Many of us, if given the chance to sit down with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, might ask her for advice on legal matters, diplomacy, health-care reform, protecting underserved children, and the like. But it may not occur to us to do what Dax Shepard did on his Armchair Expert podcast this week: He asked her about raising daughters.
This makes so much sense, given how awesome Chelsea Clinton turned out, after what couldn’t have been an easy childhood in the public eye. Hillary Clinton also has much to offer in the way of showing young girls how to break barriers of sexism, the way she did. That was what first struck Shepard, he said, when he watched the Hulu docuseries Hillary with his and Kristen Bell’s daughters, 7-year-old Lincoln and 5-year-old Delta.
“I didn’t know any woman who worked outside the home other than my teachers and the public librarians and maybe somebody who would wait on me in a store,” Clinton said of her own lack of professional role models growing up, which is what led her and Chelsea to co-write The Book of Gutsy Women. “Chelsea had this entirely different experience. Her pediatrician was a woman; the mayor of our town was a woman. And we talked about that, how in just that one generation there were more possibilities.”
The ability to build on experiences from one generation to the next is one rewarding thing about being a parent, both agreed.
“I selfishly and egomaniacally looked forward to raising children because I wanted to give them the tools that I felt like I had so desperately needed as a kid,” Shepard said.
“You want, obviously, the best, but you also want to try to be aware enough so that you don’t make what you think were mistakes made with you, right?” Clinton said. “We all do it, though, there’s no escaping from it. We are the products of our own parents’ efforts to raise us.”
One thing that possibly helps with that evolution is having more than one adult in a child’s life to provide guidance, whether that’s from two parents or from other influential caregivers.
“I was lucky because my mother was incredibly focused on education and on supporting me to be independent and outspoken,” Clinton said. “And my dad who was a classic man of that generation … he did not have any idea how to raise a girl. So, in effect I was given more freedom to explore… He was of the tough love mode of parenting. The combination of the two of them really worked. And I think that’s another way of thinking about it. You know, the combination of you and their mom, brings different experiences, and aspirations for them, and together it all works.”
“It all works” is perhaps a little too simple a description of parenting, however. Though Clinton has been a secretary of state, a senator, a first lady, and the Democratic nominee for president, she called raising a child “the hardest job I ever had.”
“With a 5 and a 7-year-old girl in your house, you know, it’s going to get more complicated,” Clinton warned Shepard. “I hate to tell you that. It’s going to get more complicated. I actually think raising kids today in some ways is a lot harder than it was for my parents raising us.”
That’s in part because every generation after hers has come with the expectation that we spend more time with our kids, and we no longer send them out to fend for themselves outside all day.
One of Clinton’s biggest challenges, she admitted, was “not imposing on [Chelsea] what I wanted her to become, but trying the best I could to enable her to become whoever she was going to be.”
Now as a grandmother, she sees this play out with Chelsea’s three children too.
“You can see their personalities … from the earliest weeks and months of their lives, and they’re different and you’re trying to give them the same parenting,” she said. “But how can you give the same parenting to three little people who respond in different ways?”
Clinton didn’t have an answer to her own question. Maybe Chelsea can come on Armchair Expert and share her advice next.
Add these children’s books starring girls of color to your bookshelves ASAP.