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Oh Joy! founder Joy Cho on 'parenting with a bridge of both cultures' as a first-generation Asian American

Joy Cho opens up about parenting. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Joy Cho opens up about parenting. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

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

When graphic and textile designer Joy Cho started blogging back in 2005, she likely wasn’t dreaming of a huge social following, let alone product lines and brand partnerships. Yet today, Cho is the founder and creative director of the lifestyle brand and design studio Oh Joy!, not to mention the most followed person on Pinterest (15 million followers and counting). The blogger-turned-entrepreneur is also known for creating colorful patterns and special-edition collabs with brands like Target, Keds and Microsoft and made Time’s list of the most influential people on the internet.

Juggling projects and balancing life also includes the role as mother to two young daughters, Ruby and Coco. Yahoo Life recently caught up with the Philadelphia native from her home in Los Angeles and talked about immigrant parents — Cho is Thai-American and her husband, Bob, is Korean-American — being a girl mom, why she values communication and her new partnership with Bounty.

What was parenting like during the pandemic? What did you learn?

It was insane! For me, I was not equipped to handle what [happened last year]. You go into it thinking it’s going to be a couple of months…

It honestly challenged me a lot — as a parent, as a person, as a partner to my husband. It was challenging (as it was for everyone) and inevitably, it made us all stronger and better, and made us communicate about topics we would not have had to before and approach things with our kids and have conversations we wouldn't have had [otherwise]. I think we’ll look back and know we got through hard times, but I'm glad we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel because, boy, it was hard!

What have you learned as a girl mom?

I can’t compare because I don't have boys, but having girls is an emotional ride and I learned that even more during the pandemic. I realized just when you get comfortable, you still have no idea [what to expect].

I also realized how much they listen to you and pick up on what you do. I was always trying to echo what I wanted my kids to see, but I didn't realize how much they were watching or listening. So just being aware of that. If you're doing something you wouldn't want your kids to do — whether it’s your tone, or how you react to things, how you deal with good news or bad news — your kids are always watching. I think girls, especially, are more in tune.

How would you describe your approach to parenting?

Both my husband and I are first generation Asian Americans and we both grew up with parents who definitely had a very specific way of parenting. Some of it we’re on board with — there’s a level of strictness and expectation that we have that's probably cultural — but we also know that some of that was beyond realistic and we’re also American.

We come to parenting with a bridge of both cultures. We’re a work in progress. We’re strict but loving; structured but loving. We’re probably on the more structured side, but at the same time, we can be fun too! We don't put pressure on our kids to get certain grades, we just want our kids to be happy. It’s a mix: There’s a lot that we super-respect and made us who we are and we want to continue with. It is the bridging of culture, [combining] what we learned from our immigrant Asian parents with how we are as Asian Americans living here.

As such a public figure on the internet, how do you tune out parent shamers?

I don't have my kids on my social media that often anymore. I think that feedback does come with how often people see you as a parent, so I don't get very much [parent shaming]. While I am on social media, I think I’m spared from a lot of it because I’m not a “mom influencer.”

That's not to say it’s not upsetting and I’ve certainly dealt with negative comments outside of parenting. You have to get to a point where you realize it's not about you. It’s hard because we’re sensitive people but you get used to it; it’s part of this job that we have to manage.

The Oh Joy! design guru's collaborations include everything from story books and pajamas to Bounty paper towels. (Photo: Lily Glass for Oh Joy!)
The Oh Joy! design guru's collaborations include everything from story books and pajamas to Bounty paper towels. (Photo: Lily Glass for Oh Joy!)

How do you manage to carve out some time for yourself?

I’ve been very clear, especially during this pandemic, with my husband to say when I need a break, even if it’s 30 minutes by myself in my room while he’s with the kids. We haven't had much alone time; we’ve all been home stuck together and I'm a person who needs solo time by myself. If I need it, I say it, and find a way to get it — whether it’s out driving around, running an errand or something like that.

It’s about communication: stating to your partner what you need and what’s good for your mental health. People tend to keep it inside and it’s important within a family to communicate it. Even to your kids too: “Mommy needs to be alone. It’s not that I don't love you!”

Do you have any parenting advice?

Communicate more! Let your family know what it is that you need.

What’re you looking forward to most in this post-pandemic time?

Outdoor entertaining has been [my family’s] favorite thing to do now that we can see people again. I’m making sure I have all of my [summer] must-haves on hand; we have an amazing partnership with Bounty paper towels [launching July 1 at Sam's Club]. I’ve had Bounty in my life my entire life and having our own version is really fun and great timing for summer. My team and I designed the graphics and the packaging — they really let us bring the Oh Joy! to the product. It's an everyday thing that people use — and it’s so functional.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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