The Elephant in the Room

Today’s Guest Post is from my friend, SW Chica. When I read her first draft, she had included a line from her mother that seared straight into my soul. “I love you, but I don’t like you.”

I didn’t realize just how damaging a statement like that could be to a child and I am ashamed to say that I may have told Gamera the same exact words before. I’m not sure if I said it out loud, but I certainly have thought it. 
SW Chica’s piece made me think of Gamera in a kinder light. The last thing I would want is to make her feel the way my friend feels now. It would break my cold, dark heart. 
Because of SW Chica’s post, I hope to be a better mother to my sensitive little girl. I thank her for sharing and trusting me with her heart. 

I told my Mom last January I didn’t walk to talk to her or my father anymore.  It was hard, but it was the right thing to do. That doesn’t mean I don’t think about it obsessively and want it to be different. I do. It just means that right now, looking at how my family treats me, I don’t want to be treated like that by anyone, much less the group of people who are supposed to be there for you.

This being a good decision on my part became more clear when my mother emailed my husband that she was sorry, “They didn’t address the elephant in the room sooner.” She apologized to him, not me. In her eyes, he is the one hurt in this scenario, not me.

I told her that I don’t feel I get respect from them at 40 years old. Her reply to me was, “If you feel you have not received it in 40 years, I feel you have never given it to us in 38.”

It took me a few weeks of being away from her and my family to have a little epiphany about what the elephant was. The elephant was respect. She wanted respect from a 2 year old. I was 8 and 10 years younger than my siblings. But so was my dad. And so was his dad. I wonder how each of their parents treated them growing up.

I imagine it was similar experience. Being thrust into being more mature than I was. I didn’t really feel like I was treated like a kid when I was one. I was left home alone at 8 years old so my parents could go golf on Sundays. My sister was at college; my brother had his friends and did not want to always have to watch after his little sister.

My parents wanted a break by that time. They were 40, more successful than they had been in years past. They wanted to enjoy their life, not always be saddled with a young kid who talked too much. Or was overdramatic. Or a pill, or a pain. Or whatever other adjective my mom and family used to describe me.

Who they would just treat as a disappointment.

I get that now; I was a disappointment. At age 2 I didn’t behave like a proper 8 year old. I don’t remember how I behaved, but having seen my friends’ 2 year olds, I can’t imagine I was much different. I’m sure I wandered around the house, pulling plugs out of the wall or pushing my plate of food away.

I bet I was actually better behaved than most two year olds, not because I was awesome at 2, but because I had a Mom and Dad correcting me for misbehaving, and a brother and sister telling me to stop it as well.

So if at 2, the elephant was that I was expected to behave as though I was 8, then at 8 I was expected to behave as though I was 15. I was left at home a lot as an elementary school age kid. I didn’t really enjoy being left alone at home on the weekends. My parents would play golf all day on Sundays and come home and want to go out to dinner. Which meant more alone time as I was told to be quiet and colored on my placemat.

At 12, when I was bullied and picked on at school. I tried to talk to my parents about about it, but, if it was happening, it had to be my fault. I had to have done something other than exist for this to be happening. I talked too much. Or was overdramatic. Or a pill, or a pain.

News flash, it wasn’t my fault.

The bully wanted my seat during a movie shown in class. She demanded it from me and I said, “No.” It’s entirely possible I said words around the word, “No.” Extra wording aside, I was not wrong in this scenario. So when the bully beat me up over it and I fought back, I got in trouble at school and at home.

I got beat up and I got in trouble at home.

I stood up for myself and I got no comfort from my family.

At 14, the elephant was I had my own way home from work or a friends house. My mom was tired of being chauffeur and if I couldn’t fit my activities around her schedule, then I had to figure it out for myself. So I’d take the bus or ask for rides from older kids instead of my parents coming to pick me up. I knew how to get to Berkeley on my own from the East Bay as a freshman in High School and would often go to Telegraph Ave to buy cheap jewelry from the street vendors. I would also hang out at Rasputin’s Record store and get lunch at Blondie’s Pizza. At 14.

As an adult the elephant is that I don’t want to be their friend. I don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars a month on drinks and dinner with people who treat me poorly.

Once I moved out I really never invited them over to my home or host a holiday for my family as an adult. No one asked me why, they just felt I was rude.

The reality was that I never felt my homes were good enough. I worked full time jobs since I was 19 and I would just live in my home, happy that I had one. I would ask my Mom to help me with cleaning or rearranging a room and would be met with all the things she had to complain about my homes. Dog toys on the floor, my coffee cup in the sink. God forbid if I didn’t make my bed that day.

