Greta Lee has starred in a wide variety of roles, including Nora in this year’s film fest fave Past Lives to Maxine in Netflix’s mind-bending series Russian Doll and Stella Bak on Apple TV+’s The Morning Show. As as an actress, Lee can’t possibly be boxed into one genre. And at home, she’s not about to ascribe to just one parenting style.
“I'm a working mom, so that's a big part of it for me, and in terms of parenting style — it’s just a blend,” says Lee, who shares sons Apollo, 6, and Raphael, 4, with writer husband Russ Armstrong. She’s aiming to nurture both her boys' “sense of responsibility and pride in their independence," Lee adds, though she admits that "finding ways to do that is an ever-moving target for sure.”
In thinking about how she and Armstrong are raising their boys, Lee can’t help but look back at her own childhood, which involved moving all around the country before settling in Los Angeles when she was in elementary school. “I came from a really traditional home where my dad was working, and my mom was a housewife,” explains Lee, whose parents emigrated from South Korea before she was born. While her mother and father could at times be helicopter parents to Lee and her two siblings, she also experienced “the opposite, where we were left completely alone and not parented,” explains the star. “Mom and Dad were too busy trying to make ends meet, going out and working.”
The positive side of that experience, according to Lee, is that she “learned to be independent, and how to put together meals” for herself, even as a little kid, which led to a “sense of ownership and pride.”
Yet, one of the most “consistently traumatic elements” of often being the new kid thanks to her family’s many moves was fellow students’ reactions to her lunch. “I had a very Korean lunch, and it wasn't something that I felt was weird or different, until I got the reaction that I did from some of my classmates,” remembers Lee. Looking back, she feels “heartbroken” that these lunches were beautifully crafted with traditional foods that she and her family loved to eat then and now, such as mandoo, kongjorim, mumallaengi and myulchi.
It’s a huge reason why Lee was “so in” when approached by Postmates to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month with a campaign called School Lunch, for which Lee worked with a Los Angeles chef to come up with a new version of the food she ate as a kid and was teased about. The result: a kimchi pozole with hominy and pork belly from the restaurant Yangban, which L.A.-based Postmates customers can order through the app in early May. Lee also loved that Postmates is giving to Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition that tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning and child bullying against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.
The campaign has spurred Lee to reflect on the fact that her kids’ experiences around eating traditional Korean foods are “just so different” from her own. “Food from all over the world has been embraced so much more within our American culture, and it’s become exciting to try different kinds of foods,” she says. “I feed [Korean] foods to my kids without any issue. They’re not attached to any sort of shame or embarrassment at all. They're so normalized. And it's just so great to see how far we've come.”
Lee takes pride not only in the fact that her sons enjoy Korean food, but that it’s a “multi-culti table” at which everyone eats the same dish. “We are big advocates of giving them the same thing we eat,” she notes. “We eat a lot of rice. There's a lot of soup going on. We'll do ssam, which is like a Korean wrap where you get your veggies in. There’s something called ssamjang, which is a salty, fermented soybean paste. My oldest is a self-proclaimed vegetarian right now, so there's tofu, there's eggs.” They’ll also have taco nights, curry and spaghetti and meatballs.
And just as they are involved in making their own food, the boys also have chores, explains Lee. “Our 4-year-old, at the end of every meal, busses his own plates,” she says, noting that her kids also unload the dishwasher. “There's a lot of watering of the garden that happens. They each have their watering cans. It’s important for us to have them participate in domestic life, in keeping things running in the house, and not assuming that everything's just going to be done for them.”
Zooming out for a big picture perspective of that domestic life she shares with her sons and husband, Lee muses about what “continues to be an awesome surprise” about motherhood: how much she’s remained exactly who she is.
“I had always assumed that once I became a mother, I would turn into a different person, this new version of myself that will be better, more organized,” explains Lee. “I thought I would expand and become an improved version of myself. This is humbling, but the reality of the situation is, oh no, you're just yourself. And there's no sort of sense or point in trying to optimize or improve or pretend to be an entirely new person once you become a mother.” Not to mention that, as she jokes, ”your kids will see right through that!”
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