Why New York City's first lady Chirlane McCray is inspiring
Two popular publications in New York recently ran cover stories blasting New York City’s First Lady Chirlane McCray.
The cover of Monday’s edition of the New York Post shows an enlarged image of McCray with the headline, “I was a bad mother.” Meanwhile, the New York Daily News ran a similar photo on their front page with the caption “didn’t want to be a mom.” The twisted, out of context quotes came from a detailed profile on NYC’s first lady in New York Magazine published Sunday.
In the NY Mag piece, which touched on numerous aspects of McCray’s life and personality, McCray reflected on what it was like being an older first-time mom having up until that point enjoyed the independent life of a single, working woman. Her first child was born months after she married New York’s current mayor Bill deBlasio.
“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,” McCray told NY Mag’s Lisa Miller.
“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.”
McCray went on to talk more in-depth about motherhood and what it is like raising children with a husband whose political career often kept him away from home. She became part of a network of mothers in her Brooklyn neighborhood, and they came to rely on one another for friendship and bonding. Her life, in a sense, was like a lot of other mothers who — despite the support of their spouses — are still the primary caregivers for their children.
The New York Post and the New York Daily News published headlines that suggest mothers are only allowed to feel joy and excitement when it comes to child rearing. Anything else is apparently unacceptable and shameful. Parenting is a challenging assignment that no one seems to be fully prepared for, no matter how many times it’s experienced.
McCray expressed an honest and nuanced part of her journey to motherhood, and she should not be chastised for it. Her husband has already called for both tabloids to apologize for the tasteless and misleading headlines.
Beyond the bottom barrel headline-writing of the two publications, it is also worth noting that the original piece had far more interesting excerpts. McCray is an intelligent, beautiful, hard-working go-getter who also happens to be black, dread-locked and shapely (she’s 59 years old with two kids AND an hour-glass figure), and she has an adorably affectionate and equitable marriage to her 6’5 white husband who is the mayor of New York City. Oh, and there’s the well-known fact that she identified as a lesbian right up until she met de Blasio.
Considering all of her accomplishments, there are at least 100 headlines that would have been more accurate and interesting than taking a time machine back to the stone ages to bash mothers.
One of the most prominent aspects of the profile was the emphasis on McCray’s relationship to her husband and his decision-making on the job. She is officially part of the administration as the head of the Mayor’s Fund (a public-private partnership that distributes tens of millions of dollars), but she is also an important advisor to the mayor.
“We do everything as a couple — we think as a couple. We act [as a couple] in terms of everything we try to do for this world,” de Blasio is quoted as saying.
Here we have an interracial power couple featuring a woman whose sexuality seems to be best described as fluid and who is in charge of dispensing tens of millions of dollars into one of the most influential cities in the world.
She’s been a speechwriter, a poet, an editor and a public relations professional. Her life’s path is circuitous and fascinating, and it is unusual to see such candor from a politician’s wife. McCray refuses to hide behind the tried and true politician’s wife model, which is essentially smile, blink and agree. She has an opinion, an interesting story and, like all of us, an ever-evolving identity.