Opinion

No, Chirlane McCray is not a bad mom

One mom defends Chirlane McCray’s comments about "mommy guilt" in the New York Post.

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Photo: The New York Post

“Bad Mom” screams the front page of the New York Post.

The photo is of New York City’s First Lady. But it could be any of us.

We are all bad moms: judged by each other, by society and definitely by the tabloids.

Chirlane McCray’s crime? She found the first year of motherhood difficult, and she wasn’t sure that she wanted to spend every single day with her baby. In other words: the transition from full-time career woman to working mom was fraught with guilt. She even said so to another New York publication.

In her “astonishingly frank” interview that is “bound to horrify most moms,” McCray is refreshingly honest about her guilt and the push-pull of new motherhood. She worked, and enjoyed it—she loves her daughter and also her job.

Read more: Battling work-life balance >

I didn’t find her admissions horrifying. I found them honest, raw, and maybe even a little sad. It sounds like she could have used a group of supportive friends around her to tell her that it was OK to feel conflicted and guilty, since those are the dual emotions of modern parenting.

“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 one-month birthday, two-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 says she still feels guilt over that first year of her daughter’s life—and probably always will. A parenting expert once said (and I feel guilty because I can’t locate that exact quote): just because you feel guilt, doesn’t mean that there is anything to feel guilty about. The New York Post chose to assume that just because there is parental guilt then there must be someone at fault, too.

My guess is that McCray feels guilty about many things. If she is like most mothers (and parents) she feels guilty about yesterday, and the day before that, and last summer, and that time she forgot to make the capes for Halloween, and the time before that and so on. (I may be transferring some of my own guilt here.)

Read more: How to deal with mom guilt >

Expressing our guilt and conflicted feelings about parenting doesn’t make us bad moms, it makes us human. And, last time I checked, having emotions, talking about our feelings and thinking about how to do things better doesn’t make us bad moms. It makes us better ones.

The New York Post implies that McCray neglected her daughter, which led to her daughter’s depression and drug problems as an adult. The Mayor of New York is now demanding an apology from the Post and the New York Daily News, saying: “The whole situation of how the newspapers handled this is disturbing and inappropriate.”

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It’s not like tabloids do mothers a very good service, with their focus on women’s bodies (especially new mothers) and exploiting every tiny mistake. But they are a reflection of how mothers are perceived in our society.

I actually have no idea if Chirlane McCray is a “good mom” or a “bad mom.” I have to assume that she is a mix of both—just like the rest of us.

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them are fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman.