Eva Chen on her new children's book about 'Asian joy' and squeezing in self-care: 'The struggle is very real for parents and for women right now'

·5 min read
Instagram's Eva Chen on her new children's book and being a mom to three. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Instagram's Eva Chen on her new children's book and being a mom to three. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life's parenting series on the joys and challenges of child rearing.

Fashion influencer Eva Chen began garnering her legion of followers (now at 1.9 million) back when she was an editor at Teen Vogue and Lucky, a stylish fixture in the New York City media scene. Chen left Lucky in 2015 and soon joined the tech world; in the midst of new motherhood, Chen also began her new role as director of fashion partnerships at Instagram. The transition from media to tech was seemingly more straightforward than learning to parent. Her general feeling about parenthood?

“Bewildered!” Chen, now a mother of three, admits. “I feel like [parenting] is testing and learning — I don't know if that’s my tech brain, but it has informed my parenting style. I didn't come into it knowing a whole lot. There’s no instruction book?” she says with a laugh. 

For Chen, a first-generation, Manhattan-raised daughter of Chinese immigrants, witnessing her three children — daughter Ren, 7, and sons Tao, 7, and River, nearly 9 months — grow up also comes with a lot of reflection on her own childhood.

“My parenting style is constantly changing,” Chen tells Yahoo Life. “I encourage my kids to be kind, inquisitive and optimistic. When I look at my children, I think back to the way my parents laid this foundation for me, and I look at Ren, Tao and River and it feels very poignant.”

When she’s not focused on her role as Mom (recently battling COVID with her entire family), or overseeing fashion and shopping at Instagram, Chen is probably writing. During the pandemic, while pregnant with baby River, Chen wrote I Am Golden — a children's book she hopes starts conversations.

“I wanted to write a book about Asian joy,” she explains. “I Am Golden is about joy and celebration — and the very talented illustrator, Sophie Diao, and I talked a lot about making sure the joy was apparent on the book cover. I’ve written eight books — but this one is super-personal.”

She adds that her writing style is "more lyrical" this time around, in contrast to previous books like the popular Juno Valentine series.

"It's my family’s story," she says. "I’m nervous to show my parents! It’s their story!”

She adds, "The illustrations in the book are based on my father’s family’s photos. I never got to meet his family; this book is basically a love letter to their immigration story. It’s also like a note to me as a kid: telling the kid version of me it’s OK. You’ll one day have peace and joy in who you are.”

What’s more, with three young kids, Chen has instant insight into her target audience, something she doesn't take for granted, especially with the release of her latest book and the new Janie and Jack clothing collaboration that it's inspired. Both launched to coincide with Lunar New York.

“It’s been amazing to have this built-in focus group for the books and clothes,” Chen admits. “My daughter is very outspoken and she immediately gravitated towards the sweatsuit set. She didn’t want to take off the sample! It’s been great to have the focus group; it’s so fun: the kids weighed in on choosing the color gold for the book cover."

As an author and shopping pro, it's little wonder that Chen considers books to be essential items for kids. But the woman who frequently fields requests for shopping credits and product picks from her devoted Instagram followers is discerning when it comes to other so-called parenting "must-buys."

"I do not believe in wipe warmers!" she says. "In theory I get it but in practice ... I say skip that and in general, know that kids go through phases. Look for used or gently loved [items]. I’d also say that there’s something beautiful about buying something your kid’s kids might use, that stands the test of time. A gold dress, a keepsake item. My kids got my old Where’s Waldo books!"

With the release of I Am Golden also comes a book tour for Chen — and an adjustment to getting dressed up again. The former fashion editor notes that self-care involves accessorizing, but advises going slow as we all enter this post-pandemic phase of dressing again.

“I want to wear cute clothes again but I’m just exhausted,” Chen admits, adding that the bar has been set low. “Real clothes, for me, is denim. Before that, it was maternity leggings for 10 months straight. Adjusting to the reality of being at home, taking care of kids 24 hours a day — the struggle is very real for parents and for women right now. Take baby steps in doing things that make you feel good; it might be a pair of shoes or a headband, but I think we’re at the point in the pandemic where, if you can, we need to treat ourselves.”

When asked how she makes time for herself, Chen laughs. Time is precious, but she sets small goals and has tiny rituals which bring a sense of peace and order to her days and nights.

“One ritual that’s precious to me is that I read every night,” Chen says. “I’ll read sometimes just one page, sometimes 10. But I use it to reset my brain; holding something printed on paper is very grounding for me, almost metaphysical.”

Another nighttime routine involves skincare, and while Chen admits to not wearing much makeup these days, she tries to work in products and tools where she can.

“Just the ritual of washing my face, putting on a moisturizer. Maybe I'll roll my face a bit. Those teeny-tiny things you do to claim time for yourself add up. It’s hard but every day you have to do something to give back to yourself. Set the bar low and you can exceed expectations and it feels good.”

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