Alexis Kashar, Christine Sun Kim, and Lauren Ridloff on Being a M[Other]


Last Tuesday, April 20, 2021, I sat down with actress Lauren Ridloff and artist Christine Sun Kim to discuss life, our identities, and what it means to be a mother. The conversation took place on Instagram (live), and each participant had an American Sign Language interpreter for the audience members who do not know ASL. Thank you to our three wonderful ASL interpreters. Dylan Geil, Carllee James and Jennifer Vold!


We're all working mothers and Deaf women, but that’s not our entire identity. As multi-faceted women, we all come from different cultures, we speak and sign different languages, and we have many other pieces that make us up aside from being moms and being Deaf. Lauren and Christine are not only good friends of mine but also people who are activists in the Deaf community and are both just lovely in every sense of the word. Both women contribute to society in unprecedented ways, and I’m very grateful they were able to participate in this panel discussion.


Let’s talk about what stage we’re at in the world of motherhood.


Lauren Ridloff

I've been a mother for nine years now. I have two boys, they're seven and nine, and they're both Deaf like me. I think if I told you what a typical day looked like, it would give you a good sense of where I'm at right now in motherhood. So I'll start with today, for example. I had to leave the house by 8:30 or so for work, and my husband had to leave around 11. We both work in the film industry and our schedules are changing constantly. This morning, just when I was ready to pull out of the driveway and leave, I looked in the rearview mirror and, to my surprise, found my oldest son sitting in the back of the car! He was not supposed to be with me. It wasn't a “go-to-work-with-your-mother” day. I had to stop the car and take my son back to the house. I guess he wanted to go to work with me rather than stay home and do online school all day!

Usually, I'm back by 4 PM, but it's never an exact time. My husband usually comes home after dinner, and again that time changes. Our days are never the same.


Christine Sun Kim

I’ve been a mother for three-and-a-half years now. My daughter will be four this summer. She's hearing, so she’s a CODA. We live in Germany. There really is no “typical” day for us. I'm an artist, and my schedule is really anchored by my work. We’re still sort of quarantined in Berlin and they're pretty stringent about stay-at-home restriction, so we are inside a lot. Most of my work has been over Zoom, and most of the people I’m Zooming with are in the U.S. which means I'm on Zoom in the evening, which has been kind of rough. Fortunately, my in-laws live nearby and they've been willing to take my daughter for weeks at a time. They actually have her for two weeks right now, and she'll be back next week. It’s been nice that my typical day has no kids from time to time.


Alexis Kashar

I'm at a different stage than both of you. I have three children, a 19-year-old, a 21-year-old, and a 23-year-old; no wait, actually, she just turned 24, it’s hard to believe. My role as a mother is not over, they're not grown and done. I will always be a mother, 24/7. I'm available for advice, to go shopping or to just be there. I'm always there. I don't think that role will ever go away, it's a special part of me. The bigger the kids, the bigger the people, the bigger the discussions, the bigger the issues.


What does it mean to be a mom?


Christine Sun Kim

At first, before I had my daughter, I honestly thought about it more like a job. Because I didn't have previous experience, I didn't have a really clear concept of it. Most of the people in my social circle weren't parents at the time, and I had a very strong work identity. To me, motherhood was really associated with notions of family, friends, teamwork. I was more concerned about specific things such as: is she eating enough? Is she getting the right education and being cultured? I was really mentally was “on” at all times, and I really came to see myself as a team player.


Lauren Ridloff

Yes, exactly what CK said. Before I became a mother, I watched other moms and questioned their decision-making and motivation. I thought, “oh, why did they do that?” I didn't understand it at the time. I thought “I'm going to be a perfect mother” ... until I actually became one. I realized to be a mother means you have to be flexible. Things are always shifting and changing, they're never exactly what you expect them to be, especially when it comes to your children. Obviously, they're full of surprises! Every day, something new comes up.

So to be a mother is to be flexible. It also means being a good communicator. As CK said, you have to be a team player. I couldn't be the kind of mother that I am today if it wasn't for my husband. We take turns, we're in it together, and that's extremely important.


Christine Sun Kim

Our number one tool is our calendar! has been the best thing for our family to stay organized and make sure that all our schedules work together. I think part of that is out of respect for my husband's schedule and time. Like you just said, Lauren, we take turns and really are in it together. The shared calendar has been a lifesaver.


Lauren Ridloff

I do it the old-fashioned way, paper, and pen.


