MSNBC Co-Host Mika Brzezinski Does 'All Things At Once'
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. We visit with a diverse group of parents each week for their comments and some savvy parenting advice. Today, a special moms conversation about that eternal question: Can you have it all? Yes you can. No you can't. Every few years, there's a new take on this question directed at women - but somehow, never men - of a certain age. Can you have the career, the spouse, the family all at once?
That's the question at the heart of Mika Brzezinski's new memoir. She is, of course, the co-host of "Morning Joe," and an MSNBC news anchor, and the daughter of that other Brzezinski, and the mom of two kids. But what you may not know, and what she wants other women to know, is what it can cost to have it all. It's a story she tells in "All Things at Once." And she's with us now in our Washington, D.C., studio.
Welcome. Thank you for coming.
Ms. MIKA BRZEZINSKI (Co-host "Morning Joe"; Author, "All Things at Once"): Thank you.
MARTIN: Now, you started the book with a scene that is so frightening. I mean, it's a clich� that it's every mother's nightmare because every mother has a different nightmare, but it is truly frightening. Tell us what happened that day. And tell us why you decided to start the book that way.
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Well, because I do believe that if you want it all, you should have it, but there are costs. And so what I do is talk about the reasons why I am so committed to my career and the function of journalism and storytelling that I love so much, but also the prices I've paid along the way scrambling to make that career happen - and some mistakes that I've made along the way.
MARTIN: And tell us what happened on the day that was - the book -
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Well, that was a bad day. That was the worst day of my life, and that was a day that was born out of a lack of self-worth and exhaustion and stupidity. I had a great job working at a network. It was one of those starter jobs anchoring an overnight show on CBS News. I had a 2-year-old. I had a big, old, rundown house. I had a husband I wanted to be a great wife to, and I had another baby. And that baby was about 4 months old and I'd gone back to work overnights with a toddler, with limited child care when she was 2 months old. It was just too soon, and I was worried about losing the job and also the fact that the job was freelance. I was worried about the fact that we didn't get a salary during that time and child care, and everything started happening.
MARTIN: And you fell down the stairs.
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Fell down the stairs holding the baby. And ultimately, we found out she had a broken leg - which, if you can believe, Michel, was good news. They actually thought for a while there her back was broken. And I hit rock bottom because I had felt that I had let everything spin out of control to the point where I had maimed my child. And I was faced with this reality in a very raw way, in a way I'll never forget.
MARTIN: What did you do next - and just emphasizing, again, that your daughter's fine, she made a full recovery, thankfully, no injuries other than a broken leg. But it sounds, for me, that for you, the injuries ran a lot deeper. And there will be people who say, why don't you just walk away from the career at that point?
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Oh honey, I'm getting killed on the Internet - getting killed. I am being called a terrible word, blinded by ambition, selfish, poor kids. But, you know, I didn't want to go back to work. I was done. I was completely depressed. I didn't want to go back. I was scared. That job became the enemy. My husband, Jim Hoffer, wouldn't let me quit. You wanted to be a working mom. Our girls should grow up with a working mom and have that example. That's what we planned on, and we've got to do this right. This is our bad. This household was not working right because we went cheap, and we didn't think about what you need - to focus on this job, to find another job that is better suited for this family. But don't give up like this. Let's give it six months. Let's do it right. So instead of quitting and spending much more time with my kids, we got backup. We went broke and ultimately, got a job that did work for the family. But we had to wait for that moment to come. And a lot of people are saying, how could you go back?
MARTIN: One of the things, though, that I appreciated about the book is the deep honestly about what it cost you emotionally, but also what it cost you financially.
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Yeah.
MARTIN: This is not cheap, and this not something that I think a lot of people want to hear about because often, the focus is on people who don't have access to quality child care at all.
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: That's right.
MARTIN: At all.
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: That's right.
MARTIN: So one of the things I'm curious about is why you decided to kind of put it out just how deep into the pockets you had to go.
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Well, because my entire salary went to child care. To get me through those six months of working all night, we staffed the house 24 hours a day. This was embarrassing for me to admit. It looked like I was...
