Last year, around this time, many parents of daughters were telling their little girls that, for the first time, a major political party had nominated a woman for president. Suddenly, every little girl's dream felt that much more attainable. And while the particular dream of seeing Hillary Clinton in the White House never materialized, Clinton continues to inspire this generation of children by looking to the future and championing the issues she still fights for with passion: healthcare, education, equality, and community.
Clinton has received a lot of attention for her recently published book What Happened, which details her experiences during the historic 2016 presidential campaign. But Clinton published another book last month, one that parents especially should have on their radars. It's a simplified version of the former secretary of state and first lady's 1996 bestseller It Takes A Village — this time sharing her message with the preschool set. Highlighting themes of teamwork and service, the story follows children and adults as they work together not only see to each other's needs but to build a beautiful playground that the entire community can enjoy.
Clinton spoke with Romper about the inspiration behind the book and how her perspective has changed, viewing the world through the lens of a parent and grandparent. In the interview, she tells us what it's like to watch your own child become a mother and that, when parenthood is overwhelming, you can always fall back on the ideals of compassion, even if that just means cutting yourself some slack. (And what parent doesn't need to hear that every once in a while?)
My desire to be the best mother in the world didn’t translate into knowledge about how to do it. I was pretty inept at first.
With the election behind her, Clinton is focusing on what brings us together, and how listening to the smallest citizens can yield some of the biggest and best ideas.
ROMPER: I'm really struck by this idea of building a world and a community that is "worthy of all children." What's the most important next step we need to take to start realizing a world worthy of our (collective) children?
Hillary Clinton: It may sound simple, but I believe one of the most important things we can do is lead by example and treat each other with kindness, compassion, and respect.
...The second you have children, your whole world changes in the best possible way. For me, I found myself thinking about the future with a renewed sense of urgency — this was no longer some abstract concept, it was the world my daughter would inherit!
The line "the world is in a hurry, but children are not" really resonated with me. As a mother, I feel driven to prepare my kids for everything and not to waste any opportunity to teach them something vital. But I also want to preserve their innocence and allow them to be carefree for as long as possible. How do you balance the need to educate productive citizens with their need for play and fun? And how much should we talk to our young kids about what's going on in the world vs. sheltering them?
What an important question! We can do both, and even more than that, we must. Research shows that one of the best ways to teach children about the world around them is through play and fun. There are so many wonderful songs and stories that help even the littlest learners start to understand some pretty big ideas. That’s one of the reasons I wrote this book. I hope children (and parents, too!) will enjoy reading It Takes A Village and absorbing Marla Frazee’s vibrant illustrations. And I also hope it will be one small part of a lifelong conversation about the importance of service and helping others — a conversation that can grow along with your kids.
What's the biggest way becoming a mom changed you as a politician and policy maker? Did you find that thinking nationally and globally throughout your career impacted what you want to teach your children and grandchildren?
As any parent knows, the second you have children, your whole world changes in the best possible way. For me, I found myself thinking about the future with a renewed sense of urgency — this was no longer some abstract concept, it was the world my daughter would inherit! At the same time, being a parent also anchors you in the present. You have this little person in your life who needs your focus and attention.
Raising feminist sons is just as just as important as raising feminist daughters.
I loved watching Chelsea learn and grow, and it made me think even more about how important it is to give every little boy and girl the best possible start in life — from making sure families have affordable health care, to teaching parents about the need to read, talk, and sing to their children from the very beginning. Making sure every child can grow up to achieve his or her God-given potential has always been a passion of mine, and that passion has increased ten-fold since I became a mother and now a grandmother.
What surprised you most about yourself as a mother?
That my desire to be the best mother in the world didn’t translate into knowledge about how to do it. I was pretty inept at first. At one point, Chelsea wouldn’t stop crying, and I was nearly frantic. Finally, I looked down at this tiny squirming infant and said to her, “Chelsea, this is new for both of us. I’ve never been a mother before. You’ve never been a baby. We’re just going to have to help each other do the best we can.” It didn’t stop her wailing, but it helped remind me to be gentle with myself.
Your book talks about how every child needs "the right tool to get the job done." What do you feel are the most important tools we must give our children to ensure a more inclusive, respectful, and secure future?
Critical thinking, an open heart, and an appreciation for the fact that we are all part of a diverse community are a great starting point!
Sometimes Chelsea and I will do a dance that I think is familiar to a lot of new moms and grandmothers: I’ll go to put Charlotte or Aidan down for a nap or feed the toddler a snack, and Chelsea will swoop in and say, 'Mom, that’s not the way I do it.'
What do you want to say to moms raising boys today?
Raising feminist sons is just as just as important as raising feminist daughters.
As someone in the political spotlight, you've dealt with a lot of scrutiny. How has this impacted who you are as a parent and grandparent, if at all?
You know, I’ve tried not to let it.
One beautiful aspect of being a grandmother is getting to see your children parent. Is there a particular revelation you've had watching Chelsea in her role as a mother?
Isn’t it just the best? Chelsea is a great mom, and my son-in-law, Marc, is a great dad. Together, they are fantastic parents.
For all our talk about listening to the 'adult in the room,' in my experience, the most compelling wisdom sometimes comes from the child in the room.
Sometimes Chelsea and I will do a dance that I think is familiar to a lot of new moms and grandmothers: I’ll go to put Charlotte or Aidan down for a nap or feed the toddler a snack, and Chelsea will swoop in and say, “Mom, that’s not the way I do it.” She can recite the latest American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on just about everything, from infant feeding to screen time. As the mother, she’s the expert, and I get to enjoy the special pleasure that comes from knowing you can just focus on being the most loving and helpful grandparent you can be.
Multi-generational partnerships are found throughout It Takes a Village. Adults help children, of course, but the children are also able to help adults. Can you speak to the optimism and generosity that you've seen in the children you've met throughout your career?
It’s safe to say I’ve learned as much from the children I’ve met over the course of my career as I have from the adults. In parts of the world that have experienced conflict, I’ve seen children reach across divides to play together and learn from each other. And I’ve been so moved by the children I’ve met who were brave enough to share their hopes, dreams, and fears with our country and the world — from the young people who helped raise awareness in the effort to pass the Children’s Health Insurance Program back in the '90s to the children of immigrants who are speaking out today. For all our talk about listening to the “adult in the room,” in my experience, the most compelling wisdom sometimes comes from the child in the room.
What books do you love to read with your grandchildren?
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny — all the books I used to read with Chelsea, with some new favorites mixed in. And It Takes A Village, of course!