Our latest That Mama is Monique Roth, one of the co-founders of Lotus Parenting. This new organisation runs supportive, educational and social parenting groups in Hong Kong, helping new parents to hit their stride. When she’s not running her business, this down-to-earth mama loves to have fun with her two girls, and even finds time for regular date nights with her husband. (That’s when she’s not wakeboarding, of course!) Here, Monique gives us the lowdown on how she manages her time, her to-do list and her least favourite mama-task!
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
This one is hard for me as I’m a micro-manager by nature! Letting go of the little things has made my life infinitely easier and now that I’m working again it’s especially important. I rely heavily on my phone and if it doesn’t get entered into the calendar, I rarely remember it. I have learned to use the “reminder” app, which is a godsend, and we also write down the whole family’s weekly schedule, which helps us all, especially my helper. We have an ongoing grocery list that remains on the counter at all times that the whole family contributes to. These are the little things that save us all time and ultimately loads of energy!
I wish I had more time for…
I feel quite guilty in wishing for more time for myself! But I would love to have more downtime with my girls. Like most children they are in school most of the day and their week is filled with activities. I feel like we are on the go all week with very little time to just sit and play. Luckily, we try our best to not schedule too much at the weekend, and just enjoy family time together.
I always feel saner after…
Wakeboarding. In my younger days I did a lot of waterskiing and wakeboarding and I was pleasantly surprised when I came to Hong Kong to find that it’s so easy to do here. When the weather is warm, I just hop in my car for a 10-minute drive to Tai Tam. There, I jump on a boat with my girlfriend and go out for a couple of quick runs. I find it so relaxing being on the water and the views of Tai Tam are fabulous!
Favourite activity with the kids in Hong Kong?
The whole family agrees… our favourite thing is going on a junk boat. This is a great activity if your kids are a little bit older as there’s nothing more stressful than running around a slippery vessel after a child that is not yet water safe! My children and their friends love banana boating or jumping in the water for a swim. My husband and I enjoy relaxing, spending quality time with our kids and close friends and enjoying the beautiful islands that make up Hong Kong.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Hong Kong?
My younger daughter has developed into a fairly picky eater, so it has been quite difficult finding a restaurant that appeals to everyone that is also kid-friendly. However, last year we moved to Stanley and tried an Indian restaurant in Stanley Market called Curry Tiffin; such a great find! The staff all know us, as it’s become our local eatery. It’s not fancy, but given a choice, my girls would eat there every time.
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
Our favourite Asian trip was to Cambodia. Our children enjoyed taking tuk-tuks around Siem Reap, riding elephants around the temples and climbing the ruins. Because it is warm all year around, we also got to enjoy plenty of swimming and relaxing by the hotel pool. It was wonderful.
As far as the best kid-friendly destination goes, I would have to say Bali. If you opt for a villa, you get more space than in a hotel, and most have private pools, which are fun for late night swims! Away from the beach, there are beautiful treks around rice paddies; a zoo where we got to hold a baby lion – amazing; a safari and water park, river rafting, surf lessons, a monkey forest and also an elephant reserve, not to mention temples and traditional dance shows.
Your top tips when travelling with kids?
As many Hong Kong expats travel several times a year, this is a topic that we cover in our Lotus Parenting groups. When I travelled with my eldest daughter for the first time, I saved a checklist on the computer, listing everything to take from medicines to her favourite toys. I now revise and refer to this list every time we travel. When my kids were younger, I used to take small bribes on the plane! I would reward good behaviour by giving them a wrapped present, (usually a new toy to play with on the flight). These days, all we need are kid-friendly movies for my girls and they are all set. Once you get to your destination, try to make sure that you make time to do some of the things that you want to do. It’s not all about the children – you are on holiday too!
Activity that I do not love to do but do it anyway because my kids love it…
Shhh, please don’t tell my girls, but it’s helping them practice the violin each day! My girls love their lessons, although not the practice, and both chose the violin themselves! I know the many benefits of learning an instrument and so when I sit down with them to practice, I remind myself (and them!) how amazing they are for taking on this difficult instrument and how wonderful it feels to learn a new piece or perform on stage. It can be difficult to consistently carve out practice time every day, but despite all of their moaning and groaning, I know that playing the violin is something that will positively shape them in the future and for that reason, it’s all worth it!
How has your personal style changed since becoming a mama?
I don’t think that motherhood has changed my style; more that it has evolved as I’ve matured. We moved to Hong Kong from the beaches of Southern California and the common dress code is very casual there, with comfort as a priority. Here in Hong Kong they take fashion seriously and I really have come to enjoy the dressiness of this city. I love going out and dressing up, and I believe that if you feel good in what you wear then it can really change your mood! Even though it’s important to dress well, sometimes I can’t shake my inner beach girl, so when it’s warm in Hong Kong you’ll still catch me in my flip-flops!
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
Too often, I have seen parents, (myself included!) who forget to pay enough attention to their marriage once they have kids. My husband and I keep the romance alive by trying to have time just for us every weekend, usually when the children are asleep. It’s a good example for children to see that their parents love each other and want to spend time with each other – even if it’s apart from them. We discuss relationships in our Lotus Parenting groups, and recommend going on holiday with your partner. In April we are finally taking a trip to India to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary.
Favourite date-night restaurants?
My husband and I love Liberty Private Works. It’s hard to get a booking, but worth it as it’s amazing to watch the chefs at work in this wonderful private kitchen. We end the night with drinks, chocolate and a view of the city lights in one of the booths at Cafe Gray.
Can you talk us through your career pre and post babies? How did you get back into the swing of things after having children?
After obtaining my Masters Degree in Social Work I worked for the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services. It was really rewarding and I loved my work, but I was ready to start a family and be a stay at home mother, although I continued my education, obtaining my License in Clinical Social Work. I didn’t really miss being at work, and had no intention of going back once we moved to Hong Kong, but the opportunity to start Lotus Parenting was just too good to pass up! My business partner and I had talked about what great experiences we’d had joining mother’s groups back in the US. We felt very passionate about bringing this experience to Hong Kong and I was really very excited about running groups again, which I had done in my prior work experience. It’s funny how quickly and enthusiastically you can jump back into work when you are doing something you love with people you admire and respect!
How has having kids changed the way you define work?
After having children I made the decision to only go back to a job that I would enjoy, and that would make a difference in people’s lives. Otherwise, it was just not worth it. I don’t view my job as a job; I see it as something that I have chosen to do to help other mothers and to better myself by doing something that I feel passionate about.
What inspired you to set up Lotus Parenting?
One of the most difficult challenges in life is to be a parent, and it can be especially difficult in Hong Kong, because a lot of people don’t have family nearby that they can rely on for help and advice. Lotus Parenting groups mothers together with others who have babies the same age, so everyone is at the same stage. Members learn about basic baby-care, as well as other important topics like sleep, relationships and infant development. It’s our hope that these mothers bond with one another as friends, in addition to gaining confidence as a parent.
Do you have any tips for aspiring “mamapreneurs” and working other mamas in Hong Kong?
It’s extremely easy to start a business in Hong Kong when compared to other countries. The difficulty comes later, as running your own business is a stressful endeavour! No matter how much I try to work when my kids are asleep or at school, inevitably I sometimes have to tend to business when my girls are around, cutting into my time with them. But, my tip is this… try not to feel guilty about it. If you have a happy balance between your family and work life, then you are sending a positive message to your children.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
For all the parents-to-be out there, get some sleep now while you can! I received this advice and didn’t really know what people were talking about until I had my first child and was completely sleep deprived. Sleep is something the body requires and it is so precious as without it, people can be very irrational and even delusional at times – I know from experience!
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.
Over the years, I have seen so many women who get bogged down by trying to be the perfect mother. They look at other mothers and think, “why can’t I be more like her?” But regardless of appearances, no one has it all figured out all of the time. I’ve spent years educating myself on parenting and I still continue to struggle with the choices that I made, or how I handled particular situations with my girls. Being a parent is essentially the hardest job on the planet and we should strive to be the best we can be, but don’t get caught up in comparing yourselves to others because no one is perfect!