MARTIN: Why is it embarrassing?
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Well, because you have babysitters plural. It sounds like you're sitting eating bonbons. You know what I was doing? Trying to sleep, trying to spend some quality time with the kids, but I didn't know when that was going to be during the day.
MARTIN: But wait, wait. You know, you're sounding - why are you defending this if this was the best? You see what I'm saying? This is what I'm curious about...
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Yes.
MARTIN: ...is why you even feel like you have to defend this?
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Why do you think I do?
MARTIN: Who are you talking to?
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: I'm talking to well, the people on the Internet who are using those names and, sorry to say, they're all women.
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Yeah. So there you go. Parenting's personal, and this is a women's battle.
MARTIN: In fact that, you know, the book has this tone of girlfriend, let me break it down for you about how things really are. And you're not shy about offering your own advice about how people should address some of these work-life balance, kind of life issues.
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
MARTIN: Is that - why? Is that, in part, an answer to the blogosphere? People - the hateration out there directed toward women like you - or what?
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: You know what? It's actually for my kids and for younger women out there who I have been speaking to in large numbers lately, and the advice I give them makes their eyes pop out of their head. And the advice is, because they want to know how to make it in this business, so I'm thinking well, first of all, the best thing that ever happened to me was the experience of getting fired - so humbling, so liberating, so difficult, so challenging. And that just turns them upside down right there because they want to hear how I got to the top.
And the second piece of advice I give them, and I'm so surprised by the response to this, but I say if you want to have children, if you want to get married, don't put that off because that sounds to me like a pretty important decision. Would you put it on par with your career? If you do, why wouldn't you go after it with equal fervor?
MARTIN: You say in the book, you say: For the life of me, I cannot understand why so many women wait until the age of 30 to even think about children.
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: I don't get it.
MARTIN: And that's just the start of the conversation for them. The risks associated with pregnancy increase as each year goes by, and it's unbelievable to me that anyone would deliberately choose to put off having children until they are deeper and deeper into that risk zone. So, I'm getting it. You're saying if that's important to you, then you need to be thinking about that...
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Exactly.
MARTIN: ...as deeply and as profoundly as you're thinking about...
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Thank you for getting it.
MARTIN: ...your next career move.
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Yes.
MARTIN: On the other hand...
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Uh-huh.
MARTIN: ...I'm thinking, is life really like that? I mean, it sounds like you're saying well, life is like a buffet, and you get to pull the plates off at your leisure.
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: No. That's no...
MARTIN: But isn't it really like a fast-food kitchen, where they're throwing the plates at you and you've got to grab the one...
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Honey, no. Putting it off is thinking you can pull things off at your leisure. That's like picking your religion whenever you want instead of knowing what you are. Let me tell you right now that if you want to get married and you want to have children, you tell me how many good guys are out there. What's easier, finding a good job or a good man? I'd say finding a good job.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: You've got to look for a good partner, and I would never wait 10 years to start. Now, am I saying get married at 21, please hurry and if you're 22, you're too old? No. But I don't get waiting until you're 32, 33 to think about it.
MARTIN: I understand what you're saying. I'm still wondering where are the men in this conversation, because the experience of a lot of the women I know is that there are not a lot of men lining up at that age to commit in that way...
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: You're backing up my point. That's why you start looking because you've got to find him. And the men are my husband, the one who said, you know what? We did this together. You go back to work. I'm with you. Don't care about what people think. Let's hold hands and walk into the future. But I had to look for him.
MARTIN: But he wasn't getting those nasty e-mails.
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Oh, he's getting...
MARTIN: Nobody was e-mailing him to tell him why he was a bad dad because your daughter fell down, you...
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: That's yeah, well, this is - I'm the one who decided to write this.
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: And I've put myself out there, and I'm more than aware. I was more than aware of the risk I was taking.
MARTIN: You also say: Don't let your job become like a bad boyfriend.
