Exclusive: Chelsea Clinton on motherhood, her childhood and changing the world
When Chelsea Clinton was a little girl, the morning newspaper served a dual purpose: to catch her up on the news of the day so she could keep up with her parents in conversation and to hide the amount of honey she was heaping on the non-sugar cereal her mom, not-yet Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, would buy.
This is the kind of snippet from her past that kids who pick up Clinton's new book, It's Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired & Get Going!, are going to get. Slipped in between kid-friendly explanations of big world issues from gender equality to non-communicable diseases to endangered species are personal memories and stories that show who the former First Kid was before she hit the American spotlight: a little girl brimming with curiosity about how the world works and her place in it.
It's that curiosity for the world instilled in her by her parents (that would be President Bill Clinton and Hillary, of course), coupled with the spirit of the kid who knew the cereal would just taste better drizzled in extra honey, that comes out in the book for tweens and young teens. Clinton isn't talking down to them. She's just talking to them.
And as she prepared to go out on a book tour, the mom of 11-month-old Charlotte and co-founder of The Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation talked with SheKnows about engaging kids in the world's big issues, her childhood and that moment she just knew she was a mom:
SheKnows: What made you decide that you could take these really big world issues and make them palatable for kids?
Chelsea Clinton: Well, when I talk to kids, I'm always struck by how innately curious kids are about the world around us and how engaged and sensitive they are to what is happening .. and how many kids do want to be engaged and do what to make a difference. I really believe that with a little bit of information, kids can make a big difference, and there are certainly stories in It's Your World of kids doing just that, whether they look at a challenge in their own community or across the world and decided to do something about it.
I hope this book does what it's title aspires to, it helps kids get informed and get going on the issues they care most about.
SK: Was there any particular topic in the book that was really close to your heart more than any other?
CC: All the issues I talk about in the book are important or I wouldn't have included them. As a relatively new mom — my daughter turns a year in a couple weeks — somehow becoming a mom made me feel even more passionately about these issues than I did already; so if anything, I somehow feel more deeply than I did now even when I started thinking about this project before Charlotte was born.
SK: What's the moment you realized, Oh my gosh, I'm a mom, where it just hit you?
CC: I think probably when I first held my daughter, right after she was born. I felt like it was the moment I'd been waiting my whole life for, and it just felt even more miraculous than I ever could have imagined. I never knew I could be so grateful to anyone as I was grateful to the doctors and nurses who took such good care of me and little baby Charlotte.
It was kind of awe and gratitude at such an exponential level and somewhere in that alchemy I realized, oh my gosh, I'm a mom.
SK: As a mom what's your biggest challenge?
CC: Right now my daughter has just learned to stand 2 days ago, so my most immediate concern is childproofing our home! I was up late last night reading Consumer Reports and parenting magazines and books trying to look for everything and anything I need to know about childproofing and what are the best products to ensure she doesn't slam her hand in a door or drawer or hit her head on a corner of a table as she's at some point going to move from standing up to walking... which is just awe-inspiring and amazing.
Thinking about the world writ large, I am more optimistic than not that we will tackle our most pressing challenges, whether poverty or equality for women and girls or climate change; but I also know we'll only tackle them if people are really informed about the challenge and what's proven to work. That's another reason I decided to write this book: to help more kids to be part of the solution, for their lives but admittedly so that there's a greater chance that Charlotte will grow up in a more peaceful, safe, prosperous world.
SK: You talk a lot in the book about how your parents engaged you from the very get go. They never cut you out of the conversations. What do you think they did most right?
The first thing I learned how to read, really, that I remember was the newspaper, and then they always expected me to have an opinion which I think is such a tremendous gift that my parents gave me. It valued not only the skill of reading but also helped me think critically. They also supported me when I may have had a different opinion than they did or when I had different questions that I maybe thought were more urgent than theirs. I hope that I can give that same gift to my daughter of expecting her and valuing her opinions. Just because she's younger than I am doesn't make her questions or her curiosity any less valuable.
SK: What's the best thing about raising a girl today?
CC: I can't speak for all mothers of daughters. I wouldn't do that, but for me it's just so exciting to have a daughter because I do think she will have even more opportunities than I had, and I had more opportunities than certainly my grandmother had. It's the arc of history, always bending toward justice and opportunity, and she will be part of that.