How Wendy Jacobs raised her 5 kids to be happy and independent

How Wendy Jacobs raised her 5 kids to be happy and independent
PHOTO: The Singapore Women's Weekly

Wendy Jacobs is one powerhouse mum we can't help but admire.

The South African former model, who's married to football legend Fandi Ahmad, is a mum to five: Irfan, 20, Ikhsan, 18, Iman, 17, Ilhan, 14, and Iryan, 11.

Managing five kids is no easy feat, so we asked Wendy for her top parenting tips and secrets to raising happy, well-adjusted children.

1. Start your family as early as you can

Wendy first became a mum at the age of 22, and has no regrets starting her family at that age.

"I would say to anyone who's considering having a baby but is hesitating because of her career, just have your baby first," she says.

"Don't doubt yourself; it is possible to juggle work and a baby, if you have the right help"

"I appeared on the cover of The Weekly with baby Irfan in 1997 because I wanted to show women that you could have a baby and still have a career, and look beautiful."

2. Don't give up your career completely for your kids

"Giving up your freedom for your child is like staying in a loveless marriage for the sake of your child," says Wendy.

"If you need to take a year or two off to spend time with your kids, that's fine, but remember it's hard to return to the workforce if you've been away for too long. Try freelance or part-time work, so you can keep your skills fresh."

"When Irfan was born, I used to bring him everywhere; to shoots, to the shops, and so on," says Wendy, who also used to run a children's clothing boutique.

3. Teach your children discipline and limits

"I am a strict mum; I do not spoil my kids at all. I almost never bought them toys; most of their toys were gifts from friends and family."

It's important to have a routine for children; my kids all ate dinner at 5pm, and were in bed by 8.30pm. Even now, when they're grown up, they still follow a similar routine because it's become habit"

4. Train your kids to be independent from a young age

"My kids were all easy to look after because they followed a routine, and were taught to play by themselves," says Wendy.

"Don't carry your kids all the time; they must be given the freedom to fall and knock their heads once in a while. If your kid is old enough, let him walk on his own when he's out, or wheel him in the stroller if he's tired."

5. Give them time and space to discover themselves

Wendy's oldest sons Irfan and Ikhsan went to study in Chile's Universidad Católica to further their football training in 2013.

Her third son Ilhan is now pursuing his professional football dreams by studying at Queen Ethelburga's College in York, UK.

Meanwhile, daughter Iman is on a gap year from school, working part-time at a hairdressing salon and taking on modelling jobs.

"Of course I missed my boys when they went overseas, but I also knew they had to go and pursue their dreams," says Wendy.

"You can't stifle your kids by holding them back from their ambitions. A lot of people ask why I let Iman take a break from school, but to me, school is always going to be there. This is a time for her to discover who she is, and what she wants to do."

6. Treat your helper well

"Having a maid can be a great help, but don't overload them by making them do everything," says Wendy.

"Even now, when I have a maid at home, I clean my own room, and if I see she's busy with the cooking, I'll take care of the kids."

"I believe maids must be given the freedom to run the household; don't just tell them, 'Don't let the child do this and that.' Give them some autonomy, and trust them to do their work.

7. Look after yourself

Wendy understands the importance of rest.

She was struck with a mysterious illness in 2008 that left her wheelchair-bound for over a year.

She suffered seizures and a near-fatal cardiac arrest, and admits she still has health issues once in a while.

"I do have bad days when I need to be in hospital, or I need a break, and then the children understand that I can't be there for them. But the illness has made me thankful for my family, who've supported me through that rough time."

8. Make family time count

With the family's super-busy schedules, Wendy says it's almost impossible to have the whole family together, except on special occasions like Hari Raya.

So the time they do have together becomes very precious.

"It's quality over quantity," she says.

"Whenever we have meals together or are able to go away on holiday, we really enjoy ourselves because we know how hard it is to get everyone in one place. These moments are precious to me."

This article was first published in The Singapore Women's Weekly

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