Working Mommy=Unhealthier Kids? Work, Parenting, Calling & Roles

I’m always telling my children that they have the “meanest mommy in the whole wide world” but apparently I now have proof that they are pretty lucky kids.

According to a new study out of Britain, researchers have found that children of mothers who work full-time were the unhealthiest of the bunch. The second group of unhealthy kids belonged to part-time working moms.

Why? Because those kids ate more sweets, chips and sweetened drinks in between meals and spent more time than did their stay-at-home-mom-kids counterparts.

Hey, Bethany, Corban & Elias! Stop whining! You may have spending limits on clothing, and restrictions on the types of movies you are allowed to watch, but YOU get more sweets, chips, high fructose corn syrup enhanced drinks & tv/computer time than your friends whose moms do not work outside of the home. I have research to back this up!

I told you you were lucky to have the meanest mommy in the whole wide world!

Studies like this frustrate me to no end. Apparently fathers and their presence or lack thereof is irrelevant. Because their working trends have not changed significantly since the stone ages or so, it is obviously up to women to stay at home and raise healthy children. Razzle, frazzle.

I have worked outside of the home since Bethany was born (minus the first six months of her life when I was recovering from nearly bleeding to death, but that’s another story for another day). I may have been a career-driven 20-something, but when I was holding Bethany, and then Corban and Elias, in my arms I did not care whether or not I would see another byline again.

I have often wondered what it would be like to be a SAHM (stay at home mom) and to never feel that work gets the very best of me on some days while my children get the tired, worn out version of me. I have listened to SAHMs who refer rather wistfully to my “trips” away to exotic destinations like Madison, WI; Champaign-Urbana, IL; and Cedarville, MI. (OK, Seattle and SoCal are better!) What we’ve learned in living the journey together: the grass is always greener on the other side if all you’re doing is looking at the other side.

I’m in my 14th year of parenting with a lifetime to go and thousands of years of Korean American cultural baggage of guilt and shame with a splash of Christian fundamentalism to weigh me down. I do not have the energy nor the desire anymore to take on more false guilt or spend energy frustrated over things I cannot change. That is how I do it.

For those of you moms out there, what have you done to make it “work” for you and your family – whether you are a SAHM or a mom who works outside of the home? What about your situation has frustrated you or made you feel guilty or even envious of the other side and how have you dealt with it?

And out of curiosity, what do you think? Are kids with SAHMs better off?  Are kids with moms who work outside of the home better off? Does it have to be an either or?

Chinese Eyes & Playground Prejudice

“Look, mom! Chinese eyes!”

Apparently that was the lesson of the day during recess.

Three years ago my son came home from 2nd grade and showed me how he could gently pull up the outer corner of his eyes. Duh. Chinese eyes.

I didn’t want to alarm him or make him feel like he was a bad kid, but I didn’t want him running around pulling his eyes back for obvious reasons. What I was able to gather was that a kid on the playground came up to Corban and said, “Hey, this is what Chinese eyes look like.”

Corban, who at the tender age of 7, understood he was Korean American but he associated that more with some of the customs we keep, our Korean names, the food and the language. He figured that he was learning something new about the Chinese, and thought his classmate was sharing fact. 

“Mom, did you see? I made myself Chinese,” he said with his one-dimple smile.

I wrote in my journal:

“I need more manuals for this kind of stuff.”

So what would you have said if your child or a child you know came up and proudly showed off her/his newly acquired skills?

I remember walking into my new 2nd grade class. We had recently moved from the north side of Chicago to the northwest suburbs. As far as I was concerned we had moved to Mars. 

Miss Thompson did her best to welcome me, but the real welcome came in the bathroom. “Amanda” came up to me and asked me what was wrong with my eyes and nose.

It was an honest question with no ill-intent, just like Corban’s re-enactment of what he had experienced on the playground. Amanda had never encountered an Asian American, and I had never encountered someone that weird. We were best friends that year.

But when you get beyond the playground, say, in your 20s, 30s or not quite 40s, it’s not quite that simple is it? Or is it?

My youngest is in second grade. I wonder what lessons Elias will bring home from the playground this year…

Does PG-13 really mean 10?

My parents didn’t know half the stuff I was up to.

They did their best with their limited understanding of American culture and pop-culture. They emphasized academics, gave room for creative endeavors so long as those never translated into actual vocational aspirations, and Korean culture and language. They left the “don’t drink or do drugs” conversations to the schools and the youth group pastor. They never talked to me about sex, but they did leave a few books strategically hidden in their bookshelves that I’m convinced they had to know my sister and I would accidentally find.

