“Patience! That's a lie but motherhood has taught me I need to be more patient. It has taught me to laugh at myself, roll with the punches and try not to put too much pressure on myself to be perfect.”
For Australian expat in Singapore, Kate Donnan, multitasking a busy job while raising three young children appears easy, however, she’s candid about the tricks and tips she uses and those imperative ‘me time’ moments, however fleeting, that keeps her going day-to-day, week-to-week.
Mum to boys Miller and Archie and daughter Indie, Kate made the move from Sydney to Singapore over four years ago. After a career in the medical and banking industries, she’s now account director at Delilah Creative, one of our favourite boutique creative agencies that ‘create awesome brands and kick-ass websites for small businesses’. And yes, they serve clients all over the world! (Read more about what Delilah Creative offer to clients near and far, from their founder, Hester, who’s based in Brooklyn, New York here and don’t miss Delilah’s top digital tips for any business, large, small or just starting out here).
“Working at Delilah I get to meet some really interesting and inspiring people, often women that have reinvented themselves and started their own business after moving to Singapore for their husbands work,” explains Kate. “I love that I get to be part of their journey and can (hopefully) make the experience a little easier for them.
Kate opens up about life in Singapore and how she builds a support network. From the importance of creating a community: “living in an expat community you find everyone is in the same boat, so you tend to form close relationships more quickly than you would in Sydney, for example. Your friends become your family.” To domestic help that she never takes for granted: “I am very lucky to have had some wonderful women work for us in our home. With three children, a husband that travels a lot for work and no family nearby, you really need an extra pair of hands as logistically you can’t be in more than one place at a time.”
On her children growing and her changing role as a mother, Kate reflects, “I find that kids actually need you more the older they get, not less. They need lots of support as they work out who they are and how to navigate life in general – their changing emotions, friendships, mean kids at school, being mean themselves and the worst – homework!”
We loved catching up with the gorgeous Kate at home with her tribe in sunny Singapore and getting to know her more. Read on for more of our chat – from her penchant for pink and printed dresses to her favourite coffee haunts, from her love of family beach holidays to her struggles with homework (oh how we relate!). However, it’s the one piece of advice she would give her children that perhaps gives the best insight into this inspiring mother, which is – “Be kind, always”.
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Photography: Clare Barker Wells
Tell us a little bit about your own childhood…
I grew up in Sydney with my parents, younger sister and younger brother. As I am the eldest in the family, I was fortunate that I spent a lot of one-on-one time with my grandparents. My earliest memories are probably of my grandmother teaching me how to cook and sew while passing on all the family secrets. I used to write up her recipes in her special recipe book which she still has and uses to this day. I feel very lucky that they are both still around and my grandmother is now teaching my children how to cook her famous recipes. Nothing beats Judy’s lamingtons or caramel slice. I think that’s what the kids look forward to most when we visit Sydney!
When did you move to Singapore? Have you lived abroad before?
We moved to Singapore four years ago for my husband Nick’s work. I’d never lived outside of Sydney before and was apprehensive at the start, but Singapore definitely feels like home. We have lived on Sentosa the whole time, but recently made the move to River Valley. Sentosa has been amazing but it’s time for a new adventure! Plus the school run is a killer….
Tell us about your career before joining Delilah Creative...
I spent many years working in business development in the medical industry. I started out as a research assistant for an orthopaedic surgeon and then ended up working for a roll-up of orthopaedic surgeons across Australia. My roll crossed many parts of the business from sitting in board meetings to setting up new medical practices and helping to coordinate new site builds. It was a great learning experience for me and I still use most of the skills I picked up today.
Tell us about Delilah Creative…
Delilah is a boutique creative agency and we offer branding and website services for small to medium businesses. This can range from a brand new logo and tool kit to creating a style guide for an existing brand, creating custom illustrations/labels/business cards – whatever you can think of! For websites, we specialise in Squarespace and Shopify sites, either creating a new one from scratch or helping give an existing one a facelift. Our goal is for our clients to have as much control over their site as possible once we hand it over. We give each client a customised screencast tutorial for their own site, which means they don’t have to pay someone external to make changes.
