Maybe Baby chats with actor Edmund Chen on all things fatherly – from baby poo, to planning his career around his family.
By Lee Shou Yin
For Edmund Chen, family comes before career.
The youthful-looking 48-year-old actor left MediaCorp in 2008 to focus on his entertainment company – Asiatainment. Since then, this father of two has been busy with acting projects both in Singapore and abroad. In between his filming stints, the multi-talented Edmund has also found time to write children’s books, and take on design and illustration projects.
But no matter how packed his schedule is, Edmund always has time for his two children – 20-year-old Yi Xi is serving his national service, while 10-year-old daughter Yi Xin is in primary school. Now that he runs his own business and manages his acting projects independently, Edmund, who has been married for 21 years to MediaCorp actress Xiang Yun, enjoys the flexibility to plan his work schedule.
“When I was with MediaCorp, my time was dictated by the project schedules. If one of us was filming, the other was off, at least we could take turns to care for the kids. The worst was when both Xiang Yun and I were filming ‘Double Happiness’ (“喜临门”). The series was more than 100 episodes and we were in a lot of scenes together. We were practically in the studio from morning till night, so when the children fell sick or had a fall, there was only the maid; we couldn’t be with them. Sometimes the children would wait till 11 or 12 at night for us to come home. And it made us feel very guilty. We felt that we were not fulfilling our responsibilities as parents,” he recounted.
Thereafter, the couple avoided being cast in the same production to ensure that, at any point in time, one of them would be available to care for the children. The incident also prompted Edmund to start thinking about how he could achieve better work-life balance and have more time for his family – which eventually led to his decision to leave MediaCorp.
“We discussed this and felt that it would be wiser for Xiang Yun to remain in MediaCorp. After all, she is an iconic figure in the local television scene; it would be a pity to give up on her career here. It also made sense that one of us remains in a more stable job while the other pursues a new course of career.”
Nowadays, Edmund’s working hours are tailored around his children’s schedules. “I try to schedule all my meetings in the mornings and afternoons, and avoid meetings after 5pm as much as possible, so I can be home to join them for dinner.”
As the two kids are almost 10 years apart and enjoy different activities, Edmund has to be a versatile dad who can play Barbie dolls with his little daughter, and engage in outdoor sports with his elder son. He admitted, “It can be physically quite tiring, because I can’t take them out for say 2 hours at a swimming pool. I have to spend 2 hours with the elder one, and another 2 hours with the younger one, because they like different stuff.”
As the couple’s parents are busy with other commitments, Edmund and Xiang Yun have relied on domestic help for their two children throughout their growing-up years. Edmund confessed that they have very high expectations of domestic helpers because he and Xiang Yun are entrusting their children in their care. “Our friends asked us the reason for bringing our maid along for overseas vacations. We do so because we want to treat her as part of our family; and in return, we hope she would also treat us like her family members. That said, it’s not always easy to find a suitable helper. So far, we have had different working experiences with them.” For Edmund, fatherhood has been a wonderful experience – filled with both challenges and fulfillment. “When my elder son was born, Xiang Yun and I were inexperienced parents and didn’t know what to do. There were many sleepless nights because we had to be up to feed him and change his diapers. But we learnt along the way. By the time the second one came along, we already knew what to do.”
The hands-on dad also picked up parenting tips from books and articles, as well as seminars, and was involved in almost every aspect of baby care. “I helped to put them to bed, bathe them, feed them, play with them, change their diapers, wipe up their poo and clean their buttocks. I absolutely l-o-v-e the smell of children’s poo! Seriously, children’s poo don’t smell as bad as adults’. You have to experience it yourself to know,” he professed with enthusiasm.
But that’s not all. When his son was still a baby, the little boy came down with flu and had difficulty blowing his nose. The anxious dad went as far as to suck out the mucus from his son’s nose, and swallowed the gooey mess in his haste. Needless to say, he too came down with flu a few days after that. And if that was not enough, he repeated the same thing when his daughter fell sick, and “stupidly swallowed the mucus and fell sick again”.
Now that Yi Xi and Yi Xin are older, the siblings have started to reciprocate their parents’ sacrifices and love. They would plan surprises such as candlelight dinners for Edmund and Xiang Yun so they can enjoy some couple-time together.
“Although we hold hands when we go out and celebrate special occasions together, we don’t really plan dates with each other, so our kids will create the platform and ambience for us to date each other,” said Edmund with a laugh.
Over the years, Edmund and Xiang Yun have also developed a team strategy when it comes to family matters. “We don’t assign roles when it comes to housework or taking care of the children. It’s more like if she’s busy, I will go to the market. Or if I’m busy, she will pick up the kids. We try to learn all the roles and support each other. So we both know which stall sells the cheapest fish, or which brand of detergent to buy. It’s a more flexible approach. And because our schedules can be quite hectic, maintaining good communication is very important for us.”
To stay in touch with his family when he is filming overseas, Edmund often flies his wife and children over to where he is working. “Now, when someone approaches me with a new project, I will let the person know upfront, that I can only devote a certain amount of time to the project. Some actors don’t mind travelling for promotions or spending all their time on their work. But I know my priority is my family, so I need to strike a balance.”
For Edmund, the freedom to plan his career and have his work fit in nicely with his family commitments is a dream come true. “I don’t deny that I went through a difficult phase when I first started out managing my career on my own. But you need to pour out some water from your cup before you can add more stuff in to create your own cocktail. It’s the same with life. Don’t let life lead you; lead your own life.”
To young couples who are hesitant to have children because they feel they are unable to manage career and parenthood, Edmund encourages them to start thinking about the importance of sharing.
“I think many young couples have yet to realise the joy of sharing. I can give my son 100% of my love and still give my daughter another 100%. And I feel happier when I share my time and my love with them. It’s not a maths equation; just because you have kids doesn’t mean you have less for yourself. In reality, you end up gaining more because you share your time with your family.”