We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: There’s no such thing as a perfect mom. We look up to real-life moms–moms who are going through the same stuff we are. They worry, they get pulled in a thousand directions, they mess things up and they figure things out. They're not perfect, they're real.
Or, in the words of Tammy Nguyen Lee, “Some days I just coffee my way through it.”
You gotta love a woman who uses “coffee” as a verb. Born in Saigon, Tammy arrived in the United States as a child after fleeing Vietnam with her mother. Now based in Dallas, her hard work, dedication and perseverance have paid off with a prestigious career in the arts. She is the award-winning producer and director of Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam, as well as the co-founder of Against The Grain Productions, a non-profit dedicated to promoting awareness of Asian American culture.
But, as Tammy will tell you, no audience is as important to her as Gabby, Austen and baby Tennyson. Here’s how she’s (mostly) making it all work.
ACTIVEkids: First of all, how’s your sleep level? Your youngest is just a few months old, so are you running on fumes?
Tammy Nguyen Lee: “With a new baby, gone are the nights of eight-hour bliss. I sleep in two or three-hour chunks, totaling around six hours. It can work a number on your brain, but I’m surviving and I write myself tons of lists to keep up. Some days, I just coffee my way through it.”
In addition to the new baby, you have two school-age daughters. Any tips for minimizing morning chaos?
“Having young children and trying to get anywhere on time is like herding cats. So, whether you are a corporate CEO or a family CMO–Chief Mommy Officer–the same principles apply: strong leadership, clear vision, communication, organized planning and efficient time management.
“I keep three calendars, including a monthly at-a-glance, a weekly schedule and an electronic calendar that syncs to both my phone and my husband’s. I program alarms for major things like wake-up time and out-the-door times, and I also set time-to-get-ready alarms, which are helpful for us all. When the alarm goes off, I love that I don’t have to be the bad guy–it’s ‘just time.’”
What do you consider to be your greatest strength as a parent?
“I grew up in a first-generation Vietnamese refugee home, and had a very different upbringing than many of my American friends. This unique experience made me strong and grateful, and it helped me to hone in on what I think is important to pass on to the next generation. It’s an enormous responsibility and privilege to be a parent, and I feel very blessed to have the precious children that I do, and to be able to work while staying at home during their early years. I try not to take that for granted.”
Any parenting skills that you just haven’t managed to master?
“Actually, I would love to have more patience. Wouldn’t we all?”
“There are days when I try to breathe a little more, maybe drink a glass of wine and remember to laugh.”
Tell us about a parenting challenge you faced, and how you overcame it.
“There are many, but my biggest one is probably the constant search for balance. Women naturally have an ability–or burden–to prioritize everything at once, simultaneously thinking of the past, present and future. It’s not always healthy.
“That said, I had gotten better at navigating through it all, and then my baby came along. With two children, I was juggling while riding a unicycle down a bumpy road. With the addition of a new baby, it felt like someone threw an elephant at me. I am still trying to learn what works best for our family, so I often take one day at a time now. I have to stay open to the unexpected, roll with the punches and adapt quickly. There are days when I try to breathe a little more, pray a little harder, maybe drink a glass of wine and remember to laugh.”
Tell us about a life lesson you learned from your kids.
“My kids teach me the importance of kindness, compassion, forgiveness, generosity and faith. Sometimes, their innocent questions can be so profound: ‘Why is there war?’ ‘Why are people homeless?’ I’m fascinated and often refreshed by how they see the world around them. As adults, we can often overcomplicate the simplest things and forget the biggest lessons. Kids remember what’s really important.”
What’s your favorite busy week shortcut?
“Our meals during the week have to be quick, healthy, tasty, affordable and something we can all agree on. I love my slow cooker and pressure cooker, which allow me to make meals on ‘auto pilot.’ I have to say, though, my best shortcut is my mom. She is an amazing cook, and she often brings us yummy homemade meals. We’re so lucky!”
How do you relax?
“If I can squeeze it in, I try to go to yoga class. It’s very centering. I also love a good pedicure, since I’m constantly on my feet.”
How do you ensure your older kids are getting enough active time each day?
“We recently started a fun incentive program, inspired by a friend. The girls can earn one hour of screen time by doing push-ups, sit-ups or some other kind of exercise. I could benefit from it, too!
“They also participate in a variety of extracurricular activities, from martial arts and dance to Girl Scouts. They love to ride their bikes, go swimming and have playdates.”
Any final words of wisdom for your fellow parents?
“Like any good parent, I love my children dearly. It's tireless and sometimes thankless, but I treat my role as the most important job in the world. I am totally committed to being as proactive, engaged and intentional as possible. I try my best every day to love them fully, and I don’t quit. As a parent, that’s all you can do.”
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