Our process is such that we can service clients all over the world. We use online tools such as zoom for our initial chat and then collect info from our clients using online questionnaires and get visual references via Pinterest. Our concepts and tutorials are shared using screencasts and as our team are based in different countries (our founder Hester is based in Brooklyn) we are pretty much online 24/7!
We would love to service more Australian clients! We are working with a really exciting Australian business at the moment on her new site, and one of our favourite clients is The Paradise Catcher.
Who or what inspires and motivates you daily?
Working at Delilah I get to meet some really interesting and inspiring people, often women that have reinvented themselves and started their own business after moving to Singapore for their husbands work. I love that I get to be part of their journey and can (hopefully) make the experience a little easier for them. There is nothing better than seeing a project we have worked on out in the world and doing well!
What’s been your favourite age and stage with your children?
I don’t so much have a favourite age and stage as I really enjoy seeing them grow, but I have to say I do find the baby stage the easiest. Maybe it’s because I have had three, but I know exactly what to do with babies, how to handle them and what they need. With Miller our eight-year-old, it’s as much of a learning experience for me as it is for him I think! I find that kids actually need you more the older they get, not less. They need lots of support as they work out who they are and how to navigate life in general – their changing emotions, friendships, mean kids at school, being mean themselves and the worst – homework! I feel like I almost have to go back to school myself so I can help with homework, who knew the ‘correct’ way to solve a simple addition problem is through ‘strategies’?!
We try as best we can to encourage our kids individual personalities and I do find it fascinating that all three have essentially been raised the same way however are so completely different. For example, Miller is sports-obsessed and is either playing some sport, talking about it, researching it or watching it. Archie probably has more natural talent then Miller but he just isn’t as interested, he’d rather play music or with lego. Indie is completely girly and into all things pink which is quite surprising seeing as she has two older brothers and is surrounded by cars and balls!
How did you find your pregnancies and early days with a newborn?
My pregnancies were pretty standard, complete with horrendous morning sickness. I needed Caesarians so the first few weeks were a bit slow. With Miller our first, I think we were like all first-time parents in that we had absolutely no idea what we were doing! We treated him as a toy and he was quite unsettled as a result. With the other two, I had chilled out a bit and realised that babies need to sleep (a lot). The human body is very clever in that you completely forget all the hard things and they don’t come back to you until you are doing it all over again (that’s how we ended up with three!). When Indie was a newborn I thought I was prepared for the sleep deprivation and getting up during the night but it wasn’t until it was actually happening that I fully remembered just how brutal it really is!
How do you prioritise self-care?
I have 2-3 personal training sessions a week. As much as I can dread them, I know they are essential for my mind and always feel better afterwards. I try to fit in some other exercise but those sessions are non-negotiable.
Without family nearby, do you have a support network when managing the juggle?
I think people back home don’t fully comprehend the concept of having live-in help (I certainly didn’t before moving here), but really these women are just trying to do the best they can to support their own families. It is a luxury to have someone help out with the cleaning and washing on a daily basis but I definitely acknowledge that and don’t take it for granted. I am fully aware that it would not have been possible for me to start back at Delilah after Indie was born so quickly without this help.
I also have a great network of friends here in Singapore. Living in an expat community you find everyone is in the same boat, so you tend to form close relationships more quickly than you would in Sydney for example. Your friends become your family. The flip side of this is that people are always leaving which is tough. Lots of wonderful friends we have made here have moved on, which means we now have friends all over the world (we spent last Christmas in Norway) but it also means you are always making new friends and meeting new people.
Has your fashion style changed since you became a mother – what’s a typical look for you?
Yes, my fashion style definitely changed when I became a mother, and then again when I moved to Singapore. I’m a lot more relaxed now and I usually go for a dress (can’t seem to escape a floral print) as it’s easy to throw on, with some leather slides and earrings. I find a nice day dress can take me from the school run, to a client meeting, to running errands and even a dinner.
