SINGAPORE - From the age of eight, Ms Liana Azman has had to take care of herself while her mother, in the wake of a divorce, worked long hours to provide for the family.
Often left on her own, Ms Liana, now 21, would travel to and from school by herself and go out to buy food or cook meals using ingredients left by her mother in the fridge.
Says her mother Nur Hidayah, who declined to disclose her age: "I'm proud she knows how to take care of herself. The circumstances forced her to grow up very early and so she's become very independent."
Despite much time spent apart when Ms Liana was growing up, mother and daughter have always been close.
They live in a one-room HDB flat in Bedok.
Ms Liana's father is national bodybuilder Azman Abdullah. On Aug 22, Ms Liana will be competing with 11 other finalists for the title of Miss Universe Singapore 2014.
The 1.66m-tall part-time model, who is setting up her own clothing brand, sees the pageant as a good platform for her to pursue her interest in the arts and entertainment industry.
Although Ms Hidayah, a spa therapist, is concerned about her daughter wearing revealing clothes in the pageant and receiving negative comments, she understands she is getting a unique experience and making friends in the competition.
She even massages Ms Liana's legs at the end of a long day. "Liana would tell me she doesn't need it when I offer to do so, but I know her legs are tired so I massage them when she's sleeping."
To the single mother, her daughter's happiness is of utmost importance.
"As they say, a child is a gift from God, so it's my responsibility to make sure she is happy," she says.
Ms Liana, who is not in frequent contact with her father, says: "I'm proud that, even as a single parent, my mum always provides for me. She has given me unconditional love."
When Liana was young and had to take care of herself at home alone, how did you make sure she was safe?
Ms Hidayah: I needed to be responsible for her even while I was working. I gave her a mobile phone so she could call me if something was wrong. The teachers at school said a young child couldn't carry a mobile phone, but I explained the circumstances and that I needed to know where she was at all times.
Ms Liana: My mum would give me reminders, such as to lock the door when I got home.
How have you been supporting Liana in the Miss Universe Singapore competition?
Ms Liana: She's been waking me up for my appointments and giving me moral support. For example, she tells me not to bother when there are negative comments about me in online forums.
Ms Hidayah: I tell her to just ignore whatever people might say because they don't know her circumstances.
How close are the both of you?
Ms Liana: My mum is my best friend and I can tell her everything. She doesn't judge me and talks to me like an adult but, at the same time, she still gives me advice and reminds me to be careful.
Ms Hidayah: I join her with her friends sometimes, like for lunch or at events.
Ms Liana: My friends think she's cool.
What do you enjoy doing together?
Ms Hidayah: I have two days off every week, so we would always try to go out for lunch or dinner together.
Ms Liana: Sometimes we go for a movie or window shopping.
Ms Hidayah: If we don't go out, we stay home and watch TV.
Or I just ask her to sing for me with the microphone I bought for her before, because I like her singing.
Ms Liana: Her ringtone is a recording of my singing. It's a bit embarrassing when it plays in public, but I'm happy to know she's proud of me.
Do you ever get into conflict with each other?
Ms Liana: We just have petty arguments sometimes, like when either of us is late for a meeting.
Ms Hidayah: We make up with hugs and kisses after that.
Ms Liana: She'd make me hug her and that's how I know our argument is over.
Ms Hidayah: We have a strong bond and I'm proud of that, as well as the fact that she has grown into a fine woman who knows how to take care of herself.
In what ways are you and your mother similar?
Ms Liana: She loves food and so do I. We spend a lot of time eating together because we're such foodies.
Do you miss your father?
Ms Liana: I had a good childhood with him. He was always supportive of me and would entertain me.
My mum encourages me to maintain a good relationship with him.
If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you do differently?
Ms Liana: I don't think I would want to change anything about my mum.
Ms Hidayah: Maybe I would have chosen to go into swimming instead because I like the outdoors.
This article was first published on August 10, 2014.
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