Just like many parents, Tan Meng Wei longed for worklife balance. But that goal was near impossible in one of his previous jobs.
Then a management consultant at Boston Consulting Group, he had to fly out of Singapore every Monday and catch the last flight home on Friday.
“I was travelling way too much and I wanted to spend more time with my eldest son who was 1.5 years old then,” recalls the 46-year-old, who has a brood of four – Matthian, 17; Danelle, 14; Merrick, 12; and Deborah, nine.
So, he quit his job and joined Standard Chartered Bank, where he was only required to travel once a month.
People told him he was crazy
During a business flight, he decided to branch out into the preschool industry and bought over his first Star Learners childcare centre in Eunos in 2003. The business existed on the sideline for seven years – he had acquired five more childcare centres during that span of time – before he quit his bank job to manage it.
“People told me I was crazy to give up my job, which paid well,” he recounts.
“It wasn’t so much about the business opportunities – it paid a little bit of the bills – but it was primarily driven because I wanted to have more time with the kids.”
Even with a saner work schedule, he was spending 10 hours in the office and reaching home at 8pm daily. And the only time he had left with his kids were after dinner and before their bed time at 9pm.
“At the end of the day, I asked myself, what is it that I want out of life? And to me, the kids are of utmost importance,” he adds.
Walking the talk
His decision has certainly paid off. Today, Star Learners is a multi-million company with 37 childcare centres – and counting – all over the island. The group believes in building confident, creative children with character, and Meng Wei applies the same philosophy when it comes to his own kids.
All four have tried their hand at a myriad of sports and activities, ranging from chess to football and horse riding. Danelle and Merrick were also national chess champions, and Danelle is now training with the under-16 Singapore national team for soccer.
The doting dad ferries them to their various classes – spending more than three hours in his car daily – and sees this as an opportunity to have protected time with each child.
He also makes it a point to be there for all of their training and matches, and credits his staffers for running the company well, allowing him flexible hours.
Meng Wei is not hung up about their studies, either. By his own confession, the only tuition the kids have is Mandarin because they are “just beyond bad” in the subject. Otherwise, they are very disciplined and motivated, and are coping well in school.
He explains: “Studies will only help to increase their focus and determination but sports will build their character – there are so many rich lessons to take away, such as teamwork, resilience, and handling failure.”
No spoilt brats
While the vivacious dad is laidback about grades, he takes on a different approach when it comes to raising and disciplining his kids. He reckons that parents should not portray themselves as their child’s best friend, neither should they lord it over them.
“Children should be respected but not treated like Gods,” he opines. He also subscribes to the theory of corporal punishment: “I don’t want to raise a generation of spoilt brats. The faster they learn how to deal with authority and punishment, the better it is.
“But I hardly ever smack them because I’ve established authority in the house and my word is enough. Besides, my voice is very loud, too, so it helps,” he adds.
Lest you think Meng Wei has nailed this parenting gig effortlessly, he gamely admits to many hits and misses, whether it was that one time he forgot to pick young Merrick up from the childcare centre, or the recent blunder of turning up in school one week early for Matthian’s parent-teacher conference.
Of course, managing a teenager is not the easiest task for him and his wife, Dawn Tan, 43, who is the curriculum advisor at Star Learners.
“Every stage has its own challenges – it doesn’t get easier. And we are by no means the perfect parents. There are days when we wake up and ask ourselves: ‘Why did we have four kids?’
“But the joys they bring will always weigh over,” he gushes.
So whether you’re an entrepreneur, stay-at-home or working parent, the effervescent dad’s tip is to “make the most out of it”.
“There is always room to make mistakes and things will not be that bad. Nobody is going to give you a grade. And if you fail, simply pick yourself up from the fall. Just do your best and enjoy the parenting journey.”