She has been a stay at home mother and wife all my and my siblings’ lives. When she would criticize my home and my cars, she turned the shame I felt as a child for being a disappointment into to resentment.

I resented those comments. They would play on a loop in my head until I drank them away. And when I stopped doing that, then I just began to not care.

The elephant became just dealing with them as best I could. I tried to let them go. I tried to not let the resentment build, but it did. I didn’t handle it properly. I didn’t do yoga or pray. I just tried to be polite and respectful.

I still didn’t invite them over to my home. I dogged every other invite to go to my parents’ home so they would not be suspicious that I didn’t want to spend time with them anymore.

It didn’t work.

The resentment I felt was still there and was not being dealt with properly. I had no outlet to share what I was feeling. No place that felt safe – just like when I was a kid.

Then, a major life change came.

I took an opportunity for a big career change. I was excited about it. I felt it was a good opportunity. As I went over to their home to excitedly share my news, I was greeted with, “Why would you ever leave the job you have now?”

It hurt.

They took all the wind out of my sails. The elephant this time was they couldn’t even fake being happy for me.

When I failed miserably at the new opportunity, I resented them even more. I blamed them. I felt like I was cursed by them, which I know is not right.

It’s not their fault I failed at this job. I accept it. I was bullied and squeezed out. It’s not right, but again, I needed support and it wasn’t there. When it was all said and done, I still got blamed for not being grateful that my family was there.

Really, they just think they were there for me. But I got no comfort from them when I was hurting. The elephant was them feeling taken advantage of because I didn’t process my hurt the way they wanted me to. And in the end, being alone was the best way for me to overcome my hurt.

My husband said to me, “If you are trying to be a better Christian, then you need to forgive them.”

I said, “I do forgive them, but that doesn’t mean I am willing to be hurt by them again.” I can be a good Christian and forgive them and still decide the relationship is not healthy and stop forcing it just because we are related.

If the elephant all along was respect that I feel I have never gotten, and they feel they have never received, then what am I really missing out on?

If Your Kids Know Chinese, Please Don’t Make the Rest of Us Feel Like Crap

Author’s Note: Yes, yes. I know I’m the super gungho Chinese lady. I mean, it’s in my blog name. But I am aware that not everyone is like me – and that is ok. Today’s Guest Post is by Tracey Gee, of Balance is Boring. I’ve known Tracey since my first year at UCLA and love her writing and style. She writes about food, design, parenting, leadership, and so much more!


We’ve been living in our current house for about 3 years which is like 10 minutes in my neighborhood because lots of folks have been here for decades. We’re still the new kids on the block. But we’ve really enjoyed meeting our neighbors who are genuinely kind and amazing people and have become friends with several families which I love.

So, I was really excited to finally meet the fellow mom that just moved in a few houses down. I had seen them working on the house and moving trucks going back and forth but we hadn’t had a chance to meet yet.

As we chatted, I realized our kids are about the same age and even at the same school. “Yay, another new friend!” I thought. That is, until she quizzed me on my Chinese language abilities, told me that I “should” be teaching my kids Chinese, and that her kids are really good at it within the span of our 7-minute conversation.

I honestly have so much respect for parents who teach their kids another language. My sister recently enrolled her kids in Chinese school and they love it. It works really well for their family.

It’s not like I wouldn’t love for my kids to be able to speak Chinese but it just hasn’t been something we’ve prioritized. Part of it is due to the fact that my husband and I are both limited in our abilities. I grew up speaking Mandarin and I still do with my folks. I can order in a restaurant. But I’m probably as fluent as a second grader. (That might be generous.) My husband is Cantonese and is at about the same level with that. We can’t really talk to each other so we speak to other in English at home.

Because of our limited abilities, our conversations with our kids quickly outpaced our Chinese skills. As a 4-year old, my eldest was asking me questions like – Do ants sleep? What happens if all the water on the earth dries up? How do they make glue? How do they make Jell-O? What sound does a panda make? And so on…

I found myself unable to really respond to him in Chinese or to have the level of conversation that I wanted to have. So, it felt more natural to speak in English. We still talked about different words in Chinese but by and large our conversations were in English.

Ultimately, this was probably the biggest barrier to really teaching them Chinese. Once I realized that, we tried a couple of Chinese school options and lessons but they didn’t feel like the best use of time, money, and energy for us. Both my motivation and theirs quickly dwindled to keep doing those things.

Sometimes when you talk to some people, it feels like there is a moral imperative to learn Chinese like “if you don’t speak the language are you even Chinese at all?” And I think there is the assumption that fluency in the language makes one “more Chinese.”