They didn’t ban certain types of movies because I just don’t think they had the time to worry about that. They were trying to get to the American dream and for the most part my sister and I stayed out of the kind of trouble their radar would pick up.

But times change, as my parents learned with each grandchild and things like the Diaper Genie, seatbelt laws and strollers that required an engineering degree to fold and unfold.

I am the mom of a teenager and in a few days two tweens. I just don’t think having to wait to wear make-up or wait to play “T” video games or wait to see PG-13 movies is going to be the reason my kids need counseling later. There are so many things “out there” that I can’t control, but the few things I can I want to…wisely.

Do they have to grow up so fast? Real life is hard enough without speeding through the easier, carefree parts. I don’t want to be their best buddy. I want to be their mom, and sometimes that means being the heavy. Right?

We have rules and guidelines. Our stand was that the kids would not see PG-13 movies until they were at least 13. It seemed like an easy way out. We figured that by the time our oldest child was 13 we would have had “THE TALK” and allowing the chance to go see those PG-13 movies with friends would open up opportunities to talk later about language, innuendo, and values (YOU DON’T NEED A BOY/MAN TO MAKE YOU HAPPY OR AFFIRM YOU).

It has actually become more of an issue with our boys because we’re finding so many PG-13 movies are being marketed to boys – movies based on toys, super heroes, etc. Peter wanted to introduce the Star Wars series early for our boys so that meant bending the rule (and opening what I predicted was a can of worms – my blog so I get to say, “I TOLD YOU SO!”) We would either pre-screen the movie (a huge sacrifice on our part since Peter and I enjoy watching movies) or wait for the dvd and watch the movie together to pause & fast-forward through the inappropriate parts.

The other night our boys came home early from a party because they were going to be watching a PG-13 movie. The host parents were very gracious, honored our choices, and did exactly what we hoped for. Corban was angry, and all I could do in that moment of his anger was to hold him, tell him it was OK to be angry, and ask him, “Corban, don’t try to grow up too fast, OK?”

I know not all of you are parents, but some of you are. Some of you are teachers. Some of you are “aunties and uncles” to many kids, maybe even mine. But all of you are out there engaging and interacting with current culture. What have you done to protect the kids in your lives from the things you can protect them from? What have you allowed, against your better judgment, and found that perhaps your judgment was off? What are the things you aren’t going budge on?

Help.

UrbanFaith.com & Health-care Reform

I don’t know about your circle of influence and acquaintances but there’s been a lot of chatter about health-care around these parts. LOTS OF CHATTER.

Have you read the proposed reform and related reports on health insurance and Medicare?  I have not, but I’m hoping to skim through it because honestly I can’t comment on specifics unless I know and understand them at a very basic level.

What I do know is that on a personal level I’ve experienced the broken health-care system. A few years ago our family lived through a major medical crisis, which should’ve worked with our major medical insurance coverage that we were paying for out-of-pocket with a high deductible. Four trips in an ambulance, a LifeFlight jet ride with life support, and almost a week at a major university’s hospital – we lived and breathed health-care. We were fortunate. We had some coverage. We had some knowledge of the system. We had friends in hospitals across the country asking to see scans, films, reports, giving advice. And in the end it was our InterVarsity community that rallied together to help us tackle the $10,000+ in bills we nearly drowned under.

Please don’t tell me the system isn’t broken. Please don’t tell me that the “church” should step up unless you yourself are willing to ante up. Church is a building. “The Church” – well that’s something else entirely.

Please don’t tell me you are “pro-life” if you aren’t willing to consider how the current system could be changed to improve life for so many.

Please don’t tell me you are “pro-choice” if you aren’t willing to consider how the current system doesn’t give the same choices to everyone.

I need to stop.

UrbanFaith.com has teamed up with Sojourners to present a great roundup of opinion on the health-care debate, from a wide range of religious and political perspectives…take a look-see. Scroll down and you might see a face you recognize.

Sunday? Sabbath?

“Mom, can we take a break from church because I want to do something as a family for a day…like play outside?”

Elias apparently noticed that the sun is out this morning. My kids need some vitamin D after last week’s wave of clouds and rain. He wants to spend the day relaxing and resting…and even at his age he’s wrestling with something I’ve been wrestling with for years.