Alexis Kashar

For me, scheduling was easiest with my first. Then I had my second, it was manageable, and then once I had my third, I mean schedule, what is that? Everything was just whatever comes, comes. It was so hard to plan once I had three children because things came up. One kid's schedule changes and it affects the entire family. So I think flexibility is my middle name, whatever works. The top priority for my family is keeping everyone safe -- not just physically safe, but emotionally and in every other way.


Christine Sun Kim

I think one of the key things to being flexible is to have a good supply of wine, it really helps.


Lauren Ridloff

Yes! One big thing that I've learned as a mother is to ask for help. It’s okay! Before it was more of a pride thing and I couldn't admit I needed help. Now I say there's nothing wrong with asking for help. I have people who help me - managers, a cleaner, etc., and because of them, I can have other selves, other versions of myself. I can be a mother, I can be an actress, I can be a runner, I can be a daughter, I can be a wife. I can assume all these different identities because I accept help. And it makes it easier to sort through those different versions of myself.


What other selves do you have? How do you elevate and develop those other selves?


Christine Sun Kim

Before I even think through what my other selves are other than being a mother, I do want to say that I feel a lot of pressure to choose one identity, to choose one “self.” I think there's a lot of social pressure, especially on mothers, to adhere to expected gender roles and what a mother should look like. I've had to really think about this expectation of being a “super mom.” At first, I loved the idea of being a super mom before I became a mom. Now, it doesn’t sit right with me. I view it differently and realize it puts a lot of weight on us mothers. It's really a double standard for mothers. I haven't invested that much in that side of myself, and I've kind of pushed back against that expectation and really worked hard on maintaining my career as an artist.


A lot of my work involves travel, giving presentations, meeting with people; it involves a great deal of collaboration. I feel like sometimes I focus more on my artist self than I do on my mother self. As Lauren said, you really need a lot of help. Sometimes we hire people to help out; sometimes, the help comes from family. My husband and I really do make a great team. I think of all my other selves, the primary one that comes to mind is an artist, then a daughter. Right now overall, I'm focusing a lot on being a good family member and a good friend.


Lauren Ridloff

I agree. I feel like right now because of COVID especially, health emergencies really impact my time and ability to focus on the different versions of myself. Right now, I'm a mother, and for the last year, I've just been in that role. I had to make sure that my family was safe, happy, and getting what they needed like education, health care, etc. So I'm in that form of self at the moment. My work was put on hold due to COVID, so I’m just making sure my family stays safe. I didn't really have a choice in that. But now, we are slowly transitioning back to a “new normal”, I’m finding myself and finding that balance.


I'm a daughter and a sister, I like to exercise, and I've come to accept that these different forms of self can work at the same time. I can't separate them. I've learned to relax and not be so rigid about whether I am paying attention to this part of myself or that part of myself. I know that if I ignore one part of myself, that'll affect the other parts myself.


One thing that’s very important to me is the physical part of myself -- I have to run. That is one thing that is non-negotiable. When I run, I can multitask. I run, exercise, and meditate, and I'm able to reflect during that exercise process. I can problem solve and troubleshoot different things that are going on in my life, all while I'm exercising. I make plans, schedule for the week, etc. That is one thing that is extremely important for me.


Alexis Kashar

You both touched on very important parts of yourself and made really great points. I really connect with the idea of: I'm a mother first and foremost. For years as I had my kids and they grew up, I feel like motherhood had to be my only self. It wasn't until later that I learned I could have other selves at the same time, and that those other selves wouldn't affect my ability to be the best mother that I could be. It took me a long time to find that balance.


We are used to seeing previous generations, where people focused on one part of themselves, and they didn't embrace who they could have been as a whole. That was an art I learned later in life and I’m still working on it and growing every day. I'm still finding myself and discovering new things about myself. The more that I discover about myself, the more my kids get to know me, too. Like yes, I'm your mother, always. But I'm also a person with different interests. The more I open up in front of my kids, the more they get to see all the different parts of me.


Which self is most important to you? And what percentage does that self-take up in your pie-chart of self?


Lauren Ridloff

I want to go back to what Alexis just said about finding the balance between the selves. In ASL, the sign for “balance” is this [signs “balance” in ASL]. It’s not exactly even. Sometimes it tips in one direction, sometimes it tips in the other, sometimes you're focusing on work more, and then you shift more towards family. So that's what it means to balance -- it’s shifting.