But to that I would say that there are a lot of ways to be connected to your heritage. With our kids, we talk about what it means that we are Chinese American. We discuss Chinese cultural values and what’s special about it. Their chopsticks technique is on point. They eat on-the-bone chicken clean leaving no meat, skin, or cartilage in a way that would make my Nai Nai proud. My 6-year old’s favorite food in the whole world is pig ears. My 10-year old eats entire orders of xiao long bao by himself. They definitely have the love of Chinese food down. We celebrate Lunar New Year.

And maybe most important to me is that we continually help them learn the stories of our family and their grandparents. So though they can’t speak the language, I feel like they have a healthy and hopefully growing sense of culture and legacy.

We have chosen not to spend the time and money on teaching our kids Chinese. Instead, our family priorities have been:

  • School
  • Family meals
  • Reading
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Friends
  • Faith
  • Free time – last but not least, we also value giving them time to be self-directed and to not be in anything structured so they can play and just be. I love watching them get lost in an imaginary world of their own creation.

I find that when we spend time in these ways, we feel like our family is thriving.

Instead of the conversation we had, I wish that my neighbor had asked me more questions or demonstrated more curiosity. I wouldn’t have been offended if she’d asked me if I had ever considered having my kids learn Chinese.

I wish that she had asked if that was something I wanted rather than assuming that everyone, of course, should. I wish that she hadn’t taken her kids’ language learning as a blanket badge of superiority but rather understood that there are great (and not so great) things about everyone.

I wish that she had demonstrated some understanding that what works great for one family may not work for another. And that’s perfectly okay.

In the end, we all have to decide what works best for our family. And I know that mentally. But, I still second guess myself at times and feel like a crappy parent for failing to teach them.

So, after I had that conversation with my neighbor I texted my husband, “Met new neighbor. Shamed me for our kids not speaking Chinese. Guess we’re not gonna be friends.”

You know, I guess it boils down to the fact that I already feel bad about it so if you want me make me feel bad too, it’s not going to work out. No hard feelings but I just don’t think we’re going to hang out. Too bad because I host a mean playdate.  

How to Pay for College

Author’s Note: Today’s guest post is by my college buddy, JT, from the blog, Just Making Cents. Since I just had a baby, JT was kind enough to step in and write a post for my blog – and it is totally appropos since I have four kids to put through college. 

Anyhow, JT offered to add a post to my Money Series that I started when I had Glow Worm. I love his perspective because JT has 15+ years of Wall Street experience (he was a big shot at a famous hedge fund) and he and I used to talk finance back in the day when I was a Financial Advisor. (Of course, JT had to dumb down a lot of stuff for me since he is heads and tails more amazing than I ever could hope to be.)

I hope you enjoy his post and also head on over to his blog, Just Making Cents, where he blogs about finance, teaching your kids about finance, and parenting successful kids. 

Now that Halloween is over and you have eaten all the fun-sized Kit Kat bars and tossed the gluey candy corn, you will likely come across an underrated confection: the Blow Pop.

For first-timers, the Blow Pop’s hard candy exterior eventually recedes to a surprising, softish gum center, lasting twice as long as other candies.

Sadly, when it comes to a parent’s finances, not all surprises are as sweet, or enduring things as welcome. Just when you think you’ve paid all the costs to raise your child, up surfaces college tuition bills. Surprise.

A Hard Blow:

Those are some big numbers but hard to crack without some context. Because this is Mandarin Mama’s blog, let’s analyze the case of a Bay Area family with 2 children.

Assume this family owns a standard 3 bed, 2 bath home in San Jose, which costs $775,000*, and drives 2 cars. This family saves for Stanford** and Berkeley** (their children are exceptionally smart) and the parents want to retire at 67. They’re fairly frugal, only going out to eat occasionally and taking local vacations.

Stanford costs about $60,000 a year. Berkeley costs about $28,500 a year (Both figures include room and board). To catch up to tuition growth, you would need to save $11,000 a year for Stanford and $5,750 a year for Berkeley from the moment your child is born up to the last tuition payment.

Here’s what this family would need to make in income (for readers with 4 children – ahem! – it’s safe to assume you’ll need more income. A lot more.):

CostsAnnual
Housing$45,840
Food$12,000
Utilities$10,000
Transportation$9,600
Clothing/Supplies$1,000
Other/Misc$5,000
Saving for Stanford$11,000
Saving for Berkeley$5,750
Taxes$45,010
Total Costs + Taxes$145,200
401k$18,000
Total Income Need$163,200

Don’t make $163k a year? There’s hope for you.

4 Tips on Paying for College, Depending on Your Phase in Life:

1. Newly Unwrapped (You are pre-child or have children ages 0-5): Make that budget so that you can max out your 401k and put in $6-11k per child into a 529 plan if you have children. You are in the phase of life where you should live as frugally as possible, really watching your expenses. If you save well in this phase, it provides a great foundation for the next 3 phases.

