International Women’s Day Special – Being A Single Working Mum

single working mother
Ms Mary (middle) at her students' graduation ceremony. (Image Credit: Mary Lum)

International Women’s Day is a global day which celebrates the social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women. In honour of this day, Ms Mary Lum, a hospitality lecturer at Sunway University, shares her story of how she coped with being a single mother and a career woman all on her own for the past decade and answers a few questions on what she thinks about gender equality at the workplace.


single working mother
It was not easy being a single mother and a career woman. (Image Credit: Mary Lum)

1. How do you juggle between the role of a mother and a university lecturer? What are some of the challenges of being a single mother?

Looking back now, it has been 10 years since I lost my other half. When my husband first passed away, I was so very lost for the first 6 months. It was incredibly tough for me because I relied on my husband a lot, not only just in terms of bringing up the children but even tasks such as paying the bills and more. I didn’t even know how to go to the bank to run simple errands.

Having said that, it wasn’t easy juggling between having a career and being a mother. My children back then were very young, my son was just 19 years old and my daughter was only 9 years old. I told myself that for the sake of my children, I could not just stop and look backwards. I had to be strong for my children. For me, that was good enough, I had to move on with my life.

I made sure I have good time management to ensure I had my work and personal life under control. I talk to my children a lot to make sure that they’re fine. It’s not just about myself alone or how I felt, it’s also about them, whether they’re going through a hard time without their father. For myself, I had to take the role of two, being a mum and a dad to them.

single working mother
Ms Mary and her children. (Image Credit: Mary Lum)

2. What do you think is your greatest achievement as a woman?

To be completely honest, after I went through the loss of my husband, I don’t know how I managed but I actually did. Over the decade, it wasn’t just the death of my husband that affected me but my father was also suffering from cancer back then.

I had to pursue my master’s degree while taking care of my father and nurture my children as a single parent as well. I think up until today, looking back at it, being able to maintain a happy and healthy family life as well as do well in my career. That would have to be my greatest achievement.

single working mother
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3. Is there a woman or a female role model that you look up to?

I would say it’s Aung San Suu Kyi, she’s a Burmese politician, diplomat and author. She stands up for human rights. She was detained under house arrest for many years. I absolutely admire how she maintains her grace, strength and courage despite what she’s been through.

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She was not just being a politician to her country, but also a mother and a wife to her family. We all know she’s gone through a lot and the fact that she could still be a very strong woman after all of that, I think a lot of people should look up to her or think of her as a role model.

4. Since the theme for International Women’s Day 2019 is #BalanceForBetter, which is a nod to the growing global push for professional and social equality. Were there any gender issues that you encountered in the hospitality/education field and if so, how did you overcome it?

In my opinion, education wise, I don’t see much of any challenges because, in terms of higher positions, I think there is a lot of equality. Regardless of male or female, you’re given a chance to perform. Being an educator, I think it’s important to have passion for teaching and that you’re able to depart your knowledge to the students.

However, I can’t say the same for the hospitality industry. It’s a very tough industry and I think that certain positions, people look for different competencies. It’s still a very male-dominated world in some aspect or area. Although they try to bridge the gap, it’s still there due to cultural biases and the strong characteristics of being a male.

5. Do you think there are enough women in top management?

Back in the days, there were stereotypes where people prefer male over female employees to be in top management. However, in the current 21st century, there is a leap. Ever since the areas of women empowerment and gender equality has been brought up, I felt that women have been given a lot of opportunities to perform and I’ve seen many strong women doing very well in the top management.

6. With the government’s implementation of day care centres at the workplace, do you see an increase in women pursuing a full-time career?

I think it’s a good idea as the cost of living is now very high. It’s not like before where only males or husbands work. Since we practice equality now in families, with this implementation of child care, it actually cuts down a lot of burden and worries from parents who are working. They won’t have to worry about how their children are coping.

If these daycare centres are in the premise of big corporate companies, parents can see their children during break time and see their children anytime necessary so I personally think it’s a great idea as it increases the opportunities for women to pursue a full-time career.

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