Boys to men: Single mum Ooi Piek See on raising 3 children on her own
This Mother's Day, we draw inspiration from the journey of single mother Ooi Piek See, who bravely brought up 3 boys on her own and emerged stronger than ever.
If our cover shoot this month taught us anything, it would be that mothers are real-life superwomen who can be anything and everything for their children. They have this gift to be exactly what their children need most at any given time that stems from an unconditional love and selflessness that no one else in the world can emulate.
Such is the case for Ooi Piek See, mother of John-Ian, John-Son and John-Hans Oei.
Fate dealt her a tragic hand in 2000 when the boys’ father was taken from them abruptly by a rare heart condition, leaving her to fend for herself and her three boys, then aged between 11-16.
“The challenges have been tremendous in watching them work through their issues in losing their father," she opens up. "They needed a role model but he was so suddenly taken from them.”
As hard as it was for her, she knew it was harder for them so she did what needed to be done and stepped up to fill both roles. “It was also a growth period for me in particular. I was no longer just a mum, I now needed to also be a leader and role model.”
She relinquished her role as a stay-at-home mum for the first time in a long while. Instead of letting herself “pedal her feet into self-pity”, she found multiple jobs and started a handful of small businesses to make ends meet.
But she made sure to do all that only after she brought the boys on a getaway to Port Dickson in the few immediate days after the passing of their father. She knew they needed an escape even if just for a while and she granted them that.
“Grieve if you want to, but do it properly,” she told them. “When death comes into your vocabulary, it’s always a very defining moment. But there is always a lot more to learn in pain than pleasure. One of the things that I told them was never to waste your sorrow. Work through the pain, work through the anger but don’t waste your grief.”
With the help of family, mother and sons have since come a long way.
John-Ian and John-Hans today spearhead Microbs, an environmentally friendly waste management solution provider. John-Son, driven by the kindness that has been shown to them during their times of need, was inspired to give back and founded Epic Homes, a non-profit initiative that strives to build homes for the underprivileged and orang asli communities in Malaysia. It’s the very same one that made it into the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list for Social Entrepreneurs earlier this year.
The journey hasn’t been an easy one but Piek See says she has "no regrets". “I think they’ve turned out tremendously well despite everything.”
Never one to ask “why me?” she says her faith particularly helped when times were tough. “God has always been very good to us. We had very great family support.”
She adds, “Life always has its challenges, its confrontations; the only thing that it asks of us is for us to make up our minds whether to keep going. And, for us, quitting is not an option.”
This Mother’s Day, her sons open up about how much their mother has impacted their lives.
"She let us be boys"
"It wasn’t easy because we had to grow up on our own since she was working a lot. The beauty of it was that my mother never let us in on how bad things were. In necessities, we were never lacking. Now that we’ve started to manage our own households, we do look back and wonder how in the world did she manage? I don’t think she was earning a lot, but she always made us feel like there’s nothing to worry in the world. She also never controlled us; she let us grow, find ourselves, make mistakes and learn from it. But what she did was that she always kept us in line. She let us be boys." -- John-Ian Oei
"She captured the essence of what it is like to be a man"
"She treated us like adults, but that also meant being accountable for our decisions. She drilled a lot of principles into us and modeled it out for us. She always tells us to cherish people. I remember my Dad telling me, when he’s gone, to take care of my mum and always stick together. So no matter how bad we fight, we always come together again because we’re family. All of us turned out quite decent. It wasn’t because we were raised by a woman. It’s because she captured the essence of what it is like to be a man and she taught that to us." -- John-Son Oei
"Nothing can really shake her"
"It was hard for me because as the youngest, I’ve always had her with me everyday and suddenly she had to go and work. She was always more interested in what kind of men we would become instead of what jobs we were doing. She always put people first and people liked being around her. She makes you feel like the most important person in the room. Through it all, she always showed this strength to get past anything. Nothing can really shake her. She’s a reason why we believe women can do anything men can. We were brought up by such a strong woman." -- John-Hans Oei
(Photos: John-Hans Oei)
More mothers to be inspired by: Read the excerpt of our cover story where 6 women share their joys of motherhood.