Parenting, particularly in the age of 30-second video clips and snapshots of joyful moms with smiling children in perfectly tidy homes, isn’t easy. Add in the societal expectations of being a minority working mom whom society ascribes to the model minority complex and it can feel downright impossible.

During the pandemic, Harvard classmates and fellow Seattle-area moms Susan Lieu, Jeanette Park and Kate Wang launched the “Model Minority Moms” podcast, where the women get real about the intersections of race, privilege, career, relationships and parenting. 

All three women had babies during the pandemic — the first child for Lieu and Wang, who also gave birth to her second child in March 2022 — and quickly found themselves wondering how exactly to do this parenting thing.

Born from a series of frantic text messages among the friends on everything from breastfeeding and bottle recommendations to commiserating over relationship struggles or dealing with in-laws, the podcast addresses the messy, shameful and lonely realities of parenting in today’s world.

“Part of the podcast is having this safe space to unlearn things together and share what we find shameful and have been hiding for so long,” said Lieu, a playwright, performer, author and mom to a 2-year-old son.

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In addition to Lieu, Park and Wang’s conversations around parenting as children of Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese immigrants, respectively, the hosts deliver an edgy and underrepresented perspective to their listeners in an effort to debunk the model minority mold of Asian Americans, and to challenge expectations of parenting in today’s society.

Wang, a consultant working in higher education data analytics who follows a lot of parenting content on social media, found that the information and books available, while informative, often came filtered through the lens of middle-aged white women.

“We have a lot of complexities within our families who are of immigrant origins, and sometimes we feel like we need to filter this advice we get because the cultural and linguistic context of our lives are quite different from mainstream options,” Wang said. “We struggle applying it to our own lives given the different traumas and reinforcers we have experienced.”

The name of the podcast stems from the one-dimensional expectations of the Asian American model minority: studious, quiet, dutiful. At the same time, the title is a tongue-in-cheek representation of what a model minority mom actually looks like. 

“People might look at us and think that we perfectly fit the model minority role, but we try to complexify that image through the podcast,” said Park, an entrepreneur. “We all definitely have a lot of struggles and the fact that we’re speaking out about them in a public forum starts to deconstruct that myth. We’re human, we’re complicated people.”

On social media, the pressure to tell the story you think your audience wants to see leaves the stories behind those moments untold or private, which only adds to the polarization of society.

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“When you give people a chance to delve into the nuances of their lives, they’ll see that it’s nonbinary,” Park said.

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The podcast serves to remind parents that judgment and self-criticism don’t lead to better parenting — and that there is not one right way to parent.

For Lieu, the genesis of the podcast came when she realized that she was comparing her quality of mothering to that of her friends. A bruised tailbone injury at the time of her child’s birth meant she was not able to breastfeed him, so she went straight to pumping.

Weighed down by conflicting information that “fed is best” versus “breast is best,” Lieu felt inadequate because she wasn’t breastfeeding directly. When her son turned 3 months old, she was tired of pumping and itching to get back to work, which would mean day care. 

She turned to her text thread of fellow moms, which included Park and Wang, to ask for advice. They all supported her choice and offered encouragement for her decisions. Yet Lieu fell victim to the comparison game by keeping tabs on when her friends stopped breastfeeding.

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“I was still in this competition thinking that I am not enough for my child and I am being a bad mom,” Lieu said. “How could I do my craft and still be a good mom? Our own choices butt heads with what society says.”

The podcast has enabled the women to validate their own choices and to stop feeling guilty for making decisions about their lives that do not always align with societal or cultural norms. 

“You follow these scientific or ‘best ways’ to do things and I just felt really lost,” Wang said. “You have to understand yourself first and trust your intuition and dynamic with your partner. Every family is different. Your values are different, your lifestyles are different. You know your kids and family situation best.”

One of the most rewarding take-aways since launching the podcast in April 2021 has been witnessing people from all different backgrounds connecting over shared struggles and experiences, the hosts noted. 

“By talking about the specificity of our lives, that’s where you get to these more universal themes where people of a lot of different backgrounds can relate,” Park said. “Whether you’re a man or a woman or Asian American or not, you can kind of relate to these more individual experiences we discuss, like struggling over career decisions or how to raise kids.”

Whenever the day comes that the “MMM” records its final episode, Lieu hopes that their listeners feel validated.

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“I hope … that they’ve unraveled the shame that they live with and they feel more secure in who they are,” she said. “I hope that whoever is listening is able to feel a sense of coming back to your worthiness. Knowing that what you’re doing is enough. 

“You are already enough. The more we talk about shame, the more we can release that power it has over us, so we can live more intentional, satisfied lives.”

“Model Minority Moms”

Listen to “Model Minority Moms” wherever you get your podcasts, from Apple Music to Spotify and beyond. New episodes come out every Friday. 

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