2. The Fruity Shell (You have children ages 5-12): Start talking to your children about money now. Teach them what money is and how to make it. Have your child allocate a portion of his or her profit to college savings, a portion to spending (beyond the food, clothes, and shelter you provide), and a portion to charity.

When your child knows how to make his or her own money, this reduces the amount you need to spend on their clothes or gadgets, and increases the amount you can allocate to your retirement and their tuition.

The side benefit to this is that when they know it’s their own sweat going into paying for college, they’ll have a more purposeful outlook and make college and what-to-major-in decisions more pragmatically.

(I would not recommend pushing them to start a business. Rather, I would present it as a fun thing to do, then layer in the business and finance concepts.)

3. The Gum Shows Through (You have older children ages 12-16). Start (or continue) your child’s financial education. Discuss potential side-businesses they’d be interested in starting.

At this age group, they have two important resources and skills: 1) they are tech savvy, and 2) they have a developing social network. They can tap into both resources and start a blog with affiliate links or an eCommerce store. Like in the previous step, advise them to allocate a portion of the proceeds to their college savings. The side benefit to this is that starting and running a business looks good on their college application.

(Again, I wouldn’t push your child to start their business. At this age, I would emphasize the extra spending money and the benefit of it for college applications.)

If you are willing to switch jobs or go back to work, consider working for the college near you. Sometimes they have reduced tuition for themselves or partner colleges for employees. Research this first and see how long it takes to qualify for such benefits.

4. Chew Time (Your children are 17+): Don’t panic. Even if you haven’t saved anything, there are ways to minimize the bill and still save toward retirement. I’ll spend the most time in this phase since it’s the most urgent.

Community College

Your child may want to consider spending 2 years at a community college then transfer to a 4-year college. The advantage of this, besides cutting tuition almost in half, is that it helps the GPA. If your child has a 3.8 the first two years at Diablo Valley College and squeaks out a 2.8 at UC Santa Barbara, his or her overall GPA is a solid 3.3.

The best thing is for your child to know what they want to do, find the college that best enables that, then find the JC that’s a feeder school to that college. It doesn’t diminish career prospects to attend a JC first. When people ask about schools, it’s from where you graduated rather than where you started.

Lower Cost, But Not Quality

Remember that there are plenty of financial aid and scholarships available. The listed price of tuition is generally not the actual cost.

If a public university most fits your child, attending the in-state flagships like Berkeley, UCLA, Michigan, or UVA offer almost unmatched quality per cost.

However, if a private university best fits your child, focus on schools with large endowments and smaller enrollments — they sometimes offer reduced tuition based on your income.

Research schools with endowments north of $5 billion but undergraduate enrollment of fewer than 12,000 (a private school with an undergraduate enrollment north of 12,000 has less money to spend per student and less scholarship money. Essentially, you are paying private school tuition for public school experience).

The Logical Path

If neither flagship nor well-endowed/smaller private is an option for your child, make sure your child has a strong idea of what career path he or she wants to take. So if he or she wants to do electrical engineering, find the in-state public school that routinely sends its electrical engineers to large electrical engineering employers before your child applies to college.

Don’t wait until college starts to figure things out. There is a very specific script of majors and progression of internships that prequalify candidates for certain (often the most sought-after) employers.

Income, More or Less

You yourself may want to consider starting your own side or online business to generate extra money. If your business makes enough to cover your expenses and you feel confident enough to leave your day job, you will reduce your income, qualifying your child for scholarships and reduced tuition from certain schools.

If your business takes off, consider paying yourself a low salary to qualify your child for scholarships and reduced tuition. Carefully research this, however, since some schools consider your net worth as well and may require more history of low income.

The Decision 

Now, if it has to be a choice between saving for college or retirement, choose retirement. Your children will have a long career that will help them pay off their debt. You…do not.

That’s a Wrap:

Don’t let large, scary numbers frighten you from acting. No matter what phase of life you’re in, the future can be as sweet as a lollipop if you’re willing to research and put in the extra effort. Yes, you can have your candy and eat it too.

Like what you read and want to find out more about money and parenting? Get a free, 3-day course on teaching your child about money and I’ll send you a free guide to helping your child start their own business. Just sign up here with the phrase “Mandarin Lemonade.”

*Based on median home listing in San Jose, CA on Realtor.com

**Cost of College: Using data from the CollegeBoard of price increase above inflation plus inflation, both for the last decade, Stanford and Berkeley cost assumed to rise 4.25% and 4.75%, respectively.

Savings Growth: Assumes historical growth rate of the S&P 500 of 7%.