Hubert Burda Media

The Greatest Love of All

On the eve of Mother's Day, we chat with matriarch ELIZABETH WILUAN and her three children about Santa Claus, boarding school drama and the secret to keeping a big family tightly knit and harmonious. By Low Shi Ping

The Greatest Love of All

Have you ever tried to coordinate the schedules of eight (very busy) adults and get them to all appear at the same place on the same date and time? Just to make things a bit more exciting, let's throw in eight children, the oldest of whom is only five.
This was precisely the mammoth challenge faced by Elizabeth Wiluan when we approached her family to participate in the inaugural edition of the Prestige Family Album published in our business lifestyle annual Lifestyle 2013. But rise to it she did. On November 3 last year, she saw to it that her entire flock turned up at Capella Singapore, with the pre-agreed dress code (black-and-white cocktail chic) to get their hair and makeup done before shooting the portrait.
Apart from it being a logistical nightmare, what impressed us was the level of affection her three children and their spouses had for Elizabeth and vice versa. Then there was the obvious joy her grandchildren displayed when they saw her, rushing over to hug her, faces alit with beaming smiles.
How does she do it? We had to get to the bottom of it and since it is Mother's Day this month, we thought it'd be opportune to do so. Which is how we ended up at her home in Tanglin area one Friday evening with her three children Angeline, Mike and Richard, to find out just how.
After a quick photoshoot, where the camaraderie between her and her trio is obvious from the way she laughs and jokes with them, we settle down on the plush furniture in the living room to chat.
“Mum is the centre of our universe. If we had a family lunch and she didn't come out with us, maybe because she was ill or something, it'd be awkward,” says Angeline, more affectionately known as Angel, summing up how she and her brothers feel.
From an early age, Elizabeth, who is today in her 60s, always made sure her children had an open relationship with her. “Even from when we were really tiny, we knew that if something happened, we would be able to communicate with our mum and not get told off,” explains Angel, who turns 39 this year.
“During my teenage years, when I had a little bit of angst and had to calm myself, mum was the one I would go to. She was my comforter. She still is today. I'd give mum a call every few days just to have a chitchat,” admits Richard, the youngest of the three at 35.
“She really cared about us having a childhood, especially during the holiday seasons. She'd put a lot of effort wrapping presents up and sneaking them into our rooms to put them on the bed for us to think it was Santa Claus.”
The one thing Elizabeth neglected to do — but we really cannot bear to hold this against her — was to tell Angel that Santa Claus did not actually exist: “I forgot to tell her before she went to boarding school!” Laughs Angel: “I would ask my friends: ‘What are you going to get from Santa Claus?' And they'd be like: ‘You mean your mum and dad?'”
Mike, 37, fondly recalls an activity-filled childhood full of birthday parties and excursions to places such as the zoo: “Dad was very busy so we didn't always go out. In the meantime, mum basically compensated by making sure she was always doing things for us.”
The hands-on parent that she is, Elizabeth is always there for her brood. “She is very well-dressed and groomed. I remember when we were living in Jakarta, she would drive a sports car and come pick us up from school,” says Mike.
One of Richard's earliest memories is of his mother sending him to kindergarten on his first day of school and not wanting her to leave: “She was standing behind me and I had to sing and recite the alphabet. I held on to her hand with an iron grip. It was traumatic!”
Surprisingly, Elizabeth reveals that her sons were always perfectly well-behaved: “I never had to shout or tell them to stop fighting.” Instead, it was Angel who was the mischievous one. “I remember chasing her around the table to do her Bahasa homework, while the boys will just sit there very quietly and do their work.”
Given how close she is to her children, it is easy to imagine the amount of difficulty Elizabeth faced when she sent them off one by one to boarding school in England starting from the age of nine: “It was very hard. I cried a lot thinking they might get bullied at school but they were always capable children.”
“When I came home, I couldn't go into their bedrooms for at least two weeks. I didn't want to see or smell their things,” she shares. As much as it was tough, she knew she had made the right choice since such an education is known to produce well-rounded, independent individuals who can cope with almost anything life throws at them.
Angel recalls that one of the things that got her and her brothers through boarding school was Elizabeth's unwavering faith in them. “Our mother always believed and told us that we're just as good as anyone else, if not better. Unfortunately, we took the latter of the advice and now we're a bit big-headed,” she says with a laugh. “But that was what got us through and we did think we're a little bit better than everyone else. She gave us confidence.”
Today, it is these same values that the Wiluan siblings pass on to their children. More than anything, it has helped them appreciate their mother even more. “I have three kids and it's difficult to get them to do things. It's only now that I fully appreciate what mum has done for us,” explains Mike.
In addition to her three children, Elizabeth also has an additional three in-laws whom she also regards as her own. Together, they have bore her eight beautiful grandchildren. The entire family makes it a point to gather during the weekend at a restaurant or someone's home to have a meal and catch up.
“I think God has been shining his light down on us. I've been very lucky. But I think the real backbone, in a way, is my husband. We have a very great love for each other. I couldn't have had anything better,” ruminates Elizabeth.
“I would say if you want children, these three are the best you can have. If, at this age, I had to look after them as little children, I could do it again.”
“Our mother always believed and told us that we're just as good as anyone else, if not better. Unfortunately, we took the latter of the advice and now we're a bit big-headed. But that was what got us through and we did think we're a little bit better than everyone else. She gave us confidence”
“I think God has been shining his light down on us. I've been very lucky. But I think the real backbone, in a way, is my husband. We have a very great love for each other. I couldn't have had anything better”
Black-and-white family portrait of the Wiluans first published in Prestige Lifestyle 2013: (From left) Sam Carew-Jones, Patrick Carew-Jones, Edward Carew-Jones, Angeline Carew-Jones, Laurie Wiluan, Kaleo Wiluan, Simone Wiluan, Mike Wiluan, Naomi Wiluan, Kris Wiluan, Elizabeth Wiluan, Isabel Wiluan, Ginny Wiluan, Ryan Wiluan, Richard Wiluan and Kristian Wiluan