010 whilst working full-time in a customer service job and raising her two children as a single mum.
In 2013, shortly after she had completed her Bachelor degree, Peggy received the devastating news…
Her mother was in the final stages of terminal lung cancer. Peggy decided to quit her job and moved into a new role working 12-hour night shifts in the health care sector, so she could take care of her mother and children during the day whilst working at night. Being ill, Peggy’s mother was now even more difficult to deal with. Even though so, she yet again pushed Peggy to take up a Masters and offered to pay for it. This was the time when I met Peggy during a women-mentorship program.
At our introductory meeting we were asked to tell each other’s life stories to build trust. I could not help but cry when Peggy told me her story. We had a lot of work to do.
In our first coaching session, I asked Peggy about her biggest wish during those difficult times. “I want to have a day off with my two kids” was her response. I probed further and asked her what she would need to do in order to get a day off. There was a long silence. She then hesitantly responded: “I need to ask my two brothers to step up, take over some of the responsibilities to care for our mother and help me to free up my time”. She appeared scared to have that conversation with them but soon realised it was not only for her but for her children and so she promised to ask her brothers for help.
The next day Peggy gathered all her strength and told her brothers that she could not keep going and needed their urgent support. Peggy was surprised to learn that her brothers agreed and on the following Saturday, she enjoyed a full day off together with her children, strolling through the malls and having ice cream. Peggy had started to set boundaries and it worked.
In May 2015, Peggy successfully completed her Masters and flew to Australia to receive her degree. Her mum had always told her that she would wait for Peggy to complete her studies. Two weeks after Peggy was back in Singapore her mother passed on. It was a very difficult time for her family. Still life had to go on. Over the course of the last 5 years Peggy had saved every cent and so she was able to take over the flat from her mum without additional loans required. This was a remarkable feat considering her circumstances.
After years of caring for her mum, raising her children and furthering her education, Peggy began to feel burnt out mainly triggered by the long night-time working hours. She knew that in order to maintain her health, her performance at work as well as her role at being a good mother, she needed to set further boundaries and find work in a daytime job. Peggy’s dream was to provide trainings, as she loves to share knowledge and see others grow. When an internal regional trainer position became available, Peggy quickly applied for it and got the job. Her dream came true. From June 2016, Peggy has started designing and delivering regional training programs working directly with the global Learning & Development teams in Europe and the US.
Peggy and I met for coffee 3 weeks ago. Asking her how she was able to get through the tough time of working 12-hour night shifts, looking after her ill mother, raising 2 children and doing a Masters at the same time she chuckled and said: “I learned to put my foot down and create Me-Time. Once or twice a week I get up early, walk to the beach, close my eyes and let the wind speak to me. That brings a smile to my face, because I am no longer afraid to set my boundaries. In doing so, I have created my very own space to breathe and live freely.”