There’s a picture of Charlotte Clinton — Chelsea Clinton’s daughter, who is almost 2 — that’s making the outrage rounds this morning on the internet. In it, the family nanny pushes Charlotte’s stroller to her first day of preschool while Dad Marc Mezvinsky tools around on his smartphone. So what about the picture is making people clutch those pearls in what is by now a matter of course when it comes to any and all things parenting?
It isn’t the presence of the nanny, the use of a pram or the parent with his eyes glued to a screen, although you wouldn’t be blamed for guessing it was; they’re all parenting practices that have been flogged ever since the cult of perfect mothering was established. Instead, it’s the absence of Chelsea herself, and you’ll have to excuse us, because our heads might be actually exploding.
The implication here is that Chelsea Clinton is officially a Bad Mom for not taking her child to preschool on her first day because she is working. Of course, it wouldn’t be a full-on media headsploder if there wasn’t the secondary implication that this is also somehow Hillary Clinton’s sin by proxy as well, as evidenced by this little gem:
This is what working families look like now. And make no mistake about it, about half of all families with children are working families: 46 percent of us have two parents that work two full-time jobs. That means almost half of us are playing a strange hybrid of juggle-tag, where you have to sit down and decide: Who is doing the first-day drop-off? Who is going to pick up the kids? Who’s going to the dreaded parent-teacher conference this time? One of you? Both of you? Neither of you? Things get shuffled and traded and shuffled again and then dropped, because wages are stagnant, and most of us have to work whether we want to or not, and that’s life now.
It looks like Mom working while Dad runs drop-off line interference. It more often looks like Mom doing both of those things. When things are really unsustainable, neither parent can be at this week’s Important Thing, and we have to live with the chagrin and remind ourselves that we work so our children can have the best possible life we can give them.
What all of this manages to ignore is that Charlotte does have a parent who is seeing her through this big milestone of which she will have absolutely no memory: her father. And you know what? Under any other circumstances, most people would be falling all over themselves to congratulate him for doing what most moms are expected to do without preamble or reward. But nope, not when it comes to this family. Which only serves to highlight how absolutely ridiculous this bizarre double standard is.
We don’t do this to dads. We don’t shrug off their efforts to balance work and child-rearing with the apathetic idea that they’re only doing what they’re expected to. We praise it. We don’t rake them over the coals when they miss a drop-off or a recital or a first day of anything, because they’re understood to be providing for their children. We expect it. Think back to your own kid’s first day of school or preschool. How many dads were present? Less than half? A quarter? How many think pieces were puked out because of it?
People are going to have to get over this idea that mothers must be unfailingly present at all times if we’re also going to accept that nearly half of all households will require two incomes to stay afloat. People are going to have to get over it regardless, because the snarky, shamey drivel that attends the new reality of American parenting when it comes to mothers is untenable, and it’s embarrassing. Stop it.
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