It’s absolutely true: juggling work and kids can really make you very busy. But there are some things that should not be neglected for too long, and building strong familial and spousal relationships are right on top of the list.

Michelle Hon certainly knows a thing or two about being busy! You may know her on social media as The Chill Mom – she’s a multi-hyphenate writer, entrepreneur and mom to three young children. However, she does not compromise on familial ties – both intergenerational and with her spouse.

Building meaningful relationships with grandparents

“My own mother passed away when she was only 34 years old, and I really treasure the time I had with her as a child,” Michelle shares. “Her legacy lives on in me though; I’m told that I’m a lot like her, especially now that I’m a mom myself. She was strict but fun, and I’m like that too with my kids.”

Michelle continues, “Having grandparents around is definitely a blessing, and it’s great for the kids to be able to spend time with them!”

While her dad and her in-laws do not live in Singapore, this does not stop her kids from having meaningful relationships with them. Says Michelle, “We video call them about once a week, and when the kids see their grandparents on the phone, everyone is excited to share about their lives with each other.”

Before Covid-19 struck, the family would fly overseas twice a year to spend quality time with the grandparents. And each time they met up, the kids would bond with their grandmother over cooking and baking in the kitchen, or have long, never-ending conversations with her grandfather about their interests.

In fact, this is much like how Michelle remembers her own grandmother back in Penang. “After the passing of my mom, we moved back to live with my dad’s parents, so I had a great relationship with my grandmother. She and I chatted about anything and everything under the sun,” Michelle recalls fondly.

Setting time aside for each other

Michelle knows that the efforts that go into building familial bonds are worth it. And this includes taking the time to set the foundation strong for a marriage that lasts.

“Eight years ago, when our eldest daughter was born, we agreed to commit to monthly date nights and it’s been something we have upheld over the years,” says Michelle with conviction. “We take the opportunity to reconnect with each other, chatting about what’s been going on in our lives, what we’re currently interested in, and of course, the kids – while exploring new places to eat!” It is easy to put that date off, with so much going on, and Michelle knows it. Which is why she and her husband schedule the dates into their shared Google calendar, “So that no one forgets!” she adds with a laugh.

Other than monthly dates, Michelle notes that the day-to-day things matter too. With both spouses working, it can be tough to carve out time for each other during the week.

To ensure that they don’t lose touch with each other during the busy work week, Michelle makes it a point to do things alongside her husband, even if it means working on her laptop next to him on the couch as he watches something on the television. She says, “Doing things together in the same physical space helps to keep us connected during the work week, when things can get a little crazy!”

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Other than staying connected with each other, Michelle is also a strong believer in ensuring that her marriage is founded on mutual respect and open communication. To her, nothing is too trivial to be spoken about, and the tough things certainly need to be said.

Says Michelle: “Towards the end of last year, I was feeling particularly burnt out from handling the kids’ school runs all by myself, on top of starting up my new businesses and writing my book. I decided to share the mental load with my husband so that he could understand my frustration and anxieties.”

She points out that it is important to frame such conversations in a neutral way which describes what is going on or how you are feeling, without accusing the other party of not helping.

“It took me a while to rehearse this particular discussion over and over in my head before I actually spoke with my husband, because I wanted to share my feelings with him, and absolutely not feel like I was pointing fingers at him,” explains Michelle. “I’m happy to share that the conversation did help; he now helps to pick the children up from school once a week and I feel less burdened.”

At the end of the day, Michelle knows all-too-well that strong familial and spousal bonds aren’t built overnight.

“Meaningful relationships take time and effort to be built, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all hard work! The process can be really fun and enjoyable too. After all, spending time with people we love is a blessing. And I really hope the kids see this for themselves through all that we have said and done throughout the years.”