November 25, 2015

Classic Post: Chirlane McCray is one of us: The bad mom police strike again

This post was originally published by Over the Cuckoos' Nest on May 28, 2014.

Chirlane McCray Is One of Us:The Bad Mom Police strike again

Angelina Jolie has made waves over the past few weeks with her comments on celebrity moms versus “regular” moms. As a fan of Jolie to begin with, I am wholeheartedly impressed by her grounded comments. We say “check your privilege”—obviously Angelina understands this completely.

What I am truly shocked by, however, is how few reports have connected the comments to their source matter. Jolie did not answer that question from a bubble, and her comments on moms actually had far less to do with celebrity moms than with one mom in particular.

Jolie was asked, specifically, about “controversial” comments made by New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray.

Oh what the world can do with just 9 lines of text, comprised of 149 words.

In an article in New York Magazine, author Lisa Miller profiled McCray as saying:
Chiara was born in December 1994, seven months after the wedding, when Bill was working on Francisco Diaz’s state assembly campaign. McCray had always imagined a life with children, but as with so many women, the reality of motherhood—the loss of independence, the relentlessness of the responsibility—was difficult. “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.”
Most parents probably read this, and think, “God, I’ve been there.” This woman was facing a relatively new marriage, a husband in a high pressure job, while herself adjusting to cutting back or leaving the workforce…and now there’s this little human being that needs her nearly constantly.

“Difficult” is really a nice way of putting it.

And yet, despite the number of us that could probably completely understand where McCray was coming from, the Bad Mom police were on the job again.

The New York Daily News devoted 12 lines and 144 words, out of a story of just 354 words, to the subject. For reference, there were 443 lines and 5,848 words in the initial story—most of which were dealing with so much more than McCray as a mother.

Instead of focusing on her as a whole woman, with an identity and achievements of her own, however, these publications opted to jump in and attempt to use what they consider controversial comments to mobilize public opinion against McCray, especially in light of her daughter’s battle with depression, alcoholism and marijuana use. Instead of allowing McCray to be a person in her own right, the Bad Mom Police™ jumped in to reduce her to the sum total of her ability to mother.

The New York Post was especially vicious. Their 409 words and 36 lines on the subject jumped in with a headline declaring that McCray said “I Was a Bad Mom”. They loaded their article with strong language. McCray “neglected” her daughter, for instance. They wondered what turned her around—the untold implication, of course, being that if she wasn’t fit to mother, how could she be fit to do other things, without some road to Damascus experience?

Even McCray’s defenders pointed the finger. Fox News posted a blog that decried the vilifying of her—but at the same time, pointed out that she had a hand in it, because she’d opened her mouth as the wife of a public figure.

But, contrary to what they seem to think—the New York Post actually assumes mothers will be “horrified” by these comments—most moms I know (your current blog writer included) understand these feelings all too well. The Washington Post put it well in their post on the subject:
Yet ambivalence is what most mothers know so well. At once, you are seized by sheer joy and knocked off balance. You cease being who you once were in a way that most fathers don’t. The circumference of your life narrows, the horizon shifts, in a way that most fathers’ lives don’t. Or at least not nearly as much. So, yes, there is exhilaration and wonder. There is also exhaustion, a touch of terror, whirring resentment and mournful bewilderment.
Having children, mothering children, is not some magical experience that we automatically fall in love with. It’s a complex journey, one that mothers need support and understanding to make it through.

So to McCray today, I’d like to say: There are those that would roast you for these comments, but not me. I’ve been there too. It's always good to see another parent say it. Thank you.

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