Parent Interview- Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick

Name:  Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick

Lives:  Brooklyn, New York

From: I was born and brought up in the UK and came to NYC after high school

Age of kids: Liam (8) and Jack (5)

Education: Bachelor of Architecture

Profession: Architect turned family photographer turned photography coach for parents 

Favorite parenting book(s): How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk

Favorite book(s): To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Beloved by Toni Morrison, Choices by Mary Lee Settle, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, The Brothers K by David James Duncan, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, Fascinate by Sally Hogshead, The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks

Film(s): Sliding Doors, Rescue Dawn, Monsters Inc, The Help, The Force Awakens

TV(s): Sports Night, The West Wing, Sex and the City, Friday Night Lights, Sherlock, Downton Abbey, Jessica Jones, Broadchurch

Hobbies/Interests: Knitting (although this is a dormant hobby right now!)

 

Interview

What is easiest about parenting?  Loving my kids. Even when they drive me crazy that baseline is always there and easy for me to find.

Most Surprising?  I've been surprised at how rewarding it is to see my kids develop friendships - I wasn't expecting that. Also how much motherhood has brought be back to myself. I know for many the opposite is true, but I feel more like myself as a mother, and I definitely wasn't expecting that either.

Hardest?  Getting my kids dressed and out the door - as my 7yo would say, "it's the worst!" Seriously though, my friend Magda of Ask Moxie has a great blog post (http://bit.ly/2faPcwf) where she talks about the tasks of parenting versus the relationship. The tasks are neverending drudgery but the relationship makes it all worth while, even if that part isn't always easy either. 

What keeps you up at night worrying about your kids?  It changes, but right now it's whether they are being challenged enough at school, particularly Liam. I feel like he is at an age (8) where his natural curiousity and love of learning has the upper hand. He is still so open-hearted and I don't want him to become disillusioned or disengaged. My underlying worries are more broad - will they be self-confident and happy? Will they "reach their potential" and figure out how to do something they love that adds value to the world and also earns them a living? How much are we going to screw then up? Will they be safe? My biggest fear is losing them, or them losing me.

What is your biggest challenge as a parent? I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I've been asking my own clients this question. For me, my biggest challenge right now is fitting everything into my life that I want to do. I'm a business owner and a mom, and there are people who do just one of those things full time - but that kind of sets the standard, and it can feel like I'm falling short on both fronts. Add into that marriage, friendships, community, self-care and it's a lot to juggle for most parents. It is constant prioritization and recalibration - I've learned to let go of perfectionism but I have to remember that every day. 

What is your greatest triumph as a parent? That’s a great question, as I feel like we’re so conditioned to look at our failures. Top of mind is that Liam wrote a bunch of poems and short stories the other day and the ones that weren’t in first person featured strong female leads as astronauts and architects and world chess champions. That felt like a triumph. Seeing how diverse and integrated the kids are socially feels like a triumph. Looking at the range of experiences and situations they are exposed to daily feels like a triumph - living in NYC comes at a cost (literally) but it feels worth it when I stop to notice those kinds of things. There are so many daily triumphs actually when you stop and think about it. Jack woke up yesterday morning and got dressed before coming down for breakfast which NEVER happens - that felt like a triumph too!

Of what are you most proud with regard to parenting?  I’m proud of who my boys are - so proud of them. They amaze me, and it amazes me that I was part of creating them!

If you have a parenting philosophy or list of go-to guidelines for parenting, what are/would they be?  I’m very “Type A” professionally but I’ve surprised myself by being a pretty laid back mom, which is not to say that I don’t take it seriously, I’m very passionate about it, but I don’t have a strong idea of who I want my kids to be, at least not as far as academics or activities or achievement. I know I say that from a place of privilege because I’m not worried about whether they’ll make it through high school or go to college or be able to find a job - I’m assuming they will. But I’m willing to let them take the lead.

What I most want for them is to trust their own voice, and know that their mistakes are their own to make, and their happiness their own to create. I want them to know not to let anyone take that away from them.

So I guess my philosophy is “progressive” and child-centered, but I’m also not on the crunchy granola end of the spectrum either. I do what works for us, and I know that’s not going to be what works for everyone.

My husband and I both read the book “How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk” and it completely changed the day-to-day dynamics in our family for the better. I recommend this book to everyone and we try as best we can to follow the principles in the book of validating emotions and getting our kids involved in solutions. And through my experience as a parent, I’ve become passionate about things like self-care, setting boundaries, asking for what you need and want, and not devaluing yourself. And also really being aware of what you can and can’t control.

For me, photography has played a huge role in my experience as a parent. I’ve always been interested in photography, and my dad was a serious amateur photographer so I grew up with a darkroom in our house, but it wasn’t until I became a mother than I found my voice as a photographer, and it was through photography that I found my voice as a mother. I have found that photography can be a surprisingly powerful tool and catalyst for creating what we most want as parents - things like being more present, connecting with our kids, and knowing that they are self-confident and happy. It’s become a practice of validation, gratitude and self-care for me, and I’ve created a business (Photosanity - http://photosanity.com) to help other parents find the same joy and connection that I have through photography.

 

What social/political issues concern you as a parent?I am really passionate about supporting and empowering women and other minorities, but particularly women, not because I think they are more deserving than other minorities, but because it is the issue closest to my heart. I am also adamant that as a mother of two boys, this is just as relevant to me as it would be if I had girls. 

I was shocked and dismayed that a workshop on gender at my son's progressive preschool and elementary school had only one man in attendance amongst a room full of maybe thirty or forty women.

Women's rights are human rights and gender issues are relevant to everyone. 

I have also, like so many, been reeling from the outcome of the election and I am still trying to process what this means for me and my family. For me, this has brought issues of race and class to the forefront along with gender, and I have concerns about LGBTQ rights, special needs issues… really, as I said, any minority. 

 

How are you addressing these issues in your parenting? I feel like probably poorly - it's so hard and there is so much unconscious bias even with ourselves. I try to teach and model consent. I already had to have a conversation with my five year old that it is rude and disrespectful to say that you kissed someone when you didn't, and that it's ok to kiss someone but you have to ask them first. I heard my 8yo tell a friend the other day that if someone doesn't want to be hit or kicked, you have to stop, so that was heartening. I try to find books, apps, shows and movies with strong female characters for them. I was horrified when my 8yo's Lego summer camp a couple of years ago was filled with 20 boys and no girls and we had a conversation about that.

When I worked in midtown they visited my office (as well as my husband's), I talk to them about my work. They have dolls and a play kitchen. They help my husband cook and clean.

A couple of years ago my older son picked out purple sandals for the summer and some girls on his class told him it was a girl color. I spoke with the teachers and they got right on it. They had discussions in class and he male teacher wore purple for weeks. 

It is as important for boys to get healthy messages about gender as it is for girls - I believe it's the only way we'll continue to see true change.

Since the election, I am more committed than ever to having the difficult conversations with my kids and to doing my best to model for them what I believe is right, while also admitting when I don’t know, when I feel uncomfortable, and when I make mistakes.

 

What would you like to have help with as a parent? I would really love to have someone take care of all domestic duties! Honestly, my husband does more than I do, but it would be great if neither of us had to.

I would also like a "shoes-on-inator" a la Odd Squad so I could just zap my kids and they would automatically have their shoes on.

Otherwise, I already have a TON of support and help as a parent, from husband and our extended family to friends and various communities that I am part of.