Photograph by Walt Unks/Winston-Salem Journal via AP
Earlier this week, Chelsea Clinton Mezvinsky's toddler, Charlotte, had her first day of nursery school. Charlotte's father was present for the occasion. Chelsea was not. Cue the judgment. The Daily Mail, naturally, delivered.
"Chelsea Clinton Misses Daughter's First Day of School."
Let's get this straight: It is newsworthy that a working mother misses her daughter's first day of school for an important, high-profile engagement. Also? We're now calling toddler daycare "school." Last thing: Marc, who is not just Chelsea's husband but Charlotte's father, doesn't qualify for drop-off duty. Summary: Chelsea Clinton is a bad mom.
Outrage over the subtext of the Daily Mail's piece resulted in a next day change of the headline to "It takes a village! Chelsea Clinton's husband Marc and their nanny take Charlotte to her first day of preschool—which she misses to campaign for her sick mom." But the article still contained others nuggets of non-news like this one: "Chelsea was unable to go with her daughter, who turns two this month, because she was campaigning for Hillary in North Carolina."
Thanks for the update, Daily Mail, but drop-off is just not news. Ask every other nanny-employing parent in the NYC area.
On any given day, mothers across America have to be away from their children to tend to their professions, to care for other children or sick relatives, or sometimes, even, to get a haircut. Work, careers, life can interfere with doctors' appointments, first days of school, recitals, etc. Just ask a dad. The lucky parents among us can outsource family support to trusted caregivers. Or, in the case of Chelsea's family, let Dad oversee it.
I mean, if Marc had missed the first day of nursery school drop-off, this would not have been considered news. If Donald Trump had missed Baron's first day of school? Also not news. (Did he miss Baron's first day of school? See? Not news.)
As for the nanny? Well, when your grandmother is running for president and your father is a former president, I can assume that they probably aren't around to watch the baby very often.
The story also said that "presumably" Aiden, the couple's baby, is at home with another nanny. It's also possible that the baby is with Chelsea, but reporters would rather go with the presumable situation, the one that fits a bad mom narrative, the one that underscores the point that Chelsea wasn't there for Charlotte, that she hires a nanny to raise her kids. (Imagine! Wealthy New Yorkers with a nanny. It's unthinkable.)
Coverage of political candidates—especially Hillary Clinton—is out of control. It has reached a new, very low point, and so it's no surprise that her grandchildren are fair game. But this headline is particularly dangerous, since it reinforces the lose-lose situation all moms in the U.S. face. If we're not at drop-off, we're "missing out." If we are on our phones during drop off, we are selfish and negligent. If we have careers, we should not make mention of the kids at work but, actually, we shouldn't be a work if we have kids, so.
We are expected to be in two places at once and never miss as much as teeth-cleaning.
We expect our daughters to change the world, but we refuse to accept that if they also want children (which they totally don't have to want, BTW), it will require them to be away from the children from time to time. It will also require having partners who will take on all parental duties and sometimes will (gasp!) support their partners who have high-powered roles. They might even become stay at home dads!
We want our daughters to be #bossgirls, but how will they negotiate peace treaties and run board meetings if we treat their partners as if they are second-class parents who themselves need constant supervision to perform their parental duties.
When Hillary Clinton said, "It takes a village to raise a child," I don't think she meant fathers are part of "the village," because, in fact, fathers are equal parenting partners not helpers or babysitters.
Parenting is such a challenging balancing act. Maybe Chelsea even felt guilty.
As for the nanny? Well, when your grandmother is running for president and your father is a former president, I can assume that they probably aren't around to watch the baby very often. Raising children requires help and support, whether it's free support from relatives or paid help.
But Chelsea's a big girl, she can handle the criticism. What's truly hurtful about the Daily Mail's play for readers is that there are millions of parents across our country who don't have options. They have to work, because failing to will mean a loss of income, which affects their ability to pay bills like rent and childcare. They don't need this kind of guilt piled on them, they don't need to be made to feel like awful parents, because they can't be there for whatever the Daily Mail decides is an important milestone event.
Parenting is such a challenging balancing act. Maybe Chelsea even felt guilty. But her mother is running for president, and she is playing a key role in the campaign. I've experienced the guilt that comes with motherhood myself, those times I miss bedtime, or an annual well-baby check-up.
But you know what? Dad handles these things with ease, and my child feels nurtured and cared for. He's loved by us, his grandparents and his daycare providers. What matters is that he is loved. I'm sure Chelsea would agree.
It's 2016, and there are just some things we need to get over. Working parents not being able to attend every single event is just the start.