Chriselle Lim on being a single mom living with her parents: 'I never imagined my life to end up this way'
Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life's parenting series on the joys and challenges of child rearing.
The average mom may not be wearing the infamous Miu Miu micro mini skirt and belted crop top combo, but Chriselle Lim makes no apologies for rocking hers. In a recent TikTok, the mother of two flaunts her runway-ready look as she shrugs off "moms can't dress like that" criticism, the latest in a lifelong pursuit to defy stereotypes and challenge conventionality. Speaking to Yahoo Life, Lim recalls her parents jumping to her defense as a teen when their pastor deemed her outfit too provocative.
"I made it into a career," she says of turning her daring dressing into a success as a fashion influencer and front row fixture. "I learned at a young age that you could push the boundaries; you can question what society expects from you. ... And I think that's the same thing with motherhood. I think once you have the label as a mom, they kind of put you in this box of 'oh, her life is gone and now all she's going to do is dress like this and focus on the baby.'
"We live in the 21st century," she adds. "I think it's important to show people that mom is just one of the titles that we have."
The past year has also taught Lim — whose other titles include fashion stylist, entrepreneur and content creator — to redefine what motherhood and family life look like. In 2021, she separated from husband Allen Chen, with whom she shares daughters Chloé, 7, and Colette, 3. Her parents have since sold their house and moved into Lim's Los Angeles home so they can help out with the girls.
"I always tell people no one ever gets married to get divorced," Lim says. "I never imagined my life to end up this way: single and raising the kids alone. I'm very lucky that [my ex] is an incredible dad and a great co-parent, so I do have that balance in a sense where the girls are with him half the time and they're with me half the time."
Though life has taken a turn, she's "grateful" to have found plenty of silver linings in her new family set-up.
"It was a really humbling moment .... at 36, you never would imagine to be living back home with your parents," Lim, now 37, quips. "But it's brought us so much joy this past year. We've gotten so close and it just shows you the importance of family and who's really there for you at the end of the day. I don't think I would be able to do what I do without their constant support."
Having her parents around right now is especially important given the wave of anti-Asian hate crimes — many of them targeting the elderly — over the last couple of years. The attacks have left the Korean-American influencer and her loved ones feeling "so vulnerable," and driven her to use her platform to speak out. In honor of May marking both Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month, she's partnering with the Southeast Asian fashion brand Love, Bonito on a $20,000 donation to Asian Mental Health Project (AMHP), a nonprofit working to educate and empower Asian American communities in seeking mental healthcare. It's a project that Lim feels "very, very strongly about," and one that she says will help make mental health resources and treatment more accessible to Asian American communities who are under great strain.
"Even pre-pandemic, we were the last ethnic group to actually access any help or mental health treatment due to systemic barriers and just stigmas around mental health and therapy and all that," Lim notes. "And then couple it with the increase in COVID-19-related crimes, racism and discrimination — particularly for our elders and Asian women — it's just so important that we take actionable steps for a more positive future for our community."
At 3 and 7, her daughters are only just starting to grasp concepts like ethnicity and culture. But she feels strongly about starting those conversations early, in a "kid-friendly manner," something she herself has done with her girls in response to the 2020 Black Lives Matter demonstrations and, more recently, anti-Asian attacks. Lim has encouraged them to not only practice inclusivity, but to also make her aware if they are ever the target of anti-Asian bullying.
She's also leaning into Asian joy and "teaching them to be proud of their heritage." Noting that her ex is Taiwanese, Lim tries to find books that represent both their Chinese and Korean heritage. Yum Yum Dim Sum is a favorite, especially since her daughters bring Asian lunches to eat at school, "and I just wanted to make sure that they're not getting made fun of." She points to the Pixar film Turning Red and kids' YouTube sensation Ryan Kaji of Ryan's World, who is of Japanese and Vietnamese descent, as signs that the needle is moving forward in terms of Asian representation.
"It does make a difference when ... they're able to see that someone looks like them and think that's normal, which was not normal for me growing up," Lim says. "It was super-rare to see anyone that looked like me on TV."
Lim — who describes herself as "the strict parent" — is also focused on raising her kids to be disciplined and independent, especially now that they're only at home with her half the time. Whereas she used to brush her girls' hair herself every morning, during her separation she's taught them to do it themselves so they can get ready after a night at their dad's. Drilling those habits into them is one of the silver linings she's found over the past year.
"I was kind of forced into teaching my little ones these skills at an early age, because I think it's much easier for us as parents to want to hand hold them, to do everything for them, which what I was doing," she says. "I was doing everything for them. It's exhausting for everyone. ... But with what has happened, I was forced to kind of really have them be independent little ones and I'm really, really proud of them. They're just so self-sufficient and they're so capable."
She adds with a laugh, "Like, they make their beds every morning — I don't even make my bed every morning."
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