Sometimes our Sundays do not feel like a Sabbath. Sometimes going to church does not feel restful or restorative or even worshipful. Sometimes I just don’t feel like it. There. I said it. I’m struggling with identifying how big of a space “going to church” is supposed to take in my life. If going to church does not equal a Sabbath, what is the proper equation?

I grew up going to church. Even on family vacations my parents would try to find a local church to attend. During one of our week-long road-trips to see and appreciate the expanse of land known as AMERICA my father found a small countryside chapel. The pastor was the only one there, and my father explained in his choppy but not broken English that we were on vacation and couldn’t be at our home church. Could we pray and sing a hymn or two as a family here in these pews? I seem to remember the pastor joining us for the singing…

When Peter and I were in the painful process of leaving our home church of 10+ years, we did what we Christians call “church-shopping” which for me is a lot like bathing suit shopping – something I feel I must do but cringe at my self-loathing, over-critical, never-satisfied self. We church-shopped because we couldn’t imagine not going to church because that is what we were supposed to do, expected to do and wanted to do. We felt lost without that Sunday morning anchor, but somewhere along the line we gave ourselves permission to take a break and worship God together as a family by going to experience the Doctors Without Borders exhibit, by taking Sunday to prepare our vegetable garden, by meeting the neighbors and sharing a meal with them.

And then we “found” a church. And on this sunny Sunday, my youngest son is asking, “Can we take a break?”

So for those of you who are Christians, do you go to church? Why or why not? Do any of you practice the Sabbath? If so how?

My American Name? My Married Name? My name.

A North Texas legislator suggested voter identification issues for Asian-descent voters could be simplified if they changed their names. You know, change their crazy Asian names into American names.

My American name is Kathy Khang. My parents gave me “Kathy” (just “Kathy”, not “Katherine” or “Kathleen”, and not “Kate” unless you happened to be my high school homecoming date who was the only one to ever call me “Kate”) because the “k” sound similar enough to the first sound of my Korean name – KyoungAh. They simplified my name when we immigrated because they figured that was one elementary/junior high/high school torment they could save me from. The whole “go back to where you came from” was beyond a name change.

My parents also took on “American” names. Sort of. My mom became “Helen” and my dad just took “Shin” (the first syllable of his Korean name)  when they bought a drycleaning business. Customers would come in and chat with “Helen” and “Shin”, but when they sold the store it became awkward to introduce my parents to anyone as “Helen” and “Shin”. In my world, adults didn’t have first names, and in my world as an Asian American I would never fully be an adult so long as my parents were around.

Many immigrant families also changed their names and made them more “American” by changing the order of their names. In Korean culture, your full name starts with your surname – identifying first your family line and then your individual name (which also carries a generational marker, historically if you are male). My male cousins all “Suk” as the second syllable to their name. Clearly, you can see why they might have wanted to changed their names had they immigrated to America.

I am not surprised at this politician’s suggestion. In her mind and personal experience it really may be that simple. Change your name and be an American who won’t get questioned when you want to vote. Right.

But I am a bit surprised at how this conversation so far is limited to race. I’ve blogged about this before. While it is becoming more and more prevalent, it is still generally assumed that the woman will change her name upon marriage. If anything, being progressive means asking the bride-to-be, “What are you planning on doing about your last name?” Rarely is it assumed that the woman would keep her name (unless you have a friend, and you just know she’s going to keep her name).

When I got married, the assumption was that I would change my last name and take my husband’s last name. I got all sorts of questions:

  • Don’t you want everyone to know you are married to your husband? Yes, what does my name have to do with it?
  • Don’t you want to be known as a married couple? Yes, but again what does my name have to do with it? I also want to be known as an individual who had a life that mattered to God before I got married.
  • Peter is going to let you do that? Is it Peter’s decision alone?
  • What will your family think? Actually, my parents were honored.
  • What will your inlaws think? At the time I didn’t stop to ask.
  • Don’t you think it will be confusing when you have children? Confusing for whom? Are you worried the children will be confused or others will be confused?
  • What will people call you? They will call me by my name.
  • Isn’t it just easier to change your name? Actually, from what I hear, no. There’s no paperwork involved in keeping my name.

