By Allison Chawla
Meet Michelle Grey, Creative Director of TimesTalk for the New York Times. She is a loyal friend and confidant, a conscientious mother, and devoted wife. While tender and warmhearted, she makes no excuses for herself and encourages those around her to practice the same beliefs. She exemplifies the persona of someone who works hard, takes responsibility for herself, and steps up to the plate every time. I admire her work ethic and equally enjoy sipping the occasional glass of wine with her and sharing laughs. Without further adieu, I am delighted to bring to you this interview with Michelle Grey.
Tell us about your title at The New York Times, and what your day-to-day is like in your career?
I’m the Creative and Programming Director for the New York Times live conversation and performance series TimesTalks, which pairs Times journalists with some of the most interesting cultural and political voices of our time. Essentially, my job is to keep abreast of the cultural zeitgeist (so to speak), which means I spend my days immersed in upcoming films, Broadway shows, books, social causes, art exhibitions, TV series, albums, and the iconic influencers shaping today’s cultural landscape. I generally select artists who use their medium as a lens for social change or civic dialogue.
From Al Gore discussing climate change, to Anthony Bourdain opining the devastations of food waste, Chimamunda Ngozi Adichie discussing teaching her daughter to be a feminist, Ai Weiwei riffing on how he’s using art to reflect immigration laws, Satya Nadella conversing with The Times Deputy Editor Rebecca Blumenstein on gender equality in the tech world, Dr. Jane Goodall on environmental conservation, or Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan on female inclusion in Hollywood, I believe innovation thrives when silos collide.
You are a mother of two boys correct? How old are your children?
Yes, I have two boys – ages 4 and 10.
Did you establish your work before having children, or was it after becoming a mother?
I changed career paths quite drastically after having my first child. I studied molecular genetics at university and then went to journalism school, so I spent the first decade after college primarily as a science editor and writer. After I had Bo, I wanted to do something that felt more creative and less like school! Having a baby made me feel like I should do something that I really enjoyed while giving me the financial freedom that came along with making my own money. I was no longer beholden to this idea that I had to do what I’d set out to do back when I was 18.
I think many women worry that if they have a career, they will not provide enough nourishment for their children. Were there times when balancing career life and motherhood made you feel concerned about the outcome of your children’s emotional state?
I think every mother at one time or another thinks they’re not doing enough in some aspects their lives. This feeling of inadequacy can bounce between career, friendship, motherhood, and marriage. There was a time when I believed that if I was doing really well at work, then my family was probably suffering, and if I was being a superstar mom, then I was likely failing at work. But these days I try not to be so hard on myself. There’s not a single person in the world that can do it all, and doing my best will have to suffice. With regards to my children’s emotional state, I’m a big believer that kids need love and discipline in equal measure. I make time to talk to them about the big and small things, but I don’t believe in being involved in every single tiny decision or over thinking every action. I’d like for them to be independent thinkers and, above all, be solution orientated. If I solve every problem for them, I’m denying them of an extremely important life skill.
What piece of advice you would give other mothers who have careers that take time away from parenting, and who experience guilt because of this, what would it be?
My advice- we’re all doing our miserable best. Motherhood is hard and isn’t always pretty, but hang in there and do the best you can. We’re all suffering in our own way – big and small – and there can be solace and comfort in the idea that we’re in it tougher.
Do you feel that it is valuable for your children to see their mother in a career? Do you believe it will influence the way they view other women as they grow up?
I feel that it’s important for kids to see their mother living their best life. My best life means that I require intellectual stimulation and professional challenges to feel good, but I also love and cherish my family and make their lives a priority. Others have a different idea of what it means to live their best life. As Shakespeare said, “comparisons are odious.” I think it’s important to run your own race; don’t worry too much about what other people are doing, it rarely has any bearing on what makes you happy, and usually just makes you feel worse about your self.
As a career mother who is raising two sons in this country, what do you feel is another essential example to set for your children?
I think kindness and humanity are the virtues that provide the bedrock of a successful and happy life. If we can’t instill those values in our children, there’s little hope for human progress. The skills you learn at school (reading, writing, singing, science, soccer etc.) can be taught at any time, but if you raise mean-spirited intolerant kids, there’s little hope that they’ll be positive contributors to their community, let alone this country.
Do you openly speak to your boys about what has been happening in the media with men and accusations of abuse and assault? How would you say you handle teaching your sons about respecting women as equals?
Talking to your kids about valuing all humans is important, regardless of gender. However, talk can sometimes be cheap. We all know the simple truth to parenting is “monkey see, monkey do” so, the best thing you can do is to lead by example.
If there was anything you could say to other women raising young men in this world, what would that be?
Listen and be kind. If you’re a good human being you probably don’t need a tutorial on how to treat women, it should come naturally.
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Author: Allison Chawla
Allison Chawla is a Licensed Psychotherapist, a Certified Life Coach, and Writer.
She holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Fordham University, and has a private practice in New York City.
She is a devoted wife, and mother of two girls.