Young mums in Singapore are often harshly and unfairly judged, so we've been speaking to Shermaine Chngy about the reactions she has had since becoming a single mum at 20 years old...
“That’s probably her younger sister.” “She’s probably not a good parent.” “She probably isn’t from a good family.” “She probably sleeps around.” These are just some common misconceptions many people have about young mums in Singapore, especially those under the age of 21. To most people, looking like a child while carrying one in your arms warrants tongue wagging and eye-rolling. It’s a sad reality many young mums face on a daily basis. Because of these stigmas, young mums often feel alone and isolated. We’ve been talking to 25-year-old Shermaine Chngy, mum of four-year-old Everleigh, about how even with a strong support system she feels the judging glares from the public at large. Here’s what she has to say about her struggles as a young mum and how she’s determined to fight the stereotype.
Becoming a young mum
Being in your twenties is usually a time for discovery and focusing on school, graduating from university, figuring things out and making mistakes. And, at age 20, the same was true for Shermaine. She enjoyed hanging out with her friends, practising Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and working towards finishing her diploma. All that came to a grinding halt when she found out she was pregnant. “I was shocked because I was on the pill. I didn’t know how to feel at that time. It seemed really unreal because I was probably too immature to even understand the gravity of the situation,” she told us.
Breaking the news to her parents wasn’t easy. In fact, it was her aunt who told Shermaine’s parents the news. “My mum was really supportive and told me I was old enough to make my own decisions and take responsibility for them,” says Shermaine. “My dad wasn’t happy and said that he didn’t want to have anything to do with the child.” At first, Shermaine considered terminating her pregnancy; she felt unready to raise a baby and ended up being in denial for most of her pregnancy. But hearing her daughter’s heartbeat for the first time helped make her decision easier. She was determined to have her child, even though she was still terrified about how to cope as a young mum in Singapore.
Shermaine’s friends were divided about her pregnancy. She had some she could rely on and who thoughtfully brought her food when she wasn’t up to going out. But then she had others who had no qualms in telling her she was ruining her life. Similarly, her classmates were in two camps. There were the ones who would be unkind and rude to her, but others who were not only encouraging, but would also help her catch up on work she’d missed in class.
But the worst – and uncalled for – comments of all? The general public was always ready to offer unwanted and cruel opinions. Despite her pregnancy bump, nobody would give up their seat on public transport. “Actually, I didn’t mind that so much,” admits Shermaine. “What I did mind was that people’s judgement overrode their kindness. They would throw critical stares at me instead of helping.”
HoneyKids’ mum Tracy can relate. While she wasn’t a young mum in Singapore, she faced stigma in London. She had her eldest child at 26, but looked much younger. One comment she says she’ll never forget was on her commute on the Tube. A woman (also standing) struck up a conversation about manners and the fact no one had given a pregnant woman a seat was outrageous. A middle-aged man retorted, from his seat: “Well, if these teenagers will get themselves knocked up then that’s their issue, not mine. She’s a child herself. She’s capable of standing.” (Tracy *may* have re-educated that man rather vehemently that day.)
For Shermaine, the criticism didn’t stop even after she gave birth. “While holding my daughter, I’ve had aunties coming up to me and asking ‘Is this your child?’ ‘Are you educated?’ ‘Why didn’t you abort your baby?’ or ‘It’s going to be hard for people to accept you.’ When it happens, I end up justifying myself and telling them I’m pursuing my degree and then calmly walk away.”
Sadly, Everleigh’s father decided he didn’t want to be part of their lives, so being lonely didn’t help how isolated she sometimes felt during the early years. “It sucks not having help,” adds Shermaine. “I’ve had to carry my daughter, the diaper bag, my groceries and pram up a flight of stairs without anyone offering to help me. All while people would look on with judgement in their eyes instead. I was – and still am sometimes – treated like a social pariah.”
These days, Shermaine very much takes it all in her stride. Instead of focusing on the negativity she (still) gets from strangers, Shermaine ignores it. Instead, she concentrates on being the best mummy she can be to Everleigh. “The best thing about being a mum is seeing your child grow and having her tell me that she loves and misses me – it’s the most amazing feeling in the world! It makes all the sacrifices worth it.”
Despite her busy schedule, Shermaine tries to be there for her daughter as much as she can and is very much a hands-on mum. She brings Everleigh to school, helps out on class trips and also has her daughter come along to her Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practice.
She’s also lucky that despite her parents’ concerns back when she was pregnant, they are now a fantastic support system. “My parents help out a lot,” says Shermaine. “My dad is a really doting grandfather and both him and my mum look after my daughter while I study and work.”
While Shermaine has undoubtedly toughened up, the judgement about young mums in Singapore still hurts. “If only our society was a kinder and more understanding one, the world would be a better place,” she reflects. “Unfortunately, we can’t expect everyone to understand what they’ve never been through.”
Shermaine, we salute you. You’re doing an awesome job and your beautiful little girl is testimony that no matter your age, you’re acing it.
Looking for support? Check out this list of our favourite support groups for mums in Singapore.
This article was first published in January 2019.