The weather is pretty much exactly the same here in Singapore every day (super hot) so it was a bit of a learning curve figuring out what works and what doesn’t. I learnt the hard way a blue silk top at an outdoor athletics carnival is best avoided, after sweating through it in two minutes and having to spend the rest of the day dripping wet. Now I tend to stick to my light cotton dresses or denim shorts. And for outdoor sporting activities, it’s activewear only!
Would you say your interior style is similar to your fashion style?
Yes, in that I try to get as much pink in there as I’m allowed! The first thing I did when we found out Indie was a girl was buy a pink rocking chair. I’ve always wanted a pink chair and a girl after two boys was the perfect excuse! It was meant to go in her bedroom however it has ended up in our living room….
What are your time management tips – how do you get everything done in a day?
This for me is still a work in progress, but I try to allocate time for work and time for kids. The school run takes up a pretty huge part of my day (we live 30 minutes from where all three children go) so it’s really about maximising the time between drop off and pick up as best I can.
I cannot start working until I clear my inbox – unread emails give me anxiety! All my emails are read and filed as soon as I sit down at my computer. From here I can get a clear idea of what needs to be done and write a to-do list (which I may or may not stick to – as I said it’s a work in progress!). For client meetings, it helps if I can schedule these to be on one or two days a week, as this gives me some full days in front of my computer without distractions. I also take my laptop pretty much everywhere I go.
There is always work to be done later in the evening and as Hester is in NY the timezone means there are often evening calls/emails/WhatsApps, but the flip side of this means I can be around for the things the kids need me for at school.
What are your favourite travel destinations?
Living in Asia we are really spoilt with some amazing destinations right on our doorstep. Our family favourite is Nikoi, which is a small island off Bintan Indonesia. This place ticks all the boxes for us, our boys love it as they can run free shirtless and shoeless and there really is nothing better than a swim in the ocean. Plus the food is amazing (and the cocktails aren’t bad either!).
We also frequent Bali fairly often. It seems to be a good spot to meet friends or family from Australia as it’s also easy for them to get to. The great thing about Bali is there are so many different places you can go depending on what kind of holiday you are after. We tend to mix it up and stay all around, in both resorts and villas but Canggu is probably our favourite.
Our other family favourite is Byron Bay. I’ve been going to Byron since I was a baby and the beaches are unbeatable. It’s a lot busier and more trendy now but it’s still a great family holiday destination.
Favourite thing to do with your children?
Friday nights are family picnic nights. We all help to make pizza, then lay towels down in the lounge room and have a ‘carpet picnic’, watching a movie together eating pizza. It’s become a bit of a tradition and everyone loves it.
What would you recommend as must-dos for families visiting Singapore?
We love Tanjong Beach Club. With the children all being at different ages and stages it can be hard to find things that all three will enjoy, but here everyone is happy to swim, play in the sand and just hang out. Plus adults can have a coffee or Rose depending on what time it is!
Gardens by the Bay is another great one. The kids’ playground and water park are excellent, and very welcome in the heat! The Cloud Forrest is pretty cool, my boys love walking amongst the ‘clouds’ (and the aircon is a bonus!). You can grab lunch at Satay by the Bay to get the hawker market experience.
We also love the Botanic Gardens, although best to go first thing in the morning before it gets too hot. There are so many different walks you can do and always loads of turtles and monitor lizards to see, plus the gardens are just gorgeous.
What are your day-to-day Singapore haunts?
Most days you will find me at Carrotsticks and Cravings with my laptop, an almond latte and smashed avo on toast! I also can’t seem to escape a daily trip to Little Farms for groceries (also great coffee!).
We are forever stopping at Plain Vanilla in Tiong Bahru on the way home from school for a cupcake. The kids love to visit Woods in the Books, the coolest kids book store I’ve been to which is basically next door.
For dinners out, Chinatown is usually where we go. Nick and I try to go to different restaurants on our date nights but our all-time favourite is Burnt Ends. Keong Saik Road has the most gorgeous shophouses that have been renovated into cool restaurants and bars but our favourite bar would have to be the Potato Head rooftop. Cocktails are amazing and the Bromley artwork throughout is gorgeous.
One piece of advice you’d give your children?
Be kind, always.
Things you’re loving right now?
A swim in the ocean.
Cuddles with my three gorgeous children.