Chelsea Clinton says she was flooded with love, gratitude, and protectiveness the moment she became a mom. (Photo: Abdeljalil Bounhar/AP)
Chelsea Clinton has a unique view on parenting — the mom to 11-month-old Charlotte was raised in the world’s biggest spotlight. Now, with her husband Marc Mezvinsky, she’s raising a child just as another member of her family is making a run for the White House. But the onetime first daughter says creating a sense of normalcy is one of her top priorities as a mother. Speaking on behalf of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Clinton opens up to Yahoo Parenting about keeping Charlotte active, the family tradition she’s carrying on with her husband and daughter, and how to avoid feeling judged as a parent. She also touches on the need for better-paid parental leave and childcare, Charlotte’s favorite book, and why it’s necessary to provide young kids with strong female leaders. Like the first female president, perhaps?
You are helping to launch the #Commit2Ten campaign, challenging the nation to add 10 more minutes of physical activity a day. Do you have tips for parents who want to make exercise a family affair?
One tip is to avoid the word “exercise,” which can be viewed as not fun (or a chore), and to explore physical activities outside the gym. We know from research that if families can find ways to engage in physical activity together, kids are more likely to be active. Family fun runs or walks can be a great way to get everyone outside and moving together. Another idea is to break up physical activity into smaller chunks throughout the day. Walking up the stairs instead of taking the elevator, walking around the block after dinner, even doing jumping jacks while watching TV — it all adds up and all makes a difference.
Chelsea Clinton and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, with newborn daughter Charlotte. (Photo: Corbis)
Charlotte’s still young, but what’s your favorite physical activity to do as a family?
Charlotte is clearly very eager to walk as she pulls herself up and crawls increasingly quickly — but as of now, she isn’t there quite yet. Marc and I love taking her in her stroller for walks outside, and we know it will be as much fun, maybe even more fun, when she’s walking beside us.
You have a demanding career, with a lot of travel. How do you juggle that with your other very demanding job — being a mom?
It’s funny because Marc and I think about this all the time, like “what did we do before we were parents?” My whole life has been reoriented around my daughter, in the best and most blessed sense.
As was noted in the Clinton Foundation’s “No Ceilings” report released earlier this year, the U.S. is behind the rest of the world when it comes to paid family leave. Lately, a number of companies — most notably Netflix — have been in the news for their more progressive family leave policies. Do you think they’re on to something?
We know that having more opportunities for mothers and fathers to be engaged with their children from the earliest days onward is not only good for parents and their children, but good for our economies. Almost every country in the world has paid maternity leave; unfortunately the United States is one of the nine that doesn’t have paid maternity leave for moms of new infants. I think the companies making paid maternity leave a priority are absolutely doing the right thing, but it shouldn’t be a case-by-case thing. Women shouldn’t have to look for employment based on which companies will give them leave and which won’t.
Chelsea Clinton, pictured here in Haiti, works with children around the world as vice chair of the Clinton Foundation. (Photo: Dieu Nalio Chery/AP)
Childcare is another hot topic, as costs continue to rise. What needs to be done to help parents afford childcare?
It’s a real problem for parents across the country. Again, I think the companies providing childcare on site are to be commended, but it shouldn’t be a burden that falls only on companies. Universal prekindergarten, which is becoming more of a priority for leaders across the country, is an important step, but we need to keep thinking creatively about how to support families so children get the care and education they deserve at every age and parents can do the work they want to do.
Chelsea Clinton says her parents change diapers, sing lullabies, and help out with Charlotte at bedtime. (Photo: Frank Franklin II/AP)
Speaking of childcare, grandparents are often a great source of help. What kind of grandparents are your parents? Do they babysit and change diapers?
I see my parents so much more now than I did before Charlotte, in the sweetest, most wonderful sense! They’re often conveniently in the neighborhood. … I was very close to my grandmother, and I want Charlotte to have the same deep relationship with her grandparents. It has been an unexpected joy watching them read to her, sing to her, help put her to sleep, and even change her diapers. They clearly love her so much, and that only makes me love them more.
Now that you have a daughter yourself, why do you think it’s important for girls to see women in leadership roles?
I think it’s hugely important that little girls and little boys see women in leadership roles so that they can imagine themselves (or their sisters or friends) as CEOs, astronauts, entrepreneurs, managers, prime ministers, or presidents. Only when every little girl or boy anywhere can imagine their lives as they want — and be given the education and opportunities to see whether their talents and drive match their dreams — will we solve some of our toughest challenges.
You grew up in the public eye. Did that make you nervous about having a child who will find herself in a similar position? Does the public interest in your daughter affect how you parent?
The moment Charlotte was born, I was inundated with love and gratitude that she was healthy, and also overwhelmed with a fierce sense of protectiveness, that I would do anything for her. I think that’s how every new parent probably feels when they first see and hold their new baby. Those feelings of love and gratitude and protectiveness only grow every day. I think Marc and my desire to protect Charlotte comes from the same place it does as any other parent. My parents made such a big effort to make my life growing up feel as normal as possible — we had dinner together every night they weren’t traveling — and to enable me to have and lead my own life. Marc and I are already having family dinners with Charlotte (even if we still are feeding her!) and we’ll remain focused on ensuring we’re rooted together as a family in the months and years ahead and that we protect her but also equip her to protect herself and make the right choices for herself when she’s older.
Chelsea Clinton with her husband, Marc Mezvinsky. (Photo: Getty Images)
These days, parents are constantly judging each other for their choices — feeding choices or childcare choices or how we discipline… the list goes on. Have you ever felt judged as a mom? How did you deal with it? Any advice or insight into what women, and parents, need to do to better support each other and stop the judging?
There isn’t a single way to be a mom, and we need to respect the choices other moms make to protect their children’s health and to promote their well-being and happiness. Mothers (and fathers) should be afforded opportunities so that they can do what they deem best for themselves, their children, and their families.
Charlotte is almost 1! What are your plans to celebrate her birthday? And does she have any toys, books, songs, games that she — or you — can’t live without?
For her first birthday, we’re hoping our family and friends with little kids will be able to join us for playing with lots of blocks, animals, and anything that makes noises — in other words, Charlotte’s favorite toys of letter blocks, giraffes, her octopus, and xylophone. I think there will be balloons and bubbles involved, too! We love reading to her, and there are so many favorites already — if I had to chose one today, it would be The Monster at the End of This Book (with Grover). [As for] products… triple paste!