(This essay was originally published on Role/Reboot.)
When I first read the attention-grabbing headline, “NYC’s first lady: I was a bad mom,”
I just assumed it was a joke. These days, the title of “bad mom” is
often used in a more tongue-in-cheek context, as mommy bloggers confess
to imperfect parenting, and share their own get-through-the-day
Unfortunately though, this article, put out by the New York Post two weeks ago,
wasn’t meant to be funny. Instead, the paper was trying to assert that
Chirlane McCray, wife of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, had
confessed to neglecting her children.
The thing is, McCray never said that she was a “bad mom.” The Post said that. She never said that she neglected her children. Again, that was the Post. In a lengthy New York Magazine profile, McCray did talk about life as a new mom, following the birth of her first child, Chiara. But here’s what she actually said:
“I was 40 years old. I had a life. Especially with Chiara—will we
feel guilt forever more? Of course, yes. But the truth is, I could not
spend every day with her. I didn’t want to do that. I looked for all
kinds of reason not to do it. I love her. I have thousands of photos of
her—every 1-month birthday, 2-month birthday. But I’ve been working
since I was 14, and that part of me is me. It took a long time for me to
get into ‘I’m taking care of kids,’ and what that means.”
If that makes her a bad mom, then I guess you better round up the
rest of us tired, overwhelmed, self-doubting new mothers before we have
the chance to royally screw up our poor kids. Twenty years from now, we
wouldn’t want them telling their therapists, “My mom went back to a
successful, fulfilling career she had spent years building! Sometimes
she left me with a sitter so she could get a pedicure! I think she fed
me formula and Cool Ranch Doritos and apples that weren’t
organic—they’re a dirty dozen fruit!” For shame, you mothers, often
spread too thin.
In an extensive, illuminating magazine profile that looked at her
layered life as a writer, advocate, wife, and mother, McCray bravely
admitted that becoming a mom at 40 was jarring to her. After working for
so much of her life, and identifying with that work, she felt lost in
this new role of “Mommy.” It’s a sentiment felt by many women, whether
they’re working full-time or staying at home. Having a child changes
you, and while you wouldn’t trade it for the world, you often wish for
some of your old self back.
For the stay-at-home mom (SAHM) who has swapped work life for Mommy
life, the change can be drastic. Of course, it’s a good gig if you want
it, if you can swing it. That doesn’t mean you don’t sacrifice some part
of yourself, an identity outside of motherhood. Despite the rewards, it
can also be really challenging at times, and many women often feel
trapped, resentful, isolated, even depressed.
I know because I am that mom. I had tried for years to get
pregnant, and finally, I was blessed with healthy twin boys. Except, I
didn’t feel how I thought I was supposed to feel. I felt disconnected,
scared, and wondered when their Mommy was coming to pick them up. I
loved my babies, and would have done anything for them, but I felt lost
in the logistics of feeding and burping and caring for two newborns at
the same time. This detachment lasted for a few months, and then just
kind of faded away. Looking back, I think I must have had some kind of
post-partum blues—very common, very real, and no reflection of my
ability to be a good mother.
Do you think I told anyone though? No, no, I couldn’t possibly.
Mothers aren’t supposed to feel this way. What would people think of me?
Even now, almost three years later, I still struggle with my decision
to be a SAHM. I miss the challenge and brain-boost of a full-time
career. I miss my freedom. What I really miss though is the woman I was
before I had children, the one who would write and hike and travel and
had plenty of things to talk about besides potty training and preschool.
I guess that I miss me, and sometimes wonder if she’s still in there.
Still, if someone called me tomorrow with a 9-to-5 job and a six-figure
salary, I’d probably say, “Not right now, thanks.” As much as I
question, I also know in my heart that this is exactly where I’m
supposed to be right now.
That being said, I have made it a priority to create a life outside
of my kids. Our sitter comes two days a week so I can work and write and
run errands. I also use that time to have lunch with a friend, workout,
and maybe even get a pedicure. And you know what? It’s that time away
from my boys, that time for myself, that actually makes me a better mom.
It’s a break that allows me to push the refresh button. Even if I’m
working, it still feels like “me time.” Then, when I come back to my
kids, it’s with renewed energy and eagerness. I’m happier, and therefore
have more to give to my boys.
There are plenty of moms who don’t need a break or time away or a
chance to reconnect with themselves. Good for them, but not all moms are
built that way, especially those who’ve had their kids later in life. I
don’t believe that spending all of your time with your children makes
you a better mom. I don’t believe that staying home to raise your kids
makes you a better mom either. I think what most women need in order to
be good moms is personal fulfillment, whether they find it through work,
among friends, or painting pottery.
Look, it’s not like McCray left her daughter in some cardboard box at
the firehouse so she could go shopping. She didn’t abandon her child or
leave her home alone or give her to strangers. She was raising her
daughter and loving her, and yes, struggling with the very common
identity crisis that comes with new motherhood. It’s unfortunate that
the Post butchered, twisted, and distorted McCray’s words,
vilifying her in the process. This is a woman who bravely spoke her
truth and said what so many moms are afraid to say. And she got attacked
for it. Guess they showed us what happens when you’re too honest.
When McCray gave birth to her son, Dante, just a few years after she
had Chiara, she was starting to become more comfortable in her role as a
stay-at-home parent. She immersed herself in the lives of her kids and
their community, only returning to work when Dante started elementary
school. As she said, “The kids came first.” Does that sound like a bad
mom to you?