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Imaginary play. My daughters love playing with dolls and creating fictional scenarios, however, I find this really hard to do. I try, but usually my daughters write me out of the story quite quickly because my character is just too dull!
My most humbling mama moment was…
There are so many moments, but one that stands out was when my daughter was three, and I took her to see The Nutcracker with friends. During the performance, my daughter was exceptional, sitting quietly, while my girlfriends’ daughters were noisy and fidgety (which is the more age-appropriate behaviour, by the way!). I thought to myself, ‘look at my wonderful daughter, she is so well behaved; I must be doing something right’. Ha! As we were leaving the theatre, my daughter refused to move, as she didn’t want the show to end! I explained that it was over and we had to go but she wouldn’t budge. I finally coaxed her out of the theatre, at which point, she decided to run away from me. I had to chase her down, grab her, and carry her to the car as she screamed, cried and threw the biggest fit I had ever seen a child pitch. Just as I managed to get her into the car seat, she proceeded to vomit everywhere. If that were not bad enough, it was my friends’ car – I was mortified! I learned a lot that day and now I try hard not to compare myself to others or to judge other mothers by the behaviour of their children!
What’s your favourite family ritual?
Something we started a few years back is having periodic family meetings. We find it can be counter-productive to go over issues in the heat of the moment with our children, so in these meetings we’ll take turns to discuss things such as helping around the house more or using a respectful tone of voice, so that we can talk about them with more clarity and agree improvements. We also celebrate things that are working well, give praise for good behaviour, and discuss our children’s accomplishments, as well as letting them know the things that we, as parents, are working on. At the end of each meeting we choose a family game to play together. We usually have them about once a month, but if anyone has something that they really want to discuss then we’ll call an impromptu family meeting any time we’re all together.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about…
I’m a terrible sleeper, so I’m often awake thinking about the most random things! Lately, my thoughts are about the business; how to make our website better, how to reach a larger audience, what our mothers most want to know about. But I also get bogged down with what we are going to do at the weekend or where our next vacation might be. I’m a planner, so I’m always thinking of the next adventure!
Bedtime is always smoother when…
Ever since my girls were very young, we’ve had a bedtime ritual that is a bath, dressing for bed, brushing teeth, reading stories, hugs and kisses and then… lights out! Establishing a routine early on helps children wind down and get their active minds and bodies ready for rest. On nights where we’re running late and have to skip stories, invariably one or both of my girls will be up for one reason or another! Sticking to the routine even if it’s late helps their sleep process.
Even when my child has a family of his/her own, I’ll still…
Have Korean food night! My mother is Korean and I love the food! When I was younger my mother never cooked it because my father wasn’t keen so I have fond memories of dinner when my father was out of town, as we would ALWAYS have Korean food. I was so happy when my kids tried kimchee for the first time and actually liked it! I’ve now designated one night a week as Korean night so I’d love that to continue. I just hope they live close enough for all of us to get together!
One thing I won’t sacrifice as a mama is…
Some me-time! I’ve made some wonderful friends here in Hong Kong and I love the social aspect of living as an expat here. I love my girls and want to spend most of my time with them, but I also like having time to myself and time to spend with my husband and friends.
My favourite moment of the day is…
This is the first year that both my daughters are in school all day and it has been great to have time for myself and work. However, I really love it when my girls get home from school. I pick up my youngest by car, and I love seeing her excited face as she climbs in the back seat. My older one comes home by bus and I’m always there to greet her. It’s nice to walk up the hill to our home and hear all about her day – the good, the bad and the ugly! It reminds me of when my girls were babies and they would take their afternoon nap. I loved that downtime to get things done around the house, but I was always so excited to go and get them up the minute they awoke, knowing they were excited to see me too. That’s still how it feels when my girls get home from school and it’s my favourite time of the day.