Tiger mum Joey Swee makes sons work hard (and play harder)

The former actress was happy to be free from her husband and three boys while filming ‘Reach for the Skies’ in Bintan

Joey Swee
Joey Swee "walking on water" in Bintan
15 Aug 2018

Joey Swee "walking on water" in Bintan

Photos: Tammi Tan, Joey Swee/Instagram

It’s no secret that 90s TV sweetheart Joey Swee is a tiger mum, a label she owns up to with pride and conviction. The 41-year-old left the entertainment industry in 2009 to become a full-time stay-at-home mum, and has been ruling over her three boys’ studies with an iron fist ever since.

While she was recently able to take a little time out to return to acting (she made her showbiz comeback in last year’s Toggle Originals series A Lonely Fish and can now be seen in long-form drama Reach for the Skies), it may be a while before she takes up another role again due to a four-letter acronym that probably brings a sense of dread to most parents: PSLE.

Yes, her eldest son, 12-year-old Kynaston, is sitting for his Primary School Leaving Examination this year, and the hands-on mother is very much involved in preparing him for it. So uh, what was she doing all the way in Bintan, indulging in spa sessions between shooting scenes for Reach for the Skies last month?

It boils down to two things: timing and trust. “I should be finishing this project in August, and the PSLE [written examinations] start at the end of September, so I will still have about a month to revise with him,” she told us during our catch-up session when we visited the island.

She also proudly added that, to her pleasant surprise, Kynaston has been managing himself pretty well without her help. “He complains that I’m not at home and that his brothers are noisy, but he’s been very independent when I go out to work,” she said. As a result, he did really well for his mid-year papers, proving that whatever discipline Joey drilled into him from a young age has clearly paid off.

(Continued on next slide: Would Joey let her sons pursue a career in sports?)

Joey Swee's sons learning to surf in Bali
Joey Swee's sons learning to surf in Bali
15 Aug 2018

Joey Swee's sons learning to surf in Bali

Besides doing well academically, Joey wants her boys to excel in extracurricular activities too, particularly in the area of sports. In addition to learning tennis, badminton and wushu, Kynaston and 9-year-old Jefferson have recently waded into new athletic territory: surfing.

According to Joey, they had their first taste of wave-riding during a family vacation in Bali last year. “[The boys] said they wanted to try it so [my husband and I] agreed,” said Joey, who has been married to Indonesian-Chinese businessman Gani Bustan for 13 years. “We’re not that overprotective, plus I believe boys should be more exposed when it comes to sports.”

“Not that overprotective” is a bit of an understatement, if you ask us: Joey said they engaged a surfing instructor to just “drag them out to sea” while she and her hubby watched from afar. “And we were surprised that they were actually able to stand up [on the surfboard]!” While Jefferson struggled a bit, his older brother, who was only 11 at that time, was a natural.

When we asked if she would object to her sons pursuing a career in sports, Joey said that while she would prefer not to lead them in that direction, she understands that if that’s what they really want, she can’t stop them. “If they really want to be a kungfu master or something, I would tell them to go ahead, but of course, their studies come first.”

(Continued on next slide: Joey wants her sons to be more adventurous)

Joey Swee and her boys climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia
Joey Swee and her boys climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia
15 Aug 2018

Joey Swee and her boys climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia

Lest you think Joey is some sort of merciless matriarch who believes little boys should only focus on becoming academic and athletic wonders without a fragment of fun in their lives…well, one need only have a look at her travel-filled Instagram page to see that that is certainly not the case.

From climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia to building snowmen in Japan to visiting a certain famous Lord of the Rings movie set in New Zealand, the entire clan lives a wanderlust dream. Even the baby of the bunch, Algernon, has already racked up his fair share of passport stamps at the tender age of 4.

“I want [my sons] to be more adventurous so we try to go somewhere once a year,” Joey said, sharing that their next big vacation has already been planned: a 15-day self-drive trip in the United Kingdom next year. Now who says she doesn’t make her boys play as hard as they work?

(Continued on next slide: Joey nags at her husband for holidays)

Joey Swee and her husband
Joey Swee and her husband
15 Aug 2018

Joey Swee and her husband

For Joey herself, the Bintan filming trip for Reach for the Skies was the first time she was able to have her own mini getaway sans hubby and boys – and she was revelling in it. “I’m enjoying the quiet moments without the kids or having to helping my husband to pack things,” she said with a grin, showing zero signs of withdrawal symptoms from leaving her sons in the care of her mother and a helper back in Singapore (her husband is based in Jakarta, Indonesia).

As it so happens, Joey and Gani celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary on the island, at the luxurious Banyan Tree resort. “That restaurant [where we filmed the dinner scene] is the one we ate at!” she recalled excitedly. “When I was there, I texted my husband and told him how much I miss that time we were there.”

We reckon there could be more romantic, just-the-two-of-them trips for the couple in the future, especially now that their boys are growing up. They last travelled together to Melbourne, Australia a year ago, but according to Joey, she claimed none of their jaunts would have happened if not for her badgering.

“I complained to him that we’ve been married for over 10 years and have only ever gone out with the children – that is not the life I want!” she chuckled. “So that’s why he brought me to Banyan Tree, and when I said I wanted more, he brought me to Melbourne. I nag then have one! (laughs)”

At least the nagging produces results, right? We say nag some more. Even a dedicated tiger mum deserves lots of time off.

Joey Swee enjoyed her time away from her husband and sons in Bintan
Joey Swee enjoyed her time away from her husband and sons in Bintan
15 Aug 2018

Joey Swee enjoyed her time away from her husband and sons in Bintan

Joey Swee filming the sky lantern scene for 'Reach for the Skies'
Joey Swee filming the sky lantern scene for 'Reach for the Skies'
15 Aug 2018

Joey Swee filming the sky lantern scene for 'Reach for the Skies'

Joey Swee and Yao Wen Long filming a scene for 'Reach for the Skies'
Joey Swee and Yao Wen Long filming a scene for 'Reach for the Skies'
15 Aug 2018

Joey Swee and Yao Wen Long filming a scene for 'Reach for the Skies'

Joey Swee having fun in a see-through canoe with Sheila Sim
Joey Swee having fun in a see-through canoe with Sheila Sim
15 Aug 2018

Joey Swee having fun in a see-through canoe with Sheila Sim

Joey Swee and her family
Joey Swee and her family
15 Aug 2018

Joey Swee and her family

Joey Swee and her husband during their romantic trip to Melbourne together
Joey Swee and her husband during their romantic trip to Melbourne together
15 Aug 2018

Joey Swee and her husband during their romantic trip to Melbourne together

Reach for the Skies airs weeknights, 7.30pm on Channel 8. Watch past episodes on Toggle.

Related:
All work and all play for the ‘Reach for the Skies’ cast in Bintan
Joey Swee returns to acting to “escape” from sons

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