Why Chelsea Needed the Perfect Mom

In her DNC speech, Chelsea Clinton said Hillary was “always, always there.” Working moms know there’s no way that could be true. So why did she say it?

chelsea clinton

From all angles, the Democratic convention was deemed a smashing success. Even conservatives agreed. As a woman, it was a historic experience. This March I lost my mom, a gargantuan feminist in her own right — she would have loved to see this moment. After growing up with a “Smurfette for President” poster on the wall of my childhood bedroom, it is a profound thrill that my own daughters are growing up with a real woman for President poster on their walls – and one we can take pride in.

Yet through an almost flawless four-day convention — and a tear-at-your-heartstrings show of parental pride from Bill and Hillary, as they watched their only child take the stage — there was something that bothered me. Like a tag on a new shirt. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, but then I woke up realizing that it was.

It was in Chelsea’s speech. Specifically, when she said this:

“Every single memory I have of my mom is that, regardless of what was happening in her life, she was always, always there for me. Every soccer game, every softball game, every piano recital, every dance recital. Sundays spent together at church and the local library. Countless Saturdays finding shapes in the clouds…

“Whenever my mom was away for work, which thankfully didn’t happen very often, she left notes for me to open every day she was gone: all stacked neatly together in a special drawer, with a date on the front of each one, so I would know which note to open on which day.”

How could this Hillary, as mom, possibly exist?

Boatload of Guilt
Chelsea’s speech drudged up a boatload of guilt for the moms who do have to travel for business. What was echoing in their ears as Chelsea spoke? “Whenever my mom was away for work which thankfully didn’t happen very often...”

This speech drudged up a boatload of guilt for the moms who have no flexibility to leave the office before 6pm. What was echoing in their ears as Chelsea spoke? “She was always, always there for me. Every soccer game, every softball game, every piano recital, every dance recital.”

Now, I am certain that as a working mom herself, Chelsea did not intend to make every working mom in the room feel guilty. And given how the media shredded her mom for that “baking cookies” reference in 1992, it isn’t surprising that 24 years later, Chelsea would feel compelled to advertise Hillary as the picture of motherly perfection. It was a necessary political pledge and neither mother or daughter are to blame. 

What a Good Mother Is
I do fault our society’s absurd expectations of mothers.

Marianne Cooper, sociologist at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, cites a study showing that stay at home moms in the 1970s spent as much time on primary childcare as working mothers in the year 2000.  

“Chelsea needed to do this is because we have an intensive mothering standard for what a good mother is,” she told me in a telephone interview. “It is a standard of perfection that is unattainable, but women are always chasing it.”

Moms Feel Guilty About What They’ve Already Missed — and All They’re Going To
Jessica Castelli, a web developer and Long Island mother of two — who commutes one hour a day to her full-time job, while her husband commutes two — told me that the speech made her, “feel guilty to think about the events that I’ve already missed and how many more I’ll probably miss in the future, despite my best efforts not to.”

She and her husband had to miss her daughter’s Kindergarten end-of-year performance, for example, because they’d both taken off days the previous week to stay home with their little girl while she recovered from a virus.

“Later that night, my daughter said we were the only parents who weren’t there. Broke my damn heart, but what other choice did we have?” she told me. “I honestly can’t see how Hillary could have attended every single event while working, unless her schedule was extremely flexible.”

Highly unlikely.

Mikell Wilcox, an Assistant Comptroller in Denver didn’t buy it, but she understands Chelsea’s intention. “I am a hundred percent certain the Hillary missed a soccer game once in awhile,” she said. Mikell speculates that the electorate is too uncomfortable with a female Commander-in-Chief, compelling Chelsea to, “assure the public that [Hillary] still fulfilled all of her mom role, all of the time.”

Let’s Not Apologize for Living Life
As a devoted mom, I do my best to make it to the important stuff and I sometimes fail. Recently I forgot to add a school play to my calendar and had to miss it for a business trip. I held my breath as I broke the news to my 8-year-old daughter, Ruby, that I wouldn’t be there. She started to get upset with me and before I could respond, my 10-year-old looked at her and said: “Mommy is at most things.” I breathed again.

We all know how hard Hillary worked throughout Chelsea’s childhood, and we can all take heart in knowing that she must have missed some stuff – she had to. We all miss some things. And that’s okay.

Moreover, it isn’t only work that prevents us from being at everything. I know a mom who missed her child’s first steps because she was at her older son’s soccer game. I know a mom who missed a dance recital because she was away with her partner on their anniversary trip. That’s life. Let’s unapologetically live it.

Samantha Ettus is a work/life expert whose goal is to find the spark within each one of us and turn it into a fire. She is a best-selling author, a keynote speaker, a Harvard MBA and host of a nationally syndicated call-in radio show. Sam’s fifth book, The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe for Success and Satisfaction, is available for pre-order now.

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