Former professional hockey player Julie Chu has many titles. She is a Patty Kazmaier Award winner; the second-most decorated U.S. woman in Olympic Winter Games history; and a four-time Olympic medalist. She's also a two-time Clarkson Cup winner, a CWHL All-Star, and a five-time IIHF World Championships gold medalist.
In November 2017, Chu added a new title: parent. She and fellow former pro hockey player Caroline Ouellette welcomed their first child, Liv, that year, just a few short months after Caroline's playing career ended with a Clarkson Cup win with Les Canadiennes de Montréal. Their growing family expanded earlier this year as they welcomed their second child, Tessa, in May.
It's a title that Chu is clearly thrilled to have - even if it may be challenging at times.
"We're just adding more love into our family atmosphere," she said. "Yes, it's chaotic at times, and as parents, sometimes we feel like we're losing, and that's just the truth. It's like the kids are winning and we're losing - but then things just settle."
"Being able to share our love with our kids and see that love being reciprocated, and then just watching them grow and develop daily," she added. "That's been really fun. Seeing our daughters grow up as individuals but then also how they interact together."
A Good Example
Chu and Ouellette both work for Concordia University's women's hockey team. With Chu currently on maternity leave, Ouellette has taken over her spot as head coach. Although the team isn't playing right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it's a perfect fit with the Stingers and the Chu-Ouellette family, and Concordia has been incredibly accommodating and supportive of their family.
"We have enough flexibility in our coaching careers to be able to pass on what we need to, but then also have the balance of being able to work from home if we need to as well," Chu said. "In a lot of ways, it wasn't that tough of a transition. We still were able to follow a lot of similar things, but now when we've got game days, it got a little bit busier."
"I'm very fortunate that at Concordia, in the work environment I'm in, I have a really great and supportive athletic director that understands the family atmosphere and understands I'm going to probably bring my daughter to the rink," she added. "If we have a home game, she's going to be around us. We're still going to prepare and do everything that we need to, and then once the game starts, we'll pass her off."
"Having my daughter around our team was really important and special to myself and to Caroline, but we found that our players really loved it also," she said. "I think it was a good example for them that they can find the balance of being able to have a career and having a family and make it work. Once in a while it's a little bit chaotic, but it is possible to have both of them and excel at both of them."
Chu has found that part of balancing her coaching career with parenthood is simply being honest with her players about the realities of it all.
"We're not afraid to tell our players if it was an overwhelming day, or if I'm late," she said. "We typically have a video session at 7:40 AM, so it's already early for everyone, but some mornings it's just harder... the kids don't cooperate, or at the time, it was just Liv to get her out the door and to the daycare. I don't like being late; I want to make sure I'm on time, but I came in a couple minutes late one day and I go, guys, I'm really sorry, I apologize. The kids were grinning and they all kind of giggled."
Chu said she and Ouellette feel blessed to be able to find a balance between parenthood and having careers in hockey, and being able to pass on wise words and be role models for their players is an important part of what they do.
"We talk to them often to say, you know, it's not always easy, but we love it," she said. "Hopefully you guys know that if you want to have kids – we don't assume everyone wants to, and that's okay too. But if you want to, you can make it work. You can have the career and the path that you want, and be able to do what you love and love your family."
"It's an incredible experience," Chu said. "You're going to be able to balance having a career in the same way that they've learned how to be excellent student-athletes, and oftentimes having a job on top of that. I think we can be role models in a lot of ways. We can tell how to be and give advice, but I think being role models and them seeing great examples of strong women and men that are able to be fully committed parents and have careers as well, and knowing that you don't have to choose one or the other, but you can do both. We're blessed that we've been able to do that."
In the same sense, it's not just about Chu being a role model for her players; those same players are also serving as role models for Liv and Tessa, too.
"I turned to all of them and said, do you guys realize that you're going to have a huge influence on my daughter? You guys are her role models and you're going to help shape her into who she is," Chu said. "And I couldn't be prouder to have her around you."
"I think when our players heard that, I already knew the influence they have on others and their ability as older athletes to give back to the community, go to schools, teach younger players how to play hockey," she added. "But I think it hit home for them to know how much we believed that they were going to be great influences and that we want our children to be around them."
"I think that's a good message. When you can have great role models, you can see them," she said. "Is it always easy? No, but it's possible. And if you want and you enjoy both, you can find ways to make it work."
