Mocha Moms: What's on the Table?

This week's Mocha Moms, Jolene Ivy and Asra Nomani, are joined by former CBS News co-anchor Rene Syler to discuss the pros and cons of being a parent and a public figure.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up: finding the right financial adviser. Our money coach is next.

But first, let's talk to the Mocha Moms. We visit with members of this mother's support group each week for their common sense and savvy parenting advice. This week, a special Mocha Moms talking about high profile parenting. Life in the public eye has its ups and downs, and sometimes, a share of risk. But what if the public figure is also a mom? How do they balance the demands of their work with their commitment to family?

Joining us this week are Jolene Ivey, a Mocha Mom regular, a co-founder and an elected official. She's serving her first term as a Maryland state delegate. Rene Syler, who is an author and former television co-anchor at CBS News, and Asra Nomani. She's a writer, an activist and author.

Hello, ladies. Hi, moms.

Ms. JOLENE IVEY (Co-founder, Mocha Moms; State Delegate, Maryland): Hey, Michel.

Ms. RENE SYLER (Journalist; Former News Anchor, CBS News): Hi.

Ms. ASRA NOMANI (Journalist; Author; Activist): Hi.

MARTIN: Asra, you're a journalist and an activist, and I hope it's okay for me to say you've been in the middle of some very dangerous situations. In fact, when you learned you were pregnant with your son, you were in the middle of the search for Daniel Pearl, The Wall Street Journal reporter who was killed by terrorists in Pakistan. But since then, you have continued to speak out for gender equity in Islam, about things that have basically - well, I don't now how else to put this - that have sometimes brought you in danger. You are a subject of death threats. We're going to talk about how you think about that now that you've become a mother.

Ms. NOMANI: Well, deciding to be a mom was radical in my world, because there aren't many single moms who aren't married, and so I knew that I was going to be out there. And then I decided on top of it to write about it and make it public to the world that I've got a kid, and his name is Shibli. And it's been unnerving.

I can think of last night. He's now four years old. And we're at CVS here in the D.C. area. I'm buying some supplies, and the man behind the counter is named Mohammed. I know he's Muslim. And Shibli looks like he's about to, you know, take down one of the displays. And I got to say his name very, you know, mother-like, Shibli, one, two. And I think in my mind, oh, no. You know, what if this guys thinks, oh, it's that Asra, you know, Nomani who's got that single kid and he's running amuck at our CVS? And I feel under scrutiny because, you know, what he does, I feel like it is a political statement almost about single motherhood and a Muslim woman deciding to go out on the limb and raise a child by herself.

And I don't want my child under any kind of physical threat. But I'll tell you, I mean, I'm so scared sometimes, especially in crowds, because I know that it's so easy to pick up a child. And every parent, every mom has their fear always that is natural. And then I have his double one of him being used as a pawn to get at me as leverage to get me to settle down.

And so, I know that getting death threats, (unintelligible) is almost like a cliche now. I mean, just about everybody gets one if you take a stand. So I don't want to retreat for fear, but I also am not going to jeopardize him. And I'm thinking about it all the time.

MARTIN: Jolene, when you decided to go into public service yourself - which you had been in before you started having kids, when you just decided to go back into in an elected position - did you think about the possibility of additional public scrutiny and how that might affect the boys?

Ms. IVEY: Well, I didn't worry about it as additional public scrutiny because just because my husband's a public official, we've had to talk to the boys over and over about how to behave in public. And we want to make sure that there is no negativity attached to their father, number one, because they show their butt in public. So they're really well behaved.

MARTIN: Do they ever say, oh, that's your business. It's not my business. Why do I have to be nice just to avoid making dad or mom look bad?

Ms. IVEY: No, they don't, because we always say, look, we're Iveys. You know, you're going to get good grades. You're going to work hard. You're going to be polite. You're going to be respectful. This is what's expected. And perhaps, if we're in this position, I don't know if we would be around them quite as hard as we are, but we do stay on top of them, stay close.

MARTIN: So when you decided to take the leap into the public arena yourself, you didn't feel there was any additional…

Ms. IVEY: No.

MARTIN: …layer that had to…

Ms. IVEY: Not as that.

MARTIN: …be attached to the boy?

Ms. IVEY: Not like that. The only additional thing was less time for me to give to them, and that's obvious. I mean, I had given almost all of my time to my children, and the kids had been great about understanding that. I'm not so sure my husband has been so understanding. He's done very well with it though, but it's not been easy.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're doing a special Mocha Moms on parenting in the public eye with Jolene Ivey, Asra Nomani, and Rene Syler.

MARTIN: Rene, you took your health challenge. I mean, one of the things that people know about you is in addition to being, you know, very popular, you know, morning anchor, but you also took a personal issue, a health challenge, and wrote about it very publicly. You had a double mastectomy as a - what is it, sort of a prophylactic…

Ms. SYLER: Right.

MARTIN: …mastectomy. And you took everybody through the process.

Ms. SYLER: Right.

