I first interviewed Gov. Kathy Hochul in Sept. 2021, a few months after she became the first woman Governor of New York and about six weeks before I became a mother. After we talked about her plans for the state and her political career, I was folding up my notebook and beginning to heave my very pregnant self out of the chair in her office when she looked straight at me and said, “So, what’s the name?”
Normally people dance around that question. (“Have you picked a name yet?”) This was top-secret information; even my parents didn’t know the answer. But the Governor of New York was asking me a direct question. So I told her.
More than a year later, I left 14-month-old Rosie in the middle of her lunch (mostly blueberries) to go back to Hochul’s midtown office for another interview. She had recently given the State of the State address, in which she outlined her new plan to expand access to New York’s childcare system by streamlining applications, expanding eligibility, and increasing assistance to families and providers. This time, Hochul—who back in 1987 left a promising career on Capitol Hill to raise her two children, and spent years as a full-time parent before re-entering politics—would be the first subject of my new interview series, The Parent Files, about how parenting shapes the people who shape our world.
Q: Did you have any dark moments in those early couple months of being a mom?
Of course. If you’re human, you’ll have that. Your body is still taking a beating, you’re not back together, and your hormones are out of whack. I didn’t have any family support. My friends and law-school classmates were all working. And then, if you throw on some postpartum depression on top of it, it’s hard.
Q: You became pregnant with your son while you were a top staffer for Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Can you tell me about the decision not to go back to work after he was born?
There was a childcare center with long waitlists. We had [potential nannies] who didn’t pass background checks. All of a sudden it was: okay, let’s do this.
But keeping your own intellectual stimulation going…there weren’t any podcasts to listen to. After I read the newspaper in the morning, there was no one to talk to about it. What do you talk to your spouse about at the end of the day? That was hard. I missed the connection with people at work, I missed the stimulation, I missed the excitement, I missed the camaraderie. So it was a sacrifice. And also the loss of income really hit us hard.
The moral of the story is: it all works out.
Q: But this was in 1987. It must not have been at all clear to you back then that it would work out. Were you scared you would never get your career back?
A: It was a leap into the wilderness. I had worked hard to establish a name. To be a legislative assistant to a Senator was all I ever dreamed of. I thought it was gonna be gone. And we couldn’t afford the elite private schools [in D.C.] People were saying, ‘If your child’s not enrolled in Georgetown Prep by the time they’re 2 for their preschool program, your child’s gonna be a loser.’ We couldn’t financially meet all the pressures of what people were doing in Washington. So we moved back to Buffalo when the kids were 1 and 3.
Q: What was your least favorite part of housework?
I hated changing diapers. My house was a disaster. It never looked neat. I wasn’t a great cook. I just made macaroni and cheese and hotdogs half the time. I wasn’t the best mom in terms of nutrition. My kids turned out fine.
My mom used to say: You can be a good-enough mom. You don’t have to be perfect. You can be good enough.
Read More: Kathy Hochul Faced Childcare Struggles and Sexism at Work. Now She’s New York’s First Woman Governor.
Q: What’s your best parenting advice?
You’re a better parent than you think you are. Your instincts are good. Whatever you choose is going to be right.
The other advice: when there’s a married couple involved, you put your marriage first. Go out on a date. If you’re happy and satisfied, your kids will feel that.
And then, if you’re a working mom, just devote yourself to the child when you’re with the child, your work when you’re at work, but don’t cross-pollinate your mind. That’s too much stress.
Q: What was your biggest parenting mistake?
I was too uptight early on. I was anxious and worried all the time, and I think that wears off on a child. I think you’ve got to fake it. Just act like you’ve got your stuff together.
Q: What conventional wisdom did you break and it was fine? (For me, it’s warming the bottle.)
Everybody said you had to nurse. If you didn’t you were a horrible mom. There was a lot of cultural pressure at the time that nursing was the only way to raise a healthy baby.
I respect anyone’s choice. Do what you want to do. But my husband couldn’t do the feedings at one o’clock and three o’clock and five o’clock, so it was up to me to do the feedings. Nursing doesn’t allow you to get a break, because kids are eating every two hours and you don’t know how much they’ve actually had. It was less of a sharing of the responsibility. And the child I breastfed had more allergies and illnesses than the one I stopped earlier.
Read More: Why the New York Governor’s Race Is So Close.
Q: How did your experience as a parent shape your approach to policy?
I knew what it was like to worry about the cost of everything. We used to drive out to suburban Maryland to those big wholesale stores to get the crates of diapers and all the cheap stuff we could find. We were always stressed about money, because of the loss of income for me and the cost of kids. Again, my husband was a lawyer; most families don’t even have that income.
Now, I spend a lot of time talking to employers about trying to create a childcare space in their facilities. Look at these buildings downtown. They’re a third full. I don’t understand why there can’t be a childcare center there.
Q: Did you feel like parenthood cost you anything?
When I first ran for office, the local paper was doing a profile of me. They said “Kathy Hochul, a housewife from Hamburg”—that was the description of my career. My husband laughed. He said: You’re not a housewife. The house is never clean, it looks like a disaster. We laughed about it, because I didn’t even qualify as a good housewife. I want people to see: you still can be very productive in life at 45, 55, 65. So young moms: don’t think it’s all over if you take a few years off. I didn’t lose anything. But you don’t know it in the moment. That’s the risky part. You just don’t know.
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