Almost 16 years later I am still explaining the name thing, with less bite. The kids all have my name as part of their name. B, C & E go by what the Texas Rep. Betty Brown would call their “American” names, but they also have their “Korean” name, followed by my last name and then their “real” last name (my husband’s last name). I tinkered with the idea of pushing that the kids would have my last name, but when you’re struggling through months of nausea and exhaustion some things ceased to be critical. In the end, they each know their names and the significance and story behind why we chose B, C & E. They know why their grandfather chose their Korean names, why we wanted them to have Korean names and the meaning behind each syllable. They know why my last name is a part of their name, and they know that even though I have a different last name I am their mommy who knows them and loves them and is part of their family.

I agree with many of the frustrated comments being thrown about in response to Rep. Brown’s suggestion. Names matter, but I don’t want to read motive or intent into her comments because I don’t know her.

I do know that spelling “Brown” is easier than spelling “Khang”. I do know that when someone hears “Brown” there are different assumptions made than when you hear “Khang”. My sister often gets a surprised response when people have heard of her before they meet her because she goes by her married name – a more “American” name. I suspect Asian adoptees go through something similar. There are cultural connections that people still value and make in and through names while the definition of American is still changing and being challenged. There isn’t a whole lot that is easy about becoming or being an American, especially if you aren’t White. A name change won’t do it. Living in American for most of your life doesn’t do it. Citizenship does it in a legal sense but doesn’t cover the day-to-day nuances of American life and acceptance into America.

But as a married woman, my name, changed or not, matters as well. There is a cultural and family connection to my past that profoundly shaped me into the woman my husband married. There is nothing easy about being married, with or without children – joy doesn’t make everything easy. And when things get tough, a common name isn’t going to be what pulls you through.

As an Evangelical (insert lit match here), names matter. Why? Because in many evangelical circles it matters whether or not Junius was Junia. Name is not strictly race but also gender.

So, do names matter to you? Why is changing your name for the ease of others offensive or not? What is the story behind your name? And, would you change your name to change the story?

“…I didn’t do enough…”

I feel the weight of familial guilt, shame and expectations heavily. The older daughter married to a first-born son can’t get away with “I don’t feel like it” or “I can’t fit that into my schedule”. I try. Believe me. I try. But the danger of living a bicultural existence relatively detached on a daily basis from the direct implication of said existence is that I begin to think I am the only one in my family who feels the weight. I may think and experience life a bit differently but most mornings when I rushing out the door to work or to drop the kids off, life is less bicultural and more chaotic.

Anyway, the other day I was on the phone with my mother talking about my grandmother. She is 86 and still lives on her own. As one who has helped care for an aging parent, I was trying to sensitively give my mother advice on how to best care for her mother. About two minutes into the conversation I remembered there really is no culturally sensitive way to give one’s own mother advice (if any of you have figured it out, please let me know…).

Instead I tried to listen, but I was so sad and disturbed at the weight of the guilt my mother carried that I wanted to hang up the phone lest the weight take me down too. My mother was wondering out loud why her own mother is choosing not to move closer to her adult children, and after she had run out of what seemed to be the most logical and legitimate reasons (grandma likes her independence, she doesn’t want to leave her friends, etc,) my mother went “there”.

“Maybe she doesn’t want to move in with me because I didn’t do enough for her. Maybe she doesn’t think I will really take care of her,” mom said.

One of the things I find most difficult about adulthood is navigating the cultural divide with my parents. As a child/teenager/young adult my response was often one of detachment or simple resentment. “They don’t understand” was the path of least mental and emotional resistance. The older I get the more I begin to understand and appreciate that they understand as much as they can given the circumstances. They have spent their lives as parents bending in an attempt to understand America and its culture and trying to bend their lives to fit and be “American” enough for their neighbors, coworkers, children. My guess is that they understand my bicultural journey more than I know.

What I still don’t know is how best to respond when my mother goes “there” with her guilt and expectations.

Feeling at Home at Church

This may sound silly to some, but for others you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

We’ve been attending “our church” for more than a year now – dipping our toes into church life with worship team (me) and drama team (Peter), getting to know some delightful, God-loving people, learning the traditions of “our church”.

Last Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, is the traditional children’s music Sunday. The Sunday School children sing with the choir, play the handbells, and present gifts of music to the church. At the start of the service there were a number of children who performed various pieces – piano duets, string trio, violin solo, etc. I haven’t felt that “at home” at church in a long time. Something about seeing a steady stream of kids, some willingly and others under some duress, standing up in front of the church to play their instruments made me and Peter look at each other and smile a knowing smile…

It also created a moment of panic when I realized that none of my children can really play the piano. My daughter had a year or two of lessons, but she quit and picked up the flute at school. Corban just started the coronet (it really does sound like “Jingle Bells” when he plays), and I taught Elias “Mary Had a Little Lamb” because I felt guilty. Not only are my children amazingly average, they have not yet mastered any musical instruments. Something feels so very wrong.

