The first lady of New York City is being trashed by the tabloids for the crime of committing honesty.
Chirlane McCray dared say out loud what I’ve heard plenty of women say privately: that having a baby is frustrating and exasperating and sometimes all you want to do is bury yourself in the adult world of work. Guess what, some dads feel that way too,
In a New York Magazine cover story on Mayor Bill deBlasio’s wife, Lisa Miller quoted McCray as reflecting on life after her daughter was born:
"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."
She was, in other words, talking about the tough transition that many new parents face, especially those who are immersed in the professional world.
The New York Post reduced this to a screaming headline: “I WAS A BAD MOM.”
The New York Daily News went with: “Didn’t Want To Be A Mom.”
The mayor has demanded an apology. He’d better not hold his breath.
Tabloids exist to be provocative, but these headlines seem particularly mean-spirited. The Post just doesn’t like the city’s liberal new mayor, the first Democrat to occupy City Hall after 20 years of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, so doesn’t need much encouragement to whack him.
The melodrama is all the more poignant in light of the fact that the couple’s daughter Chiara has struggled with drug addiction.
But it’s not entirely the tabloids’ fault. Chirlane McCray gave them the ammunition. They are using her words.
When you are the spouse of a major public figure, you have to choose your words carefully in today’s unforgiving media culture. That may be unfair, but it’s the cold reality. The argument that this was a small piece of a lengthy article doesn’t hold water. Every novice reporter can pick out the newsworthy bits from an endless profile. When the Washington Post reported in 1984 that Jesse Jackson had referred to New York as “Hymietown,” it was buried in something like the 47th paragraph. No one remembers the other paragraphs.
And it’s not like McCray is some naïve bystander. The New York piece says that “the deBlasios have been described as virtual co-mayors.” And she knows there is high interest in their partnership, described as a “tall, goofy white dude married to a tiny, black former lesbian.”
Jennifer Senior, author of a best-selling book on parenting, says:
“By deeming McCray’s words newsworthy, the Post and News betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of modern parenthood, of their audience, of the world as it currently exists. They believed McCray’s words were somehow inflammatory — ‘bound to horrify most moms’ as the Post put it. But what if the opposite were true? What if most mothers read McCray’s words and felt a flicker of identification, if not full empathy?”
My bet is that most women know what McCray meant, despite the inflammatory headlines.