Evelyn Tan shares her parenting secrets

She was once dubbed a rising star with a bright future in showbiz. But in 2005, Evelyn Tan gave it all up.

That was when she welcomed her first child with actor-husband Darren Lim, now 45, and made the decision to become a stay-at-home mum.

Today, the 41-year-old homeschools her four children - Kristen, 12; Jairus, 10; Way, eight; and Elliott, four - and wants to inculcate in them the idea that "life is not all about academics".

Even more surprising was the family of six's decision to live on a yacht for five years (they are now land-based), and their six-month sailing expedition in January 2016 to Phuket and Koh Samui.

Young Parents caught up with the radiant mum at the launch of popular German brand Frei Ol in Singapore - she is its celebrity ambassador - to find out more about the family's seafaring experience and her child-rearing strategies.

A sailing expedition with the entire family isn't an easy feat. What was the experience like?

Photo: The New Paper

There were ups and downs, of course.

In our euphoric moments, we saw dolphins swimming next to us. It was a really lovely feeling, and something that we will always remember.

But we also met with storms that threw the boat 4m high - that was a negative experience that we'll never forget.

We are just thankful that we were able to accomplish what we set out to do, come back safely, and have all these lovely memories to look back on.

Your husband, Darren, describes you as someone who goes by the book, whereas the sailing expedition was very unpredictable. What was it like to step out of your comfort zone?

I'm a person who knows that I need to go by the book. But perhaps, deep down inside, I look forward to the excitement.

I'm curious about what's on the other side of things, and that's the reason I married Darren.

So, I guess I'm not that "by the book" anymore (laughs).

I've been moulded by him and my experiences in life, and I'm happy about that. After all, if you're always going by the book, then what's the difference between that and being a robot?

This is real life. If you're willing to take that leap of faith and follow your heart, you'll know that there'll be experiences that leave an impact, and memories that last.

What are some things that your kids learnt that can't be taught in a classroom setting?

Photo: Evelyn Tan

I think nothing beats taking the learning out of a classroom.

The Chinese have a saying: "Du wan juan shu bu ru xing wan li lu", which means travelling thousands of miles is better than reading thousands of books.

It (the sailing expedition) really brought to life some concepts that we were learning about.

For example, when we saw a dead turtle, the children were able to relate it to what they'd been learning about conservation, and the human race's effect on our natural environment.

They would say things like: "I saw a lot of plastic bags as we were sailing, and the turtle must have mistaken it for jellyfish and ate it. Plastic bags are non-biodegradable, which is why the turtle doesn't hunt for food anymore as it was not able to digest the plastic.

"It must be us, so we must be careful about how we treat our rubbish."

These are things that will drive home the point that we're trying to put across to them in school.

When they see such a lovely animal dead in the sea, it's really quite heart wrenching for them, too.

Since we are on the topic of learning, why did you choose to homeschool your kids?

Darren and I put in quite a bit of effort to think about what we wanted to do with our children's education. In fact, he was the one who first mooted the idea of homeschooling.

Initially, I was quite shocked. I came from the system, and I turned out fine, so why did we need to do something so radically different?

However, as we did our research, and came to a better understanding of what we wanted to do for and with our kids, homeschooling then became an option that we could consider seriously.

As with all things, there are pros and cons. There are things that are great about homeschooling but, on the downside, discipline might be an issue.

For example, you must be disciplined enough yourself as a teacher to make your children disciplined enough to follow through.

Homeschooling has worked for us so far, as we're trying to inculcate in our children the idea that life is not all about academics.

More and more, children are being geared towards the mentality that you can only be a person of a certain stature or standing in society once you get a certain grade.

There's so much more we can offer to society, and it doesn't have to be based entirely on qualifications. I hope that, through homeschooling, the kids can find their own passion in life and be encouraged to pursue things that excite them.

Hopefully, the motivation comes from within themselves, and not so much from us parents.

You mentioned discipline as one of the issues. What are the discipline methods that work for you?

Discipline methods progress with age. In the different seasons of a child's life, you'll have to use different ways.

Kristen, who is 12, has reached a certain level of maturity, so we are able to reason with her.

For the other kids (Jairus and Way), it's a lot more of explaining why, and they will grapple with the "whys", but they will still be able to submit to that.

But, the underlying thing that our children understand from us is that we still have the final say and authority over them, as they are under our care.

So, let's say, after our discussion, they're still not able to convince us that we should think differently, then they have to submit to our "authority".

As for Elliott, there's no point explaining to him since he's only four years old. So it's just what Mama says.

Generally, children are eager to please so, even with Elliott, it's not so much of a discipline issue. And when he tries to push boundaries, I'll have to use the cane to threaten him and let him know that there are consequences.

I do use the cane, but in a reasonable way.

This article was first published in Young Parents