My