When your own childhood has been full of pain, how do you know how to parent? Award-winning restauranter Pauline Nguyen shares her greatest lessons
We all carry our own childhoods into parenting: reflecting on what worked and what didn’t, we make a daily decision on how we want to raise our families.
Some of us have beautiful memories to draw upon, some of us do not.
And one of the most inspiring mamas we’ve come across in learning how to break the cycle of your past is Pauline Nguyen. Determined not to repeat the anger and pain of her own childhood, this amazing mama of two turned her life around with pure grit and an ‘obsession to be a better thinker’.
And in the process, she has changed her life.
Owner and co-founder of the most awarded Vietnamese restaurant in the world, we’re thrilled to bring you Pauline’s insights into how she is living consciously as a mama, and a woman.
“Looking back, I don’t feel I’m a victim of how I was brought up. I was brought up in a very, very abusive, violent household. My father suffered terribly from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was a Lieutenant in the Vietnam War and decided to escape. I was four years old at the time and my brother Lewis was three. We spent nine days out at sea and ended up in Thailand in a refugee camp where we spent a very difficult year. And then to come here with nothing – no house, no job, no money – it’s difficult to understand what that must have been like. There were so many pressures and my father was like a faulty pressure cooker: he had nowhere to dump his anger and so he dumped it on us kids and his wife.
I started working when I was seven, my brother Lewis was six. My brother Luke was three when he started work. I was forced to deal with all these adult responsibilities from such a young age. We also had all this pressure to get good grades as well. Being a high achiever was literally beaten into us. Eventually, I ran away from home. I had to look after myself. I was determined not to prove my father right. I didn’t want to become a drug addict, I didn’t want to become a loser like a lot of the children that grew up around the Cabramatta area. I put myself through university and started working in the hospitality industry to make ends meet.
“Looking back, if it wasn’t for all of those things, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I learned resilience, I learned independence, and through that courage and grit. Grit is so important. I look back and I think that I’m the lucky beneficiary of all those things that happened. I hold my childhood life as an anti-model of how I want to parent now, because I know what I don’t want.
I’ve been on a mission to not be that confused angry adult. To not grow up to be angry like my parents. I was determined that the cycle ended with me.
I was determined not to pass my anger onto the next generation.
Now, I parent very, very differently than my parents did. As far as self-awareness, self-development, even self-destruction goes. While it was a very difficult journey growing up, I can now look back and see that my parents were my biggest teachers. That whole experience was a wonderful way to learn what not to be and what to be.
“Never underestimate the power of a decision. Being a conscious parent is about deciding to question everything and find better ways to do things. It’s about challenging the status quo. Conscious parenting is about questioning all the existing paradigm and consciously finding a better way to approach things that create more understanding, more grace, more resilience, more courage, more peace and more joy for the whole of the family unit.
Ask where did that belief come from.
We have to consciously choose our thoughts, our actions and what is happening in our lives. Sure, I lose my shit with my children, it’s a work in progress. But, for the most part it’s the checking in that changes the way I show up.
“No one told me about the love I would feel when I became a mother. The midwife, the doctors, my parents, my relatives, no one. We go to the birthing classes and we read all the books and they tell us all the technical stuff and don’t eat this and exercise this way. But they don’t prepare us for the overwhelming amount of love that we will feel. A love that has no words to describe it.
That love – that absolute, unconditional love – took my breath away.
It blew me away because that wasn’t what I had felt growing up. Of course my parents loved me, but I didn’t feel that love because of all the pain and violence. But what I discovered when I became a Mum is that from that love I felt for my children, it was inevitable that I also had to have that love for myself.
It was that self-love that changed my world.
It was that self-love, and my obsession to be a better thinker. The obsession to be more kind to myself. Self-compassion is a cycle, it’s this loop: the more we love ourselves, the more we love our children. The more we love our children, the more independent they are, the more they can love themselves, the more they can love others, and the cycle continues. It is that cycle of love that has been so profound.”
Pauline Nguyen is the owner and co-founder of Red Lantern restaurant in Sydney, Australia. She is also hosting Start Up Sunday conversations in her restaurant which are open to the public (but tickets sell out fast!) with the next session on Conscious Parenting on Sunday 9th April.