MARTIN: You wrote about it. You were on Oprah. I wanted to know how - if you thought about the impact of that on your kids, why you decided to be so public, and if you thought about the impact it might have had on your kids being so public about something that a lot of people consider very personal.

Ms. SYLER: Well, when I was going through what I was going through because I was, of course, being fired at the same time and five weeks later, you know, losing my breasts and all of this, I always was about educating and informing women. And I felt like this would be an opportunity for women to come along with me on this journey. But in terms of my children, they were really great all through this. But in terms of my children, they were really great all through this and right from the very start they were supportive of me. And never was I fearful that they might think, oh, you know, what will our friends say about our mom, you know, losing her breasts. My son, however, did - I had a parent-teacher conference with my son's teacher and she did tell me that he had told everybody that my mom got fired and got breast implants.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SYLER: And I said, you know what, we got to tell the whole story, buddy. You can't just make it sound like it was some kind of middle life crisis that mommy was going through. So I feel like my kids are really well adjusted.

MARTIN: Can I have a Corvette with those breasts, please?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SYLER: So they did a really great job through the whole thing.

MARTIN: I want to ask everybody - I don't know anybody who doesn't suffer from mommy guilt at some point. I mean, moms who stay at home suffer from mommy guilt because they're wondering if, you know, they're doing enough or I don't know. I wonder if you ever suffer from mommy guilt about something related to your high profile?

Ms. IVEY: I think…

Ms. SYLER: Well, my son - oh, I'm sorry.

MARTIN: Go ahead. Go ahead, Rene.

Ms. SYLER: My son actually doesn't want me to go back to work, and I was trying to explain to him, and I wrote about it, I talked about it in my book, "Good Enough Mother." How was that for a plug?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SYLER: I…

MARTIN: I was going to get there, don't worry. Missy.

Ms. SYLER: Yeah, right. So I talked about it that though, that it was important for me to feed my soul. And work is a big part of who I am and so I was trying to explain to him that, yes, I'm enjoying this time with you but I have to go back because I have to feed my soul.

MARTIN: Jolene?

Ms. IVEY: Well, it's hard. All the nights that I've been out and there's just no way around it. I have to make a choice. Am I going to do a good job in this job or not? And one of the things that I have to do is be ready for when my kids move on. I mean, my oldest is graduating from high school, about to start college. And all of them are going to make that progression and then where will I be if I've done nothing but commit myself to them?

MARTIN: Do you ever say that to them?

Ms. IVEY: Well, I don't think I do exactly say that to them, but I'm hoping that they'll figure it out over time. I guess I should have that conversation.

MARTIN: Advice. Anybody have any?

Ms. SYLER: Well, yeah. I mean, I have a chapter in the book called "I Don't Care," and it really is about the fact that I'm not really overly concerned about what other people think of my parenting skills or style. Listen, I'm in and out of stores all the time. And when my son, rarely my daughter, but when my son acts a fool and is begging for whatever and throwing a fit and running over us with the cart or what have you, you know, I'm not too worried about what other people think. I tell him no, certainly I try to keep in line. But I don't feel like I'm that concerned about what other people think. I'm in control. It may not look like it to them because I may not be controlling him in the way they would control their own children, but he's not their child. He's my child and I feel like I'm doing just fine.

MARTIN: But, you know, I got to tell you, I think that - I think sometimes the guilt comes from within. I don't think it's you're worried about what other people think. I think it's how you feel when…

Ms. SYLER: But why would you be - why? Feel guilty why?

MARTIN: Well, because say somebody has an ear infection and somebody else has to take the baby to the doctor because you can't go. And you know, because you want to be there, but you can't be in two places at once. Sometimes that doesn't feel very good, so - I don't know. Asra?

Ms. NOMANI: Well, I felt guilty leaving my son with my mom when I would go off on trips, and then, you know, it's the kind of thing that I mocked when I was single. But I have a friend who I call my life coach. And he said to me, is your son happy with your mom? Is he healthy? Is he okay? And I said, yes. And he said, then that's just a choice that you've made and you've put him in good hands. Like you've been responsible and you are doing your duty as a parent. And so that's the choice that you've made so there doesn't need to be regret.

MARTIN: Jolene, final thought from you.

Ms. IVEY: Well, I don't know. I think that everybody just tries to do the very, very best they can, and that's all any of us can do.

MARTIN: Spoken like the Mocha you are. Jolene Ivey, co-founder of the Mocha Moms and a Mocha Moms regular joined me here in our Washington studio. Asra Nomani also joined me here. She is the author of "Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam." Rene Syler joined me from our New York bureau. She is the author of "The Good Enough Mother: The Perfectly Imperfect Book of Parenting."

You can find links to all of our guests on our Web site. Also, we'd like you to join in the conversation. Do you have a question for the Mocha Moms? Post it on our blog at npr.org/tellmemore.

And ladies, once again thank you so much for being with us.

Ms. IVEY: Thanks, Michel.

Ms. NOMANI: Thank you, Michel.

Ms. SYLER: Thanks, Michel.

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