07-May-2019 Lifestyle 

You have probably heard this before -- "If you think being a mum is a full-time job, try being a working mum."
We all know how tough things can be for the mothers, especially having to manage work stress and parental commitments. But this does not mean that it's entirely impossible to juggle work and family well.

This Mother's Day, we sat down with Empire Eats Group's co-founder, Lim Hui Nan at the newly opened Tanuki Raw outlet in Jewel Changi Airport. We had a chance to meet her other half, Howard as well as her two lovely, bubbly children too!
Read on to find out more on Hui Nan's thoughts about her motherhood journey and tips for fellow working mums, which includes self-care (yes, showering yourself with love is just as important!)

We all know that you run Empire Eats Group together with your husband, Howard. How does being part of the husband-wife team help you in juggling work and family?
I am fortunate to have the luxury of being able to “divide and conquer” the parental and work responsibilities with my husband and I. For many working parents, it could be difficult to step away from their respective work responsibilities if a child falls sick. Being mindful of these constraints, my partner and I now try our best to create a work environment that empowers our employees, especially the mothers, to fulfill their respective roles at work and at home.

Share with us about what you do on a typical day.
Having our breakfast together as a family is a very important ritual for me. It’s a time when we all get one another’s undivided attention before school beckons and we embark on a day’s work. Once the kids are bundled off to school, I usually head down to Tanuki Raw at National Design Centre, where I take my morning meetings with my team mates over yet another strong cup of macchiato. Coffee is my daily fuel, and I am glad the design of this outlet allows us to experiment and create a coffee program with a local roaster that I’m proud of here.

Being in F&B means my mealtimes are usually preoccupied with work commitments. This is especially so when we are launching new spots, like our latest Tanuki Raw restaurant-bar and The World Is Flat airport-bar at Jewel Changi. Thanks to WhatsApp, I am able to keep abreast of the happenings at other spots and address issues with my different teams.

At least once a day, I try to make it a point to head down to an outlet to check on food quality, observe the workflow and customer interactions there. I believe in mindful automation, which should never happen at the expense of serving good food. For example, at Standing Sushi Bar, we take pride in making our sushi by hand, instead of resorting to machines as a number of sushi chains have. We create our proprietary sauces at Tanuki Raw and Sumo Bar Happy, instead of buying factory-made stock from suppliers. At Salmon Samurai, we bring in whole, chilled salmon fish daily, never frozen salmon fillets, so that we can monitor freshness and ensure true sustainability by using every part of the fish. However, this means stringent watch and quality checks by me and my team of managers for food consistency at each outlet as we do not churn out food mindlessly from a central kitchen. Staying close to the ground is important to me as it is how I can know what needs to be tweaked. Being accessible to my team also ensures that we can decide on things quickly. After the peak hours, I would check in with the chef and manager of the outlet and run through any issues I observed. As the day winds down, I will also start receiving daily sales and hygiene reports from the respective outlets, which I review over a stiff drink after putting my kids to sleep.

As a working mum of 2, you have so much on your plate on a daily basis. How do you stay focused and manage your time so well?
One of the best advice I’ve received from a fellow working mother is to break my tasks down into achievable components, and to stay sensitive to what keeps me on an even keel. Spending time with my kids does that for me and I make it a point to start my day with some quality time with my kids in the mornings. These moments with them set me on the right course for the day, emotionally and mentally.

What are the greatest challenges you have faced as a working mum?
With my first kid, I was mentally unprepared for the lack of control over my time and schedule that a newborn would introduce, especially if one is intent on exclusively breastfeeding. I was naively expecting to “schedule” my parenting responsibilities in my daily calendar alongside my work commitments.

Prior to Lil H’s arrival, I had hoovered up pregnancy and parenting books but nothing I read prepared me for the emotional upheavals from the combination of post-pregnancy hormonal surges and lack of sleep. When I couldn’t soothe my newborn, I struggled with feeling like a failure and not being a “good enough” mom. Like most women, I have been conditioned to believe that the attachment between a mother and baby will be instant. Hence, when I didn’t experience the flood of maternal love from his birth, it made me question my maternal abilities too.

I’ve since realised that it takes time for me to gain attachment to my own children - there is nothing “wrong” with me, it’s just the way I’m wired. If I had spoken to someone about these feelings and doubts sooner, I’d have saved myself so much time and headspace from grappling with the feelings of inadequacy and anxiety!

Are there times when you felt so overwhelmed that you almost wanted to give up?
Definitely. With Baby H (our second child), I found it really hard to breastfeed as the work responsibilities and stresses were affecting my ability to produce enough breast milk or to maintain a regular pumping schedule. When I made the difficult decision to switch to formula entirely, I was really despondent about it as I had been looking forward to my breastfeeding journey.

However, there are also occasions when I catch how my son gazes at me with pride and joy at work (we make it a point to introduce him to the ropes of running a restaurant whenever we can), and I realised it’s so important for him to witness my independence. It also serves as a powerful illustration to him that a woman can be in a leadership position. I can’t wait for my daughter to see that too!

What is the best parenting advice you ever received?
To constantly remind my kids that I love them for who they are and not what they do. Nothing they do can make me love them more/less. I love them the way they are, I love them for being my children, and that birthright (and basis of love) will never change.

Oh, and that the indulgent parent should never, never undermine the disciplinarian parent’s authority in front of the kid!

Any stress-relief method you swear by?
Scrolling through cat pictures/videos has been a proven method of stress-relief for this crazy cat lady.

Describe your ideal or favourite type of outfit.
Pretty jumpsuits - like Love & Bravery’s Kaylin Heliconia Wrap Jumpsuit! A well-cut jumpsuit is versatile enough to transform from day to night, by switching from sneakers to heels and changing up the accessories. I’ve amassed quite a collection of jumpsuits over the years as I appreciate that they take away the mental load of piecing together an outfit. My toddler has developed a penchant for suiting up, and helping him decide on the jacket for HIS sartorial outfit is enough work as it is!

Any mantra to live by?
Never go to sleep angry, with the kids, with the spouse or with work.

Lastly, any advice you would like to share with other working mums out there?
Be kind to yourself. We can be our harshest critics.

Follow Hui Nan on Instagram @nantheless and visit Empire Eats Group's website for full outlet listing.