Karen Ong is a 21-year-old mother who works as a cleaner to help support her family. She is also in her final year at Republic Polytechnic. She juggles studying, work, and family all at once to ease the financial burden off her husband.
While most young Singaporeans would never dream of taking up cleaning jobs, Karen is determined to be a role model to her daughter – to prove that no job in this world is embarrassing, especially if you’re doing it to secure a better future for your family.
Karen began working in the cleaning industry by handling cleaning chores at a local childcare centre. She is currently working as a contracted cleaner for Helpling, a company that offers on-demand home cleaning services. On top of that, she is an administrator and instrumentalist at a local Dragon and Lion Dance Troupe company.
TNAP: Can we start by knowing what your work schedule is like?
My work schedule is flexible. I do several part time jobs. Helpling complements my schedule well because I can choose where and when I want to work. There are days when I can work for four hours and others when I can only commit to two.
TNAP: Some people have negative notions toward cleaning jobs. Do you have any insights to dispel this negative notion?
The reason why people have a negative notion toward cleaning jobs is because the majority of cleaning jobs is done by uncles, aunties and foreign workers. Youngsters would not want to be seen as a cleaner because it makes them appear as an “auntie” or “uncle”. But I feel that being a cleaner is not illegal and it’s a proper job that still pays in the end.
TNAP: What’s the most surprising thing about being a cleaner?
People would think that a cleaning job pays really little but at Helpling, I am easily earning more than my peers at other “cooler” retail jobs, so I don’t see what’s wrong with being a cleaner.
TNAP: How did you first get the idea to tap into the cleaning industry?
I first saw the Facebook advertisement stating something along the lines of “Earn as high as $16/hour with a cleaning household job” so I thought why not? I can clean and it pays well. That’s why I applied to be a Helpling cleaner.
TNAP: When do you typically spend time with your kid?
I normally spend time with my daughter after school. I make sure to finish all my school work in school before heading home to spend quality time with her instead of being boggled by school work. I also try to get jobs that end earlier so I can spend the rest of the day with her.
TNAP: What do you like best about your current work / life / study / family set-up?
Time flies really quickly so I find myself looking forward to seeing my family after a long day.
TNAP: What do you find tricky or tough about your current work / school / family set-up?
Time is limited and never enough. There are also times when I get judgmental stares and looks whenever I go out with my family because I am a young mother, and having to sacrifice time, freedom, friends and money.
TNAP: What does your husband do? Is he supportive of your decision to work and study?
My husband is a police officer with the Singapore Police Force. I have to complete school so he is supportive of it. He would prefer me not to work but he respects my decision. I felt that I had to help lighten his financial burden especially since we are planning for a second child.
TNAP: How does your husband inspire you? How does your child inspire you?
My husband inspires me with his attitude in life. He knows what he wants in life and he goes out of the way to make sure he gets it. My daughter also inspires me with her determination to get what she wants. Recently, she started learning how to crawl and she would crawl all the way to what she wants no matter what.
TNAP: What lessons or advice do you wish to impart on your daughter?
I would tell her to not marry at such a young age like me. And that life may be tough at times but all we can do is to take things in our stride one step at a time. Part of me taking up a cleaning job with Helpling is also wanting to be a role model to her, letting her know that her mom works hard to raise her in a healthy family. And that cleaning is a decent job that pays the bill.
TNAP: What advice would you give to new mums, struggling mums, or single mums about juggling work, family and life?
To 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. Now, I make a set of timetables for myself so I can allocate enough time for school, work and family.
TNAP: Do you have other advice of any kind that might motivate our readers?
Parenthood is not easy but it’s rewarding. There are times when we feel that life is tough but having a positive mindset is important and it will make things feel a lot easier.
This article was first published in The New Age Parents e-magazine