Interview: Picture Perfect
On the outside, Siv L., 33, is the quintessential girl crush - otherworldly beautiful, cool and collected, effortlessly chic, with a megawatt smile, and mother to an adorably precocious and spirited little girl. However, beneath the surface, you'll find that she's lived anything but a charmed life - a divorcée with a then-infant daughter, a first-generation immigrant in America who fled war-torn Cambodia and overcame poverty, and a hospital pharmacist on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. Hear from her, in her own words, on: the lessons that tragedy and divorce have taught her, tough love and finding love again, paying off six figures in student debt, and the beauty and hardships of motherhood.
As a first-generation immigrant in America, I grew up in a large nuclear family with very limited resources.
My parents left war-stricken Cambodia when I was one, and we immigrated to a very poor area of Philadelphia with hardly anything – maybe a few dollars. I grew up watching my parents work menial jobs for extremely low wages just to scrape by every month. They had five kids to take care of, so they spent most of their time (and most of my childhood) working multiple jobs at odd hours. My grandfather, as well as my older half-brother and my older half-sister, took on a lot of responsibility and helped to care for my two other sisters and me.
I learned at a fairly young age that sometimes life can be utterly tragic.
My family lost a lot in Cambodia – family members, close friends, their homes, their wealth, and they were forced to completely rebuild a new life from literally nothing. Their experiences make up a huge part of my identity, and, as I have matured over the years, I’ve learned that my family is strong, hard-working, and extremely resilient. Whenever I go through difficult times (like my recent divorce), I remind myself of their resilience and strength. It helps to put most things in perspective for me.
I don't know if I subscribe to the idea that everyone has a calling in life, but I do believe that I was meant to be a mom of a daughter.
I didn't always have the best relationship with my own mother (there were lots of cultural clashes growing up), and I think that motherhood has given me a way to come to terms with my own childhood. Ren is only two but the experience has already taught me so much about the beauty and hardships of motherhood. It has also allowed me to better understand my mom’s behaviors and choices, and it has definitely made me more empathetic to the struggles she must have faced as a mom of five. I am sure, as Ren gets older, more things will start to come full circle for me, but, essentially, I am learning that my mom did the best she could – like most parents.
I got engaged at 27, was married by 28, became pregnant by 30, and gave birth to my daughter by 31. Then my marriage fell apart.
During that period, I think one of the hardest things for me was coming to terms with the fact that I was someone who was going through a divorce at 32 years old. I was embarrassed and ashamed. Looking back, I realize it was such a silly thing to stress over! That time of my life was so hard and difficult to begin with and to worry about what others would think of me was just wasted energy. My advice, to anyone struggling with thinking their life has to be a certain way by a certain age, would be this: ignore the expectations and do what feels right for you. Listen to your gut and follow your instincts. Deep down, you will always know what feels right.
I grew up thinking that I would somehow have that picture perfect family.
Some days, it’s a hard pill to swallow that that scenario isn’t my life, and, then other days, I feel lucky to not be in a situation where I have to force a toxic relationship to work for the sake of children. It has taken a lot of personal work to reconcile that this isn’t the family dynamic I had wanted, but I always remind myself that Ren is such a happy kid and that’s because she has been able to grow up and flourish around a happy mom.
The first few months after my ex and I separated was one of the hardest and darkest times of my life---the scariest part was the unknown. It was a struggle to just get up and get through the day.
I made sure to focus on being a good mom and on work, and, eventually, slowly but surely, the days got easier. I started seeing a therapist. I journaled a lot. I learned to rely more on my close family and friends. I learned that you should always try to look for something to be grateful for. I obsessively read Dear Sugar columns, and, for some reason, Cheryl Strayed’s (the author’s) tough love responses helped to soothe me – I felt like I needed to hear her tough, matter-of-fact advice on days when I would start to feel sorry for myself. Ultimately, after finally feeling like I have made it to the other side of this, I’ve learned that I am a lot stronger than I used to give myself credit for.
It’s difficult to date as a single mother since there will (eventually) be more than just two people involved in the relationship.
For mothers looking for love, it’s important to always put your children first and don’t ever compromise that aspect for a partner. My partner has to not only be a good fit for me, but for my daughter as well. I definitely am much more reserved and cautious in this relationship because of my past, but I don’t think that it’s a bad thing. I now have a better understanding of what will work and not work for me, and I now have a pretty good grasp on what qualities are needed for a successful, long term partnership for me.
A part of me wanted to be a mom pretty strongly that I ignored the red flags in my previous relationship.
There are so many options right now for women who want to be mothers that women should explore them first and not worry about not finding “the one” yet: you can freeze your eggs or even start the journey to parenthood without a partner. I’ve learned this the hard way – whoever you have a child with will always be a part of your life, so it’s important to make sure that that person is someone who positively impacts your life. Lately, this coronavirus has been keeping me up at night.
Ren’s daycare is closed, and I work full-time in an essential field; so, as everything changes on a daily basis, my anxiety has been at an all-time high. Thankfully, my parents are both healthy (fingers crossed that it stays this way) and can help to watch her while I work. I worry about work and their health though.
Whenever I am feeling overwhelmed, a tough gym session usually helps me, or a nice walk outside – getting fresh air always helps to clear my head and revitalizes me.
And I think everyone could use a good therapist – having someone to open up to and being able to receive honest, unbiased feedback has helped me tackle a lot of difficult things.
Suze Orman and David Ramsey are two people who give great financial advice.
After graduating pharmacy school with so much debt, I obsessively read their books, heeded their tough advice, and managed to pay over six figures in school debt in about six years.
Photo Courtesy of Siv L.