I remember when I brought my firstborn home from the
hospital in August of 1998. He was born 8.5 pounds, which is
bigger than the average baby, but to me he looked as perfect
and fragile as fine chinaware.
In a portrait of three generations, my mother, me, and
my son sat together huddled in the corner of my mid-renovation bathroom. It was there that I saw her bathe him
for the first time in a faded plastic hand-me-down baby tub
that she set on the floor.
I sat beside her, still in pain from the delivery and
breastfeeding. I watched her tilt his soft head back, squirt
a dollop of golden shampoo, and gently lather with warm water as she lifted and cleaned his every limb, finger, toe,
crack, and crevice. The whole time I watched in enchanted
horror, wondering when she was going to break his thin and
limpy arms or put too much pressure on his head. But she
bathed him with the confidence of an experienced mother.
At first, I wanted to yell out orders, telling her to be gentler
and more thorough—but I soon realized that she knew far
more than me about raising children.
I was lucky to have my own parents’ intimate help in
raising my kids. Like most expectant mothers, I busied
myself with the anxious reading of as many parenting books
and magazines as I could get my hands on, learning about
love languages, psychological strategies for nurturing, child
cognitive growth, sibling rivalry, self-soothing, omega-rich
diets, micro bacterial diets, and coping mechanisms—yet
despite all the research and endless resources, theory and
practice are ultimately worlds apart.
Don’t judge yourself for
needing to take solitary
time to rest and gain the
psychological fortitude to
go on as the best person
you can be.
Even with all the knowledge I gained from my reading,
nothing could truly prepare me for the actual act of parenting, because parenting is not just a new chapter, but an
ongoing journey, a lifelong learning process that enlightens
you and tests your own understanding of what it is to be
human and what it means to bring life into the world.
In the end, the majority of the outcomes of child-rearing aren’t in our hands. Thus, I am confident in
admitting that I’m no parenting expert. Still, I do
want to share some spiritual lessons that I learned
and continued to relearn as I raise my three
children, who are now all young adults.
They are eternal spiritual lessons that we encounter in any journey.
1. Give Yourself Some Slack
I used stress to power me through the days much
of the time I was raising young children. I still
can feel that stress ringing in my ears. Tiny
hands that always managed to be sticky. Knotted
hair. Food all over the table and highchair. Trying to find one kid without losing the two others. Screaming,
At the time, I was teaching full-time, falling asleep with
tea in my mouth as I tried to work in my office after the kids
went to bed. In those early years, I struggled immensely as a
new mother. Secretly crying in the bathroom on particularly
stressful days, I would wonder how long I would feel like
this, how long it would be that I felt like a failure. After all
the stress, I landed in the doctor’s office feeling sick and
My doctor told me that I had an infection and prescribed
some antibiotics. He also told me that my blood pressure was
a potentially deadly 210. I soon realized that I couldn’t clean
after my children, take care of the house, and make sure
everything was all right at home and work. The constant
fretting over my children was going to land me in a hospital
bed. That is when I realized that I couldn’t do it all and
needed to give myself some slack.
Don’t judge yourself for needing to take solitary time to rest and gain the psychological fortitude to go on as the
best person you can be. Don’t judge yourself if you are not as
perfect as you once naively envisioned yourself to be.
2. Find a Community
In general, in Asia community is prized over
the individual, at least compared to American
values. In Korea, women refer to female friends
who are older as unni and men refer to female
friends who are older as noona. Both words
mean older sister. Women call older male friends oppa, and
men call them hyung, which means older brother. Younger
friends are called dong seng, which means younger sibling.
The Korean language itself signifies the essentiality of
In the West, it is time for us to emphasize community,
especially when it comes to parenting—but also for any
other life journey.
The community that we belong to is where we can share our struggles, joys, and pains and also ask for help. My community was the church. There were many young
families at the church and it was a quick way for my three
children to make friends, find playdates, and get hand-me-
downs. For me, it was a place to find not only advice from
other parents but also solace with other families.
Sometimes we just need to surrender and be happy with whatever we have done or left
undone for the day. We cannot do everything.
No matter how hard we try, there will be dirty
dishes, toys all over the floor, chaos in the house, and tantrums and fights today and tomorrow.
Difficulties find us every day. If we are practicing
Christians, we surrender to our Creator. We allow God to shower us with grace and accept that whatever we have done
is enough and that we are enough. As we surrender, we can
take time to cry, rest, and sleep.
Other faith traditions come with a similar sense of being
able to surrender, as do nontraditional spiritual practices.
can take time
to cry, rest,
4. Take Time to Breathe
In most of the major world religions, God is understood as Spirit. In the Hebrew Scriptures,
various books talk about ruach, which is
breathe, wind, energy, and spirit. In Genesis,
ruach is breathed into human beings by
Creator God to give life. God is breath. The Spirit which gives all of us life.
Parenting or any other journey can drain us and
oftentimes make us feel as though the life is
sucked right out of us. We just collapse at the
end of the day, as we have no more energy left
in us to even take care of ourselves. When we
are drained, we need to take deep breaths,
allow ourselves to recollect and relax.
Being aware of inhaling and exhaling is
being aware of God’s presence in our lives. As we parent, we need to practice taking deep breathes to
relax and also to know that whatever and whoever
we are, we belong to the Divine, however we might
When my children were young, we used
to read the Bible and pray together every
night. We did this for about 12 years until
they developed different sleeping hours
and we just got tired of rounding them
up every night. It sometimes became a battle to pray
together. But it was a wonderful ritual. My children
prayed for each other and my husband and I prayed for
Just as we pray for our
children’s safety, we pray for
ourselves, to find the strength
to best protect them.
Praying is a spiritual exercise
where we reach out to God. Even
though things may take a detour or
even go up in flames, we continue to
pray. Prayer not only works to change
our children, but it also changes us,
healing parts of ourselves we had no indication were even suffering.
Different faith traditions have
different forms of prayer and prayer
practices. Diversity of prayer should
be welcomed as we search for forms of prayer that resonate within us
according to our own context and faith
Just as we pray for our children’s
safety, we pray for ourselves, to find
the strength to best protect them. We
cry out to God and ask God to give us
patience when we lose our temper,
grace when we feel awful, hope when
we feel at the end of our rope, and
love for when we carry ugliness in our
hearts. Praying will change us. But
ultimately, praying will save us from
our most challenging times, our most
Every day presents challenges.
Parenting doesn’t stop after our
children leave our house. Parents
need to keep adjusting and figuring
out what our roles are as we and our
children grow up. Korean elders will
say that their 50-year-old daughter is
still a child and that they still guide,
take care of, and pray for her.
The roles of parent and child in the
relationship may reverse; eventually
the parent may become dependent on
the children. Even then, the lessons
have power: Give ourselves slack; find
a community; surrender to the divine;
take time to breathe; and pray.