Seriously, though, it was a light-hearted moment for me and Peter, as we have been talking a bit about church, community and culture. Peter asked me if I missed being at a Korean-American or Asian-American church. I answered honestly – yes and no. Being at a majority-culture church we’ve had to ask and wonder new questions that at the surface seem rather stupid or silly, but can add a layer of anxiety and uncertainty that is rather complex and confusing.

“Is this house a shoes on or a shoes off house?”

“When I’m asked to bring food that represents my culture, but not too much of it so I won’t be offended when people don’t like it, how should I respond?”

“What are my kids gaining from being in a majority culture church and what are they losing by not experiencing the AA or KA church subculture?”

And then there is the nagging question…should I force piano lessons on all of them for a few years? 😉

This Sunday, the final Sunday of Advent, our family got to light the fourth candle. It was a wonderful worship experience to practice and then read together the following reading:

We light this candle as a sign of the coming light of Christ. Advent is a season of hope. The first word of hope was restoration. The second word was peace, and the third was joy. The fourth word is love. ‘I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever. He will be great and will be called the son of the Most High. The LORD God will give Him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.

As our kids read and Peter lit the fourth candle I felt very much at home, worshipping with our church.

What in the World?!? – Oprah, Shame on You

I know that I need to lighten up and not take life so seriously. I know that I need to pick and choose my battles. I know that in the grand scheme of things this is really not a big deal.

But it is annoying. I couldn’t believe Oprah was doing the Asian language gibberish thing on her show this morning.

I was watching Oprah this morning – a show on standards of beauty around the world. I was actually laughing at myself for watching the show while doing my 45 minutes of cardio on the elliptical at the gym. There was a moment of dissonance and irony for me. Anyway, the show was highlighting how women all over the world define beauty and about the things they do to beautify themselves.

The segment I’m referring to was on Japanese women and how they value smooth porcelain-like skin. Oprah held up a sample tube of a popular whitening cream, looked at the name and because Oprah doesn’t read kana or kanji she made up what she thought was an “Asian” sounding series of sounds. NOOOOO! Argh. The audience laughed. The Japanese woman who was on live feed through Skype giggled and corrected Oprah and correctly pronounced the name of the product. Oprah then went on to say, “That’s what I said.”

Wrong.

There were good lessons to be learned because even as the audience (and I include myself in that generic label) could laugh or look in horror at what other women will do to achieve their culture’s standard of beauty we all know our own dirty little secrets. The show was actually something I could see using as a springboard for cross-cultural conversations about beauty, race, ethnicity, gender and class. The reporter, Mara Schiavocampo, talks about how she was surprised to learn that Asian women straighten their hair (long, black, straight hair = Asian/Asian American woman stereotype). One segment touched on hair weaves – how much American women will pay to have real hair weaves, how some some of that hair comes from women who sacrifice their hair to temple gods, and how some of those women live in poverty. 

Segment after segment there were women from around the world – Iran, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia – who would look right into the camera and SPEAK IN ENGLISH to tell Oprah and her audience about their beauty secrets. So why couldn’t Oprah look in the camera and just say, “Thank you.”?

Nope. Oprah ended that particular segment just making noise. I’ll just end my morning by writing The Oprah Show a comment:

Dear Oprah, I watched your show this morning on beauty standards from around the world. For the most part, I enjoyed the show.

I was, however, disappointed at your attempt to read Japanese. I realize that in the grand scheme of things, one seemingly light-hearted moment as you made “Asian” sounds instead of correctly pronouncing the name of the beauty product you were holding is not a big deal.

However, many of the women interviewed for the show sincerely wanted to show your audience how other women from around the world define beauty and strive to achieve it. Many of those women spoke with great pride and in English, not once making fun of Americans and the crazy things we use or do in the name of beauty.

There were good lessons to be learned about stereotypes (your guest reporter mentioned how surprised she was to learn Asian women straighten their hair) and about class (women who can get plastic surgery with payment plans and Indian women getting $2 for their “dead hair” v. women who pay thousands to have “live hair” woven onto their heads).

But, I found that brief moment where you and then your audience laughed at your version of “Japanese” was disrespectful and disappointing.

Sincerely, Kathy Khang

OK, the endorphin rush is over.