Sarah Chan: 5 Key Questions on Becoming a Mom in Edmonton

I’d like to introduce you to the marvelous Sarah Chan.

At only 35, she is a force of change and positivity in our city as a passionate social advocate, a bicycling and public transit enthusiast, a piano teacher, and most importantly – a mother to two beautiful babies (well, they aren’t babies anymore!). Oh yeah, and she happens to be married to Mayor Don Iveson.

I knew Mayor Iveson had family, but that was the extent of my knowledge, until recently.

I first learned about Sarah Chan through Avenue Magazine. Her dedication to educating Edmonton’s youth and work with non-profits landed her a spot in the 2015 class of Top 40 Under 40. Avenue gave her well-deserved recognition for her involvement with Youth Empowerment & Support Services, co-chairing The Works Gala (in support of the visual arts), supporting the Edmonton Literacy Coalition, leading with Apricity (an initiative for philanthropy) and co-chairing the United Way Campaign Cabinet of Edmonton. Phew!

As part of United Way, Sarah led a “Poverty is Next” speaking tour last fall. She personally traveled around to schools like Greenfield, Westbrook, Hardisty, T.D. Baker, Delton, Bessie Nichols, J. Percy Page and others, to engage in a real conversation with the kids about what poverty means. Sarah doesn’t stop there – she’s volunteered all over the city, supporting charities and causes of all kinds. I picture her doing all this with a big smile on her face. We Magazine (United Way) described her as a “young inspiration” in a feature article last March.

See, I told you she’s awesome.

The gears in my mommy brain started to churn faster than usual. Sarah wears a lot of different hats in her public life… but what about her role as a mom? What was her experience as a new mommy? How did she create balance?

It all started in 2009. Sarah became a new mom to her son Dexter, now seven years old. She would have been 28. In 2012, when she was 31, her daughter Alice was born. The very next year, on October 13, 2013, her husband Don was elected Mayor of Edmonton. She was a mom, a music teacher, and had been actively involved in her husband’s election campaign. After the election success, her public leadership activity in Edmonton ramped-up. What an incredible amount of change in such a short period of time.

She must have a unique perspective and some valuable advice for new moms in Edmonton.

To my delight, I found Sarah on Instagram and started following her (@misssarahchan). Yah, I was creeping the mayor’s wife on social media. I loved seeing all of her fun, dynamic, real-life pictures. They gave me peek into her world with Don, Dexter and Alice. They rode bikes, took transit regularly, ate pizza and dim sum, loved breakfast time, played with guitars and dinosaurs, and explored Edmonton. My personal favorites: their family trip to the Ice Castle last winter and their Eskimo game fun.

I reached out to Sarah, not expecting a fast response from a woman with a very busy life. I told her about my blog Edmomton and asked a handful of questions about her experience regarding new mommyhood. Sarah wrote me back shortly thereafter, with enthusiasm.

Here were my 5 questions and her answers…

1. As a mom, why do you think Edmonton is a great place to start a family?

Don and I decided to stay in Edmonton and not move to Toronto because we figured we’d have kids one day. It came down to two things: family and public education. Edmonton has some of the best public schools in the world, which we both benefited from, and we wanted our kid(s) to have the same opportunities. Also, both sets of our parents live in Edmonton and we wanted to be close to family.

2. When you first had Dexter, what were your favourite things to do, or places to go?

I went to all the same places and did mostly all the same things –with the addition of an orange Bugaboo Frog stroller! I loved being able to walk to the LRT and get somewhere without the fuss of a car seat.

3. As a brand-new mom, what was your biggest failure, and how did you pull through?

My biggest failure was feeling really impatient and spending way too much emotional energy on naysayers. I was lucky that Dexter was a super sleepy and easy baby. I had tons of support from my parents and friends!

It bothered me that everybody was telling me what my experience should be and what being a mom is like. Oftentimes I didn’t identify with the noise I was hearing and felt really alienated. I wish I had the confidence back then to realize that other peoples’ stuff isn’t actually about me, and there’s no need to get worked up about it.

4. What advice would you give new moms who live in and around Edmonton?

Adaptation is key. Do what works for you, in your own way. If it stops working, then change your game.

5. How do you balance your life as “mom” with all of your other commitments?

I’ve created an incredible web of support that enables me to accomplish everything. I’ve got family and babysitters that help me constantly, and I take my kids with me everywhere. Particularly three-year-old Alice, who sits in a lot of meetings and hangs out while I’m public speaking. I’ve trained both my children to have roles in helping our family –it’s a team effort for things to work!

Most importantly, I don’t guilt myself into doing it all. Nobody does it all by themselves. Delegate, have expectations that the people you surround yourself with are helpful (children included). And, feel confident in your decisions and keep moving forward!

I loved Sarah’s responses to my questions. I pictured her at 28, strolling down her block with Dexter in the Bugaboo, just like I had at 28 with Alex. She was like so many of us new mommies, chugging along, learning day-by-day.

Her messages about not “listening to the noise” and “doing what works for you” really hit home for me. I learned a lot from my friends and family about what motherhood was like for them – but many aspects of my experience have been unique. My own approach to mothering has changed over the months, too, as I learned Alex’s personality, quirks, likes and dislikes. There was no perfect method to teach him to eat, sleep, or move –it’s been a combination of various things and my own personal touch.

One point she made is so important for new mothers: we can’t guilt ourselves into doing it all. It definitely takes a team effort to raise babies. As moms, we can and should ask for help; the people we love will chip in and support us.

Her last piece of advice about “feeling confident in your decisions and keep moving forward” really rang true. Feeling confident can be a struggle for new moms, in particular. It certainly has been for me. When Alex was new and upset, crying non-stop and my efforts seemed fruitless, I was a ball of stress. I didn’t know what was wrong or how to comfort him. It took me a few months to build-up my confidence. However, with time and patience, I nailed down our routine. Now, I think I could solve any old problem that reared its ugly head.

There you have it – the mayor’s wife was a new mom once, too.

I am excited to watch Don, Sarah, Dexter, and Alice as they grow together as a family and work tirelessly to make Edmonton a better, healthier city for us all. I am so grateful for their passion and pride in YEG.

Thank you, Sarah, for your time and mommy wisdom. You’ve inspired Edmonton Moms to move forward in our own way, with a team of helpers, confident in our own skin.

Don Sarah & Kids
Don, Sarah, Dexter and Alice, on a rainforest hike this year.

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*** Check out Sarah & her sister, Sable, rock out covers on their ukuleles. (Sable has a blog, too!