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Yes. This is a very important message in the book. Let me describe him for you. He's usually really cute. You usually like him a great deal. You're possibly in love with him, and you think he will marry you. So you make him dinner. You sleep with him. You start acting like his wife. But guess what? He never marries you. And these TV jobs and a lot of high-profile businesses and high energy, high stress and competitive businesses, they're bad boyfriends, and you need to know it.
And I will tell you that CBS was a little bit of a bad boyfriend in that I did everything for everybody and didn't know my value. They weren't bad to me until they fired me, but I let them kind of become the role of the bad boyfriend, where I was always machinating up for the next job, and doing this and doing this and...
MARTIN: Giving it your all.
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Giving it my all.
MARTIN: Literally your all.
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: All things to all people, every person in the building.
MARTIN: And that job's never going to love you back.
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Never going to love you back. And everybody in the building - I was the most popular person until the day the new management came in and I was fired, and nobody would talk to me.
MARTIN: Talk to me about being fired. Talk to me about that, and what did you learn from that?
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Well, a lot of people are being fired, and I will say that it's a horrific feeling. And you go through a lot of different incarnations in a short period of time: from denial to I hate them, to I'm lucky to be out of there to being really, really down on yourself and to feeling alone, and to feeling like you're just out and all of a sudden the noise has stopped. And nobody wants you back, and nobody will take you back. And then you end up going to interviews wearing it in your tone, wearing it in your attitude. And you don't really know how to get around it because everyone just wants to know what happened at the last place.
And for me, it went on for almost a year. And because my job was so public and looks oriented and I looked terrible by the time - I mean, I just, you know, I was 39 years old. It's kind of a hard time for a woman in television to be fired - not the worst. Not the end of the world these days, but certainly it would've been easier if I were 30. And I was also surprised at how down I was about it. I thought being a mom, I could just throw myself into that. And it was surprising, and I am admitting now, it wasn't enough. I love working. It's what I bring to the table at home.
MARTIN: What would you like people to draw from your book besides, you know, don't let your job become your bad boyfriend, don't get give it your all, start thinking about everything you want in life as early as you can? But what's the takeaway?
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Well, what I ultimately had to do to get back in was totally, totally rethink how I was going to do that. This is a totally different economy. No one is going to get what they had. You've got to come to terms with that. What I decided to do was start all over again at 40. And I called up MSNBC and I said, what do you have? They're like, oh Mika, oh, we don't have anything you want. I don't care what you want, is what I said. What do you have?
I didn't care what people said, and they said a lot. But you know what? Nothing felt better after that long, lonely year than to walk into a building and beep my card and work. It felt great, and I started all over at the bottom again. And what I realized, put aside the embarrassment of it, just let it go. It doesn't matter. You're working. That's number one. Number two, it's incredibly liberating to do a job that you can do with your eyes closed and your hands tied behind your back. There was something nice about that. I'd been at "60 Minutes," where they kill everybody.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: You know, and people like, literally will run over you with a Mack truck for a story. This was just me coming in and doing a couple of cut-ins. It was great.
MARTIN: And now, you're doing your thing. You co-host the "Morning Joe."
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Well, and then I ran into Joe Scarborough and the "Morning Joe" show, and you know what? It's a hit. But my family and I are a little smarter this time around, and we'll take it as it comes. We're happy.
MARTIN: Mika Brzezinski is a co-host of "Morning Joe" and co-host of "The Joe Scarborough Show with Mika Brzezinski," a national radio program. Her new book, "All Things At Once," is available now. For more information on Mika and her book, please visit our Web site. Just go to NPR.org, click on programs, then on TELL ME MORE.
Mika, thank you so much for joining us.
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Good luck to you and everything you're doing.
Ms. BRZEZINSKI: Thanks.
(Soundbite of music)
MARTIN: Remember, at TELL ME MORE the conversation never ends, and now we'd like to hear from you. Mika Brzezinski says listen up ladies, prioritize marriage and family even if you plan to work. Is she spot on, or should she mind her own business? To tell us more, you can go to our Web site at NPR.org, click on the TELL ME MORE page and blog it out.
And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.