'I live between two countries raising my daughters. It's as difficult and wonderful as it sounds.'

Over the years, I have often asked why I am wired like this. I dream big. I set ambitious goals and I want to achieve my goals without feeling limited. 

I remember as a 10-year-old wanting to win the end-of-year excellence award at school but being told that I couldn't — it was only for the boys. I proved the school wrong and won the award that year. 

I wouldn't be held back by what may have been the norms at that time. 

And the same rings true today as a 44-year-old mother of two beautiful teenage daughters running a business across three countries and living between two. 

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Video via Mamamia.

How did I come to live in two countries?  

Asia has always been in my blood. I learnt Japanese as a young child and went to live there after high school. Then, in my early career, I held corporate marketing roles for the Asia-Pacific region. 

When I started my strategic marketing business 16 years ago, I was a new mum, and my clients were predominantly Australian companies, so I was grounded for a little while — at least while I had my second daughter and started to build my business. 


However, it wasn't long before one of my clients expanded into Southeast Asia and took me with them. 

That was the beginning of my love affair with the region! 

10 years from first dipping my toe in the water, I now do business in three countries — Australia, Singapore, and Indonesia — and I live between Sydney and Singapore. 

During the last decade, I relocated to Singapore, making it my base for five years with my girls. I loved every minute. My business flourished, and we had experiences I know are imprinted on my girls, like having friends from all around the world and a deeper appreciation of the bigger world outside of Australia. 

When Australia's borders opened again at the end of 2021, it was time to move back. While I wanted to stay longer as my business was in a great position and I loved life there, my girls had put forward valid reasons for returning. 

My eldest daughter would be entering Year 10 — she felt getting back into the Australian school system and making friends ahead of her senior years was important. She is now in Year 12. And she was right, it was the best move for her. 

My youngest started Year 7 when we returned, so it was good timing for her to kick off high school. 

But I felt a sense of dread moving back. Although I wanted to be with my family, I didn't want to leave what I had started in Asia. With all the blood, sweat and tears that I put into it, I couldn't turn my back on the business — it was my livelihood, and I knew it couldn't be solely run from Australia. 


So, I decided to keep a physical presence in Singapore. I downsized apartments and keep a home there. 

Two years on from moving back to Sydney, but flying back and forth, it has certainly been an interesting experience. 

The move back has coincided with the girls being at different stages in their lives, and in many ways, they need me more than ever. 

All the while, there are more demands on me to be in multiple places at once. 

I typically spend two weeks every six weeks based in Singapore, and from that base, I then travel to Indonesia or Malaysia or elsewhere in the region if needed.

I have two different lives in two different countries. Bank accounts, phone number, addresses, residency status in Singapore and Australia…needless to say, life is hectic and being mum to two girls requires a lot of organisation.

And when I'm overseas, the girls live with their father.

Gemma with her girls. Image: supplied. 


How do I do it?

I sometimes don't know how I make it work — but I do. 

There are certainly lows and highs. Sometimes, I can be in tears about it and question what I am doing. On other days, I have such deep gratitude that I have made a life work that would seem impossible for many, where I am pursuing my dreams while being the best Mum I can be. 

The times that the situation most challenges me is not being there when they need me. 

As I write this, I am in Singapore, and my eldest daughter fell sick with influenza the day before I was scheduled to leave

Still not knowing it was Influenza, I pushed my flight by a day, thinking that she would feel better. I had already created chaos by delaying my flight a day as my team's schedules needed to be adjusted. 


But when I discovered she had Influenza the night before my already delayed flight, I had to make a call. I was torn. I decided to go and had to drag myself away from her; I was worried, guilty, and teary. 

In situations like this, I need to go into hyper-organisation mode. In this case, I mobilised everyone to help and rally around to look after her while I was gone. My mum, my partner changed his schedule to work from home, and my girl's dad also rearranged things to look after her — it certainly takes a village to raise children, and this is no different. 

Without a great support network, it would be near impossible to live between two countries. 

Even as organised as I need to be, I still can't prepare for all possible scenarios or events while away. I never know what will pop up. I have had the girls go through some challenging times, such as being bullied, school issues, and friends — the teenage years are complex. 

Although my support network is fantastic, with everyone on hand to help, it still doesn't take away from the fact that often the girls want and need the nurturing and emotional support that only a mum can give you. 

On the flip side, there are so many positives about our life. By having a business that has stood the test of time in several countries, the girls have witnessed first-hand that there is a world of opportunity. 


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I have been teaching them that as a woman, you can do it — you can dream big and follow your dreams even when you become a mum. 

I certainly have different challenges because of being a mother and the sole provider for my daughters, but in many ways, given that I am the sole provider, they can see how hard I have worked for what we have. They have seen how I have carved out a path many thought impossible.

By keeping a presence in Singapore, the girls have also travel back and forth, continue to expand their horizons, and think about a bigger and more connected world.

The girls have seen me create an identity outside of being a loving mother. They have seen me build an existence in two countries, and in all of this, have learnt that you don't have to limit yourself. 

Finally, we never take each other for granted because we have these moments apart.

Our bond is even closer in many ways, and we appreciate each other more deeply. 

I don't have the most straightforward life, nor would I want to. 

Feature Image: Supplied.

Gemma is the CEO and founder of Manning & Co

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