By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Recently, my former student, Evelyn Hou, died suddenly of an aggressive cancer at the age of 58. Her loved ones were shocked as she often looked cheerful and normal with no health issues. But beneath her smile, her life was far from perfect. And mothers, please learn from Hou’s story.
I met Hou when she was in my 7th grade social studies class at Asa Mercer Junior High School (now a middle school). As a kid, she was bubbly and full of life. We hadn’t been keeping in touch, but her aunts are my friends.
In 1982, Hou, a high school student, learned that I was launching a Chinese newspaper. She took a graphics/printing class so she could learn and print the first marketing poster for the Seattle Chinese Post. She even offered to print my business cards. That’s Hou’s way of expressing thanks to her former teacher. She printed both of them beautifully and only charged material cost. Accidentally, we connected 12 years ago. I asked around if there were any Asian-owned businesses that could make banners for us. I was thrilled when I found out she and her husband owned Bellevue Embroidery, a business in designing marketing and advertising materials.
By then, she had three kids, two of them were under 10 years old.
Soon, I could see that she was pretty much the one doing everything—taking care of the family and holding the business together. It was her who brought her kids to participate in our Lunar New Year kids’ parade and costumes contest. It was her who delivered those banners and plaques to us. It was her who had diligently kept me informed of her daughter’s performance at different events, including news she had received awards and recognitions.
Hou brought her 9-year-old daughter, Lena, to sing the national anthem at Asian Weekly’s banquet honoring the governor-elect Jay Inslee who was mesmerized with the performance. Inslee invited Lena to perform at his inauguration, and Hou drove Lena to Olympia. In addition, she was active in several community groups.
At one point, she cried over the phone.
“Do you know how hard it is for me to do everything myself?”
Being a good listener was sufficient then, I assumed, not realizing that she might be crying for help. I knew how exhausted she was over the years. I never heard of her taking a vacation or doing any fun things for herself. I regret that I was unable to lighten her up with any wise words at the time.
A tragedy descended on Hou and her family when her husband died last October. And the pandemic certainly didn’t ease her pain, burden, and distress for the past two years. Every day, her responsibilities and pressures mounted.
While I am not a mental health expert, women are often the ones who shoulder much of the strain in holding the family together. Women place family first and their health second.
A mother’s health is the best gift for her family.
At the service, a friend told me that Hou had not received any physical check-ups in more than two and a half years. Again and again, women take care of others instead of themselves, with excuses such as, “I don’t have time. I have to do this and that. I don’t have the money to see a doctor as I need to use it for my kid’s karate lessons.” A mother’s health is the best gift for her family. If the mother gets sick, it would be of dire consequence for the family, as in Hou’s case.
Change our attitude
Moms, please be kind to yourself. Love yourself. Take care of yourself. Women must practice self-love for the family’s sake. Don’t get the wrong idea that if you love yourself, you are being selfish. That’s actually the opposite. Your wellbeing matters if you want to be with the family for the long haul. Don’t forget we women are not machines. Every now and then, even machines break down, and require oil to lubricate and refurbish.
You have every right to set aside free time each day to focus on yourself so you can relax, exercise, and renew yourself. A Psychology Today’s study has found that “distraction decreases happiness.” Caring for a family is a never-ending cycle and the woman can constantly be bombarded with various kinds of demands and unexpected tasks. So setting aside 10 minutes a day doing nothing can work magic in enhancing your mental and physical health.
Make your husband share in housework
Some men give all kinds of excuses for not sharing housework. Make them take up some chores. Melinda French used to make her husband, Bill Gates, drive their kids to school before their divorce. Sure, he opposed the idea at first. Finally, he relented.
Why should taking care of the kids be the woman’s responsibility only? We have to train men to be equal partners in every sense of the word, as they are parents, too.
Hooray, to those men who get it.
Educate your kids do housework
Don’t do everything yourself. Teach your kids to be independent. I used to spoil my kids by not asking them to do much housework at home. When they got older, I told them to do the dishes, take out the garbage, and even rinse vegetables for dinner. Now, I would suggest to all households to make the kids share those duties when they are little.
In my days, my mom often asked me to wash clothes and cook, and never asked my step brother to do anything. And my step brother has turned out to be spoiled, rotten, and irresponsible. His attitude towards women has never been respectful. That’s a lesson for moms who just want to spoil their sons and leave all the work for their daughters.
I used to think I was an iron woman who could work hard for long hours. That’s stupid. It’s not a balanced life to just work without having fun. The pandemic has taught me to set boundaries. Working constantly without breaks or fun shows that you are cruel to yourself.
Set a schedule for the number of hours you do things for your family each day. If you take time off, you need not feel guilty about it. You have earned it, moms. And you might have to defend your right to your family until they get it and respect your worth. This Mother’s Day is a wake-up call for you to design a new resolution to set yourself free.
May you have the best Mother’s Day!
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.