The New York Post called Chirlane McCray, wife of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, a ‘bad mom’ for not spending every minute with her child. Jennifer Benjamin had a few words to say about that.
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 shortcuts.
Unfortunately though, this article, put out by the New York Post, 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?
Jennifer Benjamin is an LA-based freelance writer and editor with over thirteen years of experience writing for national magazines and websites like Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, SELF, Parents Magazine, The Stir and Daily Glow. More important, she’s a Mommy to identical twin boys, as well as an avid cook, a terrible housewife, and a loungewear enthusiast. Find her on Twitter @JennyBenjamin or Facebook.