Plenty of Support
Of course, Chu recognizes and is quick to acknowledge the support she and Ouellette have had over the past few years, from Caroline's parents coming to help when Liv was born, to their supportive crew at Concordia and friends willing to watch their kids during hockey games.
Quebec's government-subsidized childcare, combined with Canada's parental leave laws, also benefit the Chu-Ouellette family. Chu was able to take a full paid maternity leave after welcoming Tessa in May. (You can read more about Canada's parental leave in my first piece in this series, where I spoke to sports journalist Kristen Anderson.)
The government-subsidized daycare that is associated with Concordia University costs the family only about $8.35 per day in 2020, which can include a full day of care (7:00 AM until as late as 6:00 PM), with lunch and two snacks for Liv. Non-subsidized daycares also exist in Quebec, with families entitled to a refundable tax credit for childcare expenses equivalent to a percentage between 75% and 26% of eligible childcare expenses paid, depending on income.
Read more about Quebec's childcare services here.
(In October, it was announced that Quebec will receive $137 million of the Government of Canada's $625 million child care Safe Restart Fund to ensure affordable, high-quality and flexible child care as the province works to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.)
"Family that want to have that extra support, they don't have to pay $2,000 or $3,000 a month, depending on where you are, to get great care, great education or a great environment for our children," she said.
The Chu-Ouellette family recognizes the blessings of this childcare model, in stark contrast to those structures in places like Boston (where Chu's brother lives) or Toronto (where they have many friends). Although they considered finding family members to help out rather than putting Liv in daycare for five days a week, they're confident now that they made the right choice.
"I realized how much she loved it," Chu said. "The social interaction and how great the educators there are... it changed my mentality in some ways, to realizing what a good to experience it is for our daughter. When she's one or two or three years old, it's something that she needs. You see the development, you see her ability to learn to share. Our system here allows families to be able to still work if they want to and have affordable and good daycare."
Parenting – and Coaching – in a Pandemic
Chu may technically be on maternity leave right now, but she hasn't strayed far from Concordia. Of course, having the interim head coach in the same household definitely makes sticking around the team a lot easier.
"She could be a head coach anywhere she wanted," Chu said of Ouellette. "She does an incredible job, and we're fortunate that she works with our program and now is able to lead, especially during this difficult time where everything is evolving. No one has a manual about how to coach in this kind of environment, but she's doing a great job."
"We live five minutes from the rink, and I still have the ability to help out here and there when I can," she added. "Obviously there's two kids, so I might not be able to hop on one of the team's Zoom calls when we have two of our vocal little kids in the background crying. It's been fun to at least be involved, at least get a chance to run some video sessions and hop on some Zoom calls when it fits."
"Concordia is a very special place for me and for our family," she said. "I couldn't imagine just completely being on maternity leave without having an opportunity to help out a little bit here and there and stay connected to all our players that really are like our family."
Meanwhile, at home, it's balancing Zoom calls with waves of the "terrible twos" phase of Liv's life and a relatively young baby in Tessa; breastfeeding while tempering Liv's jealousy; and overall, enjoying the interactions between her two children that are enough to make anyone's heart warm.
In a normal world, the pair would have typically been on the road recruiting in May. With COVID-19 and the introduction of their second child, the world slowed down, giving the Chu-Ouellette family some "quieter time."
They haven't been able to visit with family or friends much, especially Chu's family in Connecticut. That camaraderie and sense of family, even at the rink, is what's missing, and what they're looking forward to getting back to when the time is right.
"With Liv, we were able to bring her to the rink and be around a lot of people very early on, and it was easy to meld our family life with our work-family life, really quickly," she said. "I think that's been one of the challenging aspects, to not really have that time with our family and friends."
Now, with the hockey season postponed until at least January 15, they're missing the ice, but still enjoying their quality time.
"I guess the silver lining is that we just get more quality and quieter time with our family," Chu said. "Like this weekend, we went to the park for two-plus hours just to have fun and run around, without the notion that maybe today would've been a game day where we would've seen our daughters for a little bit, gone off to the game and then still been able to come back see them."
"I think it's just finding and appreciating the time and that slower pace of life, where we're not running around to a million different things – which we love to do," she added.
(Photo courtesy of the Chu-Ouellette family)