You asked about percentage -- it's never the exact same. Sometimes, I put more energy into mom things, sometimes I have to put my acting career as the higher priority, so it's constantly changing. It's important for my children to see me pursue my passions and my dreams. It's important to see that, oh, mom actually does have a life. I'm sort of teaching them to value themselves as well through my discovery of self.


Christine Sun Kim

Going back to the point about balance -- with my current identity, it’s a constant process. It’s not something you achieve. For me and my ADHD, I have an inclination to get hyper-focused on one thing at a time, or I can focus on two things at once. It’s more in my nature to focus on one part of myself for a full day, and then the next day, I am a mother full-time. I find it hard to switch back and forth between things multiple times in a day, but it's also situational. I think it depends on where you live and where you are in life.


How do you share your multiple selves with your kids?


Christine Sun Kim

My daughter is three and a half. We're getting close to the point that the two of us could go off on a trip together for my work or lectures when she’s on school break. Before she started school, we traveled a lot. There was a time where we all went to China as a family, and I feel very fortunate for that. I should point out that the child care system here in Germany is incredible; it has been key to allowing me to be my full self and my other selves. Full-time daycare is free! So that right there takes off huge stress that I think a lot of mothers deal with. The system here really allows for much more secure parenting, and we’re not as worried.


Anyway, the three of us were able to travel a lot as a family for the first two years, and then, of course, with COVID, we've been at home for the past year. But other than sharing my various selves with my kid, what I want more than anything is for her to know that I'm there. Just to talk to her, or for whatever she might need, I'm there for her. I want her to always be able to reach out to me and know that I'll be there, that's what's really important to me.


Lauren Ridloff

I’m still trying to figure it out. I'm new to acting and am just three years into that. At first, I was afraid to bring my children to the set. I wasn't sure if that would throw things off or if they would mess with them. I had never really seen people bring their kids to set. But recently, while we were shooting Eternals, I noticed Angelina Jolie made a point to bring her children to the set. She just went ahead and did it. She introduced her children to everyone and we saw them regularly. That was so inspiring for me to see and it was powerful. She was showing that it is okay to be an actress and a mother at the same time. It's not a secret that you have kids and it doesn't need to be separate. So I actually started to bring my children to the set as well, just to visit sometimes, and I would send them videos while I was working to let them know what I was doing and show them the scenery. I actually recruited two friends on [The Walking Dead] set; I taught them how to sign a few things, and then I recorded them and sent a video to my boys, and it was just a beautiful moment. So those are the little ways that I can include my boys in the work. Makkari, my character [in Eternals] will be a LEGO figure soon! My boys love LEGOs, so I'm excited.


Alexis Kashar

You're going to be a Lego figure? That's huge. The first Deaf character to become a Lego, as well as a Marvel superhero. Wow!


Question from the audience: If someone is not a mother yet, somebody who just enjoys their time, being on their own schedule. How does one know it's time to give that up? And does one lose their ability to do whatever they want to do and lose that freedom?


Christine Sun Kim

I think for the first year, everything is going to either feel like it has to be on hold, or it's just slowed down. It doesn't mean that it stops abruptly and that you lose every sense of what your life was like before; it just shifts. You're going to take that time to sort of transition into a new part of yourself. I mean, you've got nine months where your body is making an entire human, and you owe it to yourself to take some time after that to slow things down and take a break, if you can afford it, for at least four months. Then I'd say you'll get back to normal. It'll be a little different, your energy might be different. Your sleep schedule for sure is going to be disrupted. But I think that if you set it as a goal, you'll get back to that life. It won't be a thing of the past.


Alexis Kashar

I agree. I don't think there's a right time. If it happens, it happens. Go with it.


Lauren Ridloff

How do you know when you're ready? I don't think you ever really know. Go have fun for as long as you can, focus on your career for as long as you can. And then when your ovaries start to bark, maybe answer it. It's not about giving up things; you don't have to give up your dreams, your passions, or your interests. The secret is to just include that with your family and your children, and you'll be a better person because of that.


Alexis Kashar

I agree 100%. I think that's an answer that people need to hear and need to understand. That you can be a mother and an actress and an artist and whatever your passion is, you don't have to give up those other selves. We have more opportunities than generations past, and we're grateful for that.


Any last thoughts?


Lauren Ridloff

Yes, I have one. Motherhood is one of the hardest but also one of the most pleasurable experiences out there. It's a trip for sure.


Alexis K

It is. I personally wouldn't trade it for anything else.


Lauren Ridloff

Always check your back seat!


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