New York Mayor’s wife, Chirlane McCray, has publicly stated to New York Magazine that she had a hard time transitioning from full-time worker to full-time parent when her daughter was born.
I am particularly struck by the assertion that “the disclosure — bound to horrify most moms — shatters the carefully crafted image of de Blasio’s close-knit family.”
Well I’m pretty horrified. Mostly by the fact that journalist Bruce Golding apparently doesn’t spend much time around moms, or close-knit families.
Because let’s be honest. Anyone who has ever done it knows that PARENTING IS HARD, Y’ALL. And taking care of little kids IS OFTEN VERY BORING. Doing it 24/7 is just not for everybody, at every stage in their lives. And it doesn’t have to be.
In a couple of days (or less?), I will officially be on maternity leave with my third infant. I am looking forward to it for all sorts of reasons. I’m excited about meeting my little girl and spending time with her during these precious first weeks. I can’t wait to see her grow and develop. And frankly, it will be a relief to not be pregnant anymore, even if that means being ripped apart and hooked up to a catheter for a day or two.
The weeks at home that I will have with my infant will be a blessing, and a very precious and important time of bonding, in which I will have the privilege of getting to know this amazing new person. It will be a very special time – a very special time that I will also kind of hate sometimes. I have done this before, so I know. I’ll be sleep deprived, recuperating from a pretty significant injury (I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to mesh underwear and ice packs!), and suddenly bound to someone who needs me around the clock for the most mundane and bizarre things (I’ll be honest – the whole idea of breastfeeding has always kind of weirded me out). Anything I WANT to do, for ME, is probably off the table for a while, or at least made too complicated to still be worth doing once I work around nursing, nap schedules, etc.
I have an advantage this time, because I know what to expect and have ideas on how to keep myself from going insane. But the first time, it came as a bit of a shock (as does everything about first-time parenting).
I suddenly went from a full-time job in which I learned and implemented complex processes to solve analytical and creative challenges, to a full-time “job” in which the most intellectually stimulating decision I made every day was which stain treatment to use for a load of laundry.
I went from something I was good at, to something I knew nothing about. I went from feeling valuable and rewarded, to feeling uncertain and obligated. I went from the top of my game to being physically and mentally impaired, and having my body go through changes that were entirely unfamiliar (and uncomfortable).
I genuinely looked forward to returning to the world in which I felt somewhat in control – conversing with adults, solving problems that didn’t involve spit-up.
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.
Once I did return to the office, days that I worked were stress- and guilt-ridden. I SHOULD be with my child. She cried when I dropped her off with the nanny this morning. I’m so tired. I can’t focus on this project. What am I going to do about childcare if it falls through (again)?
But days that I spent with my daughter were endless, mundane, and void of breaks, even during nap time – there was always something that I SHOULD have been doing while the baby was resting, but motivation was pretty hard to drum up. The challenges that came with the territory didn’t always have solutions (Why won’t she nap??? If I have to spend another minute playing “stack the blocks” I’m going to implode), and even if they did, I was too sleep-deprived to figure them out.
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.
It means the work is constant and mundane, but the stakes are higher – you’re suddenly solely responsible for the well-being of another person! A tiny helpless person with constant needs and no self-sufficiency. I couldn’t even take a complete shower without being called away by her cries. (And that was my easy, happy infant. My second child, due to physical ailments, was neither – and didn’t sleep through the night until he was 4.)
My first was an early walker (runner), at which time my role morphed into 24-hour caretaker AND suicide watch, because toddlers have the executive function and impulse control of a drunk monkey, and are nothing if not determined to end their lives at every opportunity.
I also struggled with a form of postpartum anxiety (which I did not know was actually a thing until years later) that I seemed unable to control. So even when the baby was sleeping, I was not. I would lay awake for hours indulging and silently weeping from night terrors. Replaying imagined scenarios in my mind, in which horrible things happened to my baby under my watch; things that I would be either too stupid or powerless to do anything about.
So am/was I a Bad Mom? Bruce Golding and the New York Post might say yes. After all, there are moments and choices I have guilt about. And I will readily admit that there are times I did not WANT to spend another minute with my children, and looked for ways to get a break. I have a full-time job, and expect to again after my maternity leave is over – because I CHOOSE to.
Yet I don’t feel like a Bad Mom. I am pretty secure in the relationship I have with my kids. My friends and family tell me I’m a good mom. My kids tell me I’m a great mom. My family is what I would consider “close-knit.” I adore my little hooligans, and one of the most rewarding pieces of my multifaceted life is being intimately involved in their development. Yet, there is more to me than motherhood, and my devotion to my children is not entirely bound to the number of minutes I spend in the same room with them every day.
Personally, I think I am a Real Mom – a term that has enough room for the good AND the bad. And I suspect that Chirlane McCray was/is also.
Because in the Real world, parenting is too big a role to be reduced to “Good Mom/Bad Mom,” based solely on the desire to spend every waking minute with one’s children. It has to allow for both the joy and wonder of raising little people, and also the admission that sometimes it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. The best way to handle that balance looks different for everyone, and that should be allowed.