Paula Chin

What I’m Looking For

Written on April 19, 2013 at 9:51 am , by

At Centennial Flat, CA. Photo by Marcia Mack

The other week I was walking my daughter Natalie and her friends home from their middle school play to a sleepover at our place. Actually, I was bringing up the rear about 10 feet behind them – a barely seen, and certainly unheard, third wheel – as they chattered and giggled and OMG’d! the way 12-year-old girls do.

It’s here. That strange stage when your kid is starting to move out of the mommy orbit but still needs you close at hand. “Go away/come closer” is what my friend used to call it when our girls were little and having major meltdowns. This is the tween version, and it’s kind of caught me by surprise. Not so much Nat growing up and eventually away, but a shifting beneath my own feet, my own sense of self. While I’ve never defined myself by motherhood, being a hands-on, always-there-for-her parent – a single one at that – has been a huge chunk of my identity for a long time. Suddenly, new spaces are opening up, and I’m not quite sure how to fill them.

But I took a great first step over spring break, flying away to my first “just me” vacation in ages while Nat stayed with her dad. The journey (the last leg by turboprop!) was to the white heart of California’s Mojave desert. Talk about wide open spaces. It was fabulous, full of friendship & solitude, good conversation & vast, still silences, and … infinite possibility.

Plus, a funny thing happened once I returned. My girl and I, always the best of buds, are closer than ever.

I know a lot of you have already been where I’m going. Tell me your stories!

OMG! It’s Time for Your Teen’s First Car!

Written on October 1, 2012 at 1:50 pm , by


Thank goodness my kid is only 11, so I’ve got another 7 years before panic time. But like a good Girl Scout, I like to be prepared, so when Family Circle decided to do a story on buying your teen’s first car, I grabbed the wheel so I could get a little driver’s ed myself.

I live in Manhattan, where it’s not so common for parents to have cars, much less for their teens to be driving them. But I happen to have an economical, ultra-reliable Honda Civic coupe that I tool around in for shopping runs and weekend jaunts. The engine still purrs and I don’t put much mileage on it, so I figure it could be my daughter’s first car once she turns 18. Plus it’s got so many dings and scratches that it won’t matter how many more she adds.

Her dad is as frugal as I am, but laughs at me about this, since my beloved Honda will be a hoary 21 years old (!) and probably too much of junker once our girl starts driving. Turns out he’s right. Writer Rick Newman’s piece in the November issue of Family Circle taught me—among many other things—that as solid as my Honda seems, it doesn’t have the requisite 6 air bags (2 in front, plus 2 side impact and 2 side curtain bags) to be safe. Plus, it’s not hefty enough to offer the best protection in a crash (you want at least a midsize sedan for that). In fact, his guide on buying a good used car is so smart and succinct that I’m tearing it out and filing it away for the year 2019.

Did you find the story helpful? Any tips you would add?

Paula Chin is a  senior editor at Family Circle.

Family Secrets: To Spill or Not to Spill?

Written on September 26, 2012 at 3:19 pm , by

I grew up in L.A., thoroughly Chinese-American—Chinese food, parents and relatives who spoke Cantonese, Chinese-American Christian churches. So it was a big shock when my mom told me and my older brothers that she was half-Mexican. I was 13 years old, and it had never occurred to us that she was anything but 100% Asian. True, she has olive skin, a strong brow and cheekbones, and deep set, double lidded eyes. She looked different than my aunts and other relatives, but we never noticed. We simply saw her as more beautiful, more exotic.

There was more to mom’s story. She had been abandoned as an infant and adopted by a Chinese couple (the orphanage was right near the house they used in Six Feet Under). Her brother and two sisters were adopted as well.

I don’t remember what prompted her to finally tell us, but I do remember my reaction. First, confusion. “So Uncle Bob isn’t a blood relative? Grandma and Grandpa too?” Then outrage. “How could you not tell us all this time? Didn’t you trust us?” I came to understand why Mom kept it secret—a mixture of shame, a sense of protectiveness toward the only mom and dad she ever new—but it wasn’t necessarily the best strategy. As Elizabeth Foy Larsen points out in her piece in the October issue of Family Circle:

At first thought, it can seem sensible to keep your own counsel. You have a right to privacy, and there certainly are things your kids really don’t need to know. But the truth has a way of revealing itself, and when that occurs in an unplanned way—a relative blurts it out, a conversation is overheard—there can be lasting damage. A child who stumbles onto a parent’s lie is very likely to feel betrayed, or at least more skeptical about everything he’s told from there on, according to a University of San Diego study. “There are some kids who will feel deeply hurt for a long time,” says Gail Heyman, Ph.D., who conducted the research. “They’ll think, ‘If she lied about that, what else isn’t she telling me?’”

My hurt and anger quickly faded, and I’ve completely forgiven mom for her, well, let’s call it a sin of omission. And sure enough, once we knew the facts Mom could tell us all sorts of stories she had kept quiet about, which drew us closer.

