When talking about the average woman in her early 20s, what usually comes to mind? Partying until late, sleeping in on weekends…generally a carefree life.
Not for 21-year-old Ong Yan Kee Karen, though.
While she hasn’t found a cure for cancer or the solution to global poverty, Karen is remarkable in her own right and an inspiration to young Singaporean women.
So, as a tribute to all mums out there who work hard to support their family, we bring you Karen’s story.
Karen and Aran on their wedding day, surrounded by loved ones
Karen met husband Yeo Chin Chong Aran on Friendster, and it was love at first “byte”! They’ve been married for a year now.
Aran, who turns 23 this year, is a police officer with the Singapore Police force.
Soon after he and Karen got married, they found out they were going to become parents. Now they are mum and dad to beautiful baby Shaelyn, who turned one earlier in March.
And baby makes three!
Children can undeniably bring so much joy to our lives. But with them also come great responsibility and the need to provide for them both emotionally and financially.
Karen and Aran realised this soon after having their little one. At this point, Karen was also enrolled in a full-time Business Application diploma at Republic Polytechnic.
The young mum says, “It’s not easy being a young mother who is still studying. Motherhood brought immense joy into my life, but it also required some sacrifices.”
Karen was determined not to give up her studies. But she was equally determined to support her husband in any way she could and unload some of the financial burden that was on him to provide for his young family.
This inspirational young mum is determined to stand by her husband to provide for their little one’s needs and build a solid future for their family
Standing by her man and child
Karen shows a remarkable level of maturity for such a young woman.
She started looking for work because she wanted to be a role model to her little girl by working hard alongside her husband in supporting their family.
Since Karen was (and still is) breastfeeding, she needed work that would afford her enough flexibility to continue nursing and her studies.
Her search wasn’t easy, but she found a job that fit her needs.
Juggling work and full-time studies
Cleaning isn’t a job that appeals to many.
But Karen found no shame in it and was determined to impress upon her young daughter that hard, honest work, in whatever form, pays off. And so she took a job as a part-time cleaner and currently works as a contracted cleaner for a company called Helpling.
The work suits her busy schedule because, as a contracted cleaner, she is free to decide what cleaning assignments to take.
There are days, for example, when she can work for four hours and other days when she can work for two. This arrangement gives her the flexibility she needs to prioritise her family and studies, especially now that she’s in her final year at Republic Polytechnic.
Helping to dispel the stigma that exists around jobs like cleaning, Karen explains, “Job flexibility is key when it comes to juggling jobs, family, and studies. That is why I joined a company like Helpling.” And she easily earns more than many part-timers in more “white collar” industries like retail.
Family means a lot to this young couple
How does she manage?
With a young baby, full-time studies, and a part-time job, how does she do it all?
By planning out her days meticulously and sticking to her daily timetable – that’s how!
Karen is incredibly hardworking and focused: when she has exams, for instance, she wakes up at midnight, just two hours after her baby usually goes to sleep, in order to study.
Karen is also still breastfeeding* and is determined to continue providing the best nourishment for her little one amid being busy juggling studies and work.
She does this by allocating break time during work to expressing milk, which she stores in a cooler bag until it’s time to go home. Once home, Karen nurses on demand.
With careful planning, Karen still finds time to spend with her little one
This inspirational young mum also often stays on after classes to finish her assignments. This is so she can focus fully on her family once she goes home.
Since she plans her time carefully and wisely, Karen is able to spend quality time with her family – which, she says, is her favourite way of spending her free time.
Of course she couldn’t do it all without help and support from her family. Her mother-in-law looks after little Shaelyn while Karen is at work.
Her husband does his share of house chores and is very supportive of Karen in completing her studies.
There’s no doubt about this – this little family’s future is strong and bound by love
This young lady plans on continuing to learn even after she graduates.
She is determined to continue her studies while cherishing her family as she has always done. However, she will wait for her daughter to get a little older before resuming her academic journey.
Karen’s words of advice for other young working mums:
“Always plan ahead. Before I gave birth to my daughter, I had everything planned out to smoothen my transition into motherhood in terms of school, work, accommodation, etc. Additionally, parenthood is not easy but it’s also very rewarding. There are times where we might feel that life is tough, but having a positive mindset is important and things will feel a lot easier.”
There’s no doubt about it – Karen’s future is bright, and theAsianparent wishes this inspirational young mother all the best in her future endeavors.
*Karen mentioned the very active and supportive Breastfeeding Mums Support Group on Facebook as a wonderful source of advice and tips for her as a working breastfeeding mum.
**This story is from our archives.
Has Karen’s story inspired you? Do you know any other young mums like her, juggling studies, work, and family life? If you do, tell us about them by leaving a comment below.