Ms Nor Lella Mardiiiah Mohamed is Singapore’s first Malay mum representing an opposition party. We at theAsianparent had the exclusive opportunity to meet with this mum of four, and had a no holds barred interview with Ms Lella about her plans and hopes for residents in Tampines GRC.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Nor Lella opens up to theAsianparent about her personal life and political ambitions.
1. On being a parent
How many kids do you have? Can you tell us a little about them?
I have four children from my first marriage, three girls and one boy. My eldest child is 17 years old and my youngest is eight. I have sole custody of my youngest child – Putri.
How did you tell your daughter that you were getting remarried?
Putri knows about her biological dad, but she does not meet him often. She was only two-months-old when we separated. She was still very young, when I got remarried. Putri does not differentiate between a biological father and step-father.
What has been the toughest part of parenthood?
The most challenging part for me has been parenting through a divorce. When parents are going through a divorce, the kids live in a confused state – they wonder which parent is right, which parent is wrong.
Most mums would not agree with my decision to not fight for the custody for my three older children. But I know that I did not want to see my children in a confused state of mind.
I have decided to wait patiently for the right moment to explain things to them.
Nor Lella wants her daughter to know that all moments that she spends with her are special.
How do you spend the weekend with your daughter?
I don’t have a specific time set for her and me to spend time together.
I have talked to her about the fact that every moment that she is with me — is a special moment, regardless of where we are and what we are doing. We don’t have to be on a holiday, or be out and about somewhere.
I have told Putri, it is the moments that we spend together – just as mother and daughter, that are special.
Putri is actually quite mature for her age, perhaps because she does not have other kids around her. Take for example, the fact that I can take her to ‘toys R us’ and she can walk through the entire store, look at everything and yet come out without buying anything. And she is fine with it.
In fact before she buys anything, she tends to look at the price and ask me if we can afford it. I then ask her if she really needs it, and she usually responds with a “no it’s fine”.
Our conversations are natural and relaxed. You really don’t have to use energy to reason with her.
However, when she is with kids she is like the others around her, but when she is with adults she really behaves like an adult.
How are you managing the campaigning period and being a busy-working parent?
I am a business consultant – I advise entrepreneurs or business people on strategy. My work-hours are flexible and based on a project-by-project basis.
I don’t have a nanny or a maid. After her primary school, Putri goes to after-school care. I pick her up from the after-school care. During the campaign period she occasionally accompanies me for the door-to-door outreach visits or meetings.
How do you think society can play a role in helping to support working mums?
Singaporeans should remember that this could be your daughter or son, who needs looking after. If you are a mum, your “mum hat” must be on at all time, not just for your own kids.
In the end it takes a village to raise a child.
Read on to find out what Nor Lella thinks about education, women and minority issues. Click on the next page.
2. On her political journey
NSP Candidates and team for Tampines GRC (Tampines East Division) Image Credit: NSP Facebook page
How did you get into politics?
I have been in politics since 2006 – first through a Malay opposition organisation. When I moved on from them, NSP approached me and it clicked into place. This is now my second time campaigning with NSP. The first time was in Chua Chu Kang in the 2011 GE.
What are some issues that you will are campaigning for?
I will look at education, women and minority issues.
Can you elaborate about your focus on education?
One of the most critical times in a child’s learning process is when they are very young. This is when they absorb as much as possible. The moment they hit teenage it is too late. Therefore kindergarten and preschool education is very important.
In the 1960s when we had just gained independence, Singapore did well by providing standardised kindergarten for everyone. Now we have private education – it is very good, but very expensive. Montessori education is $1,200-$1,500 a month – how can the average Singaporean afford this? This is education for the elite.
It is the government’s responsibility to provide an equal education system to all its citizens. We must have the same starting point for all children. I want to narrow that gap.
I believe every kid should be given an equal opportunity.
Ms. Nor Lella outside the election offices. Image credit: Straits Times
When you say you will be campaigning for women, what do you mean?
Here I am talking about women who are going through a divorce. I want us to touch base with them before they go for divorce. We need to give them counselling sessions and help them prepare them emotionally, mentally and spiritually to improve their self-confidence. They will need this to be able to brave through the stormy seas that lie ahead.
My own divorce was tough, we had a lot of custody issues. Along the way when I got myself involved with the court order processes, I realised that I was quite resourceful. What if another woman was going through the same process but was very emotionally very fragile as her marriage was in a disastrous state.
How is a woman expected to pull herself and her children together, find an income, face court proceedings, and perhaps deal with friends and families that disagree with the divorce situation.
I volunteer to help both, men and women, who are going through divorce at no cost. I help them write their affidavit – these are people who earn between $2000 – $3000 a month, so while they are not eligible for legal aid, they can’t afford a lawyer either.
I talk to them about why they want to file for divorce – some of them they file for divorce not because they want it but because of certain character situation of their spouse. I talk to them about the legal process of a divorce and what they should expect. Some couples compromise and decide not to go through with a divorce.
I do all this on a personal level, and not as part of any organisation.
Can you also elaborate a bit more about the minority issues?
Take for example the fact that Shariah law practiced here is not an independent law, it’s only for marriage and divorce. Some of the other policies here are not in accordance with Islamic ways: for example here a man is allowed to claim maintenance from his ex-wife for the children that he has in his custody. In Islamic law this is not right.
What do you feel about your colleague’s comments on Tin Pei Ling and working mums?
I have not spoken to him about it yet, but I believe that what he meant was that when a mum has just delivered a baby it is not the ideal time to be standing for elections, as her focus should be on her newborn – because that is the most beautiful moment for a woman.
It’s a timing issue and not a motherhood issue.
With regard to Tin Pei Ling, I believe her baby will inspire her to be a good politician.
theAsianParent thanks Ms. Nor Lella, for her time and sharing her thoughts on the upcoming campaigns that she will be standing firm with. We wish her all the best in the upcoming Singapore General Elections 2015.
For those interested in the General Election 2015 in Singapore, more information can be found here. And, for a sneak peek into the social media side of the General Election, here’s the guide for you.