Still, I’m doing things differently with my 11 year old. Full disclosure here–once I knew about Mom, I became determined to adopt a child of my own; my daughter is from China. Anyway, she pretty much gets the complete lowdown (age appropriate, of course) on what’s going on, past and present, in my life. And when she hits those crazy teen years, I plan on being honest about my own, missteps and all. I just have to make sure I don’t commit the sin of TMI.

What about you? Tell us your stance on coming clean with family secrets in the comments below. And read more about sharing family secrets here.

Paula Chin is a senior editor at Family Circle.

Gratitude Attitude

Written on June 28, 2011 at 5:05 pm , by

Awhile back I was standing in line at the library when a book spine with a big smiley face cookie caught my eye (I love black and whites, hence the attraction). Turns out the book was Happy At Last: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Finding Joy, by Richard O’Connor. It’s a snappy little primer on minimizing the unnecessary misery we create for ourselves so we can maximize the upside, with a very simple formula to do that: 30 minutes each of exercise and meditation daily. Plus before going to bed, thinking of three things that made you happy that day or that you’re grateful for. O’Connor suggests doing this with your spouse–you’ll learn some amazing stuff about each other—but since I’m a single mom I started doing it with my 10 year old. And we’re learning a lot about each other. Sure, I figured she’d love going to the Apple store on a class trip (yes, she’s already a tech freak), but who knew she’d say “Snuggling together on the sofa watching the Next Food Network Star with you, mom”? It’s pure quality time, a super de-stresser, and a good preemptive move to the tween/teen sass, moodiness and madness I know I’ll soon be in for.

For kids, charity begins at school

Written on June 15, 2011 at 3:34 pm , by


These days, charity no longer begins at home. My daughter, who will graduate from elementary school next year, has been learning all about how to give back since her kindergarten days. It started with buying goodies at school bake sales to raise  money for the homeless. Then came donations of gently used coats for the needy in winter. These days, she’s been making bracelets to raise money, collecting donations for victims of the Japan earthquake/tsunami, even logging steps on her pedometer so Modell’s could donate to the same cause. In other words, it’s second nature to her, almost part of daily life, and I love that. Yes, I could quibble about how charities and fundraising is so in that it becomes a kind of perverse who-can-do-the-most-good competition, but I won’t. I’m just delighted that in age when parents gripe so much about the awful directions kids are heading or the lackluster education of public schools, something is right in the world. Her heart is wide open, she’s compassionate and eager to pay it forward, whether it’s giving money to a subway street musician or donating her old books and toys to neighbors or Goodwill.

Teaching my daughter a lesson

Written on June 6, 2011 at 2:17 pm , by

No, I don’t mean the  “See, what did I tell you?” or the  I’m-your-mom-so-I-know-better variety. I mean the really good kind, the invaluable life lesson that helps your kid grow…

I just got an email from my daughter’s 4th grade teacher, telling me how in recent months my girl has blossomed from a “quiet, behind the scenes” student to one who always raises her hands, is jazzed to share her thoughts and opinions, dares to be different, and is brimming with confidence. Wait, there’s more! This coming of age coincides with a big surge academically, including one of the highest scores on last weeks math test (please, let me gloat a little), mainly because she’s asking more questions, pushing herself harder when she doesn’t understand something–you get the picture.

So after passing the happy news to her dad, I sat back, reflected a moment, and gave myself a little pat on the back. At my worst I can be a tiger mom, holding her to exacting standards, scolding her for sloppy or lazy thinking, making her play that piano etude 5 times until she gets it right. And I’ve lectured her over and over on the value and rewards of hard work and not backing off—to the point of overkill, I’m sure. But now my girl is blossoming, and what a joy to behold. Sigh. Guess I may have been doing things pretty much just right. Like many moms, I was being too hard not on my daughter, but myself.

Furry, Feathered and Part of the Family…

Written on May 16, 2011 at 11:50 am , by

Just about every day, my 10-year-old daughter Nat and I and log onto the hawkcam at to check on Violet and Bobby, a pair of red-tailed hawks and proud parents to a brand new hatchling in their nest overlooking Washington Square Park. Before baby emerged May 6, it was strangely soothing watching Violet sit on her eggs, so patient and Zen-like, her feathers ruffling in the spring breeze. And what drama! For a while it seemed the window of opportunity had closed and no eggs would hatch, then just one did. Now Violet has an injured leg, and avian experts had to decide whether intervention was needed (too risky, they decided, plus mom is doing okay). All of this more moving than any episode of Modern Family or Brothers & Sisters, and full of life lessons—in parenting, unconditional love, loss, and the weird stuff that ends up in urban nests—for me and my girl. Back at our place, we have two cats (Boo and Bo) and walk the neighbor’s dog just for fun; at Nat’s dad’s place in Pennsylvania, she has a black Lab (Nina), guinea pig (Peanut), Shetland pony (Meatball), and knows a neighbor’s hens by name, thanking them as she scoops up eggs to bring back to NYC. And I won’t even go into that delightful, ginormous, slobbery St. Bernard we met on the street yesterday. Ah, animals. Full-fledged or honorary, they’re definitely members of the family. As a parent, I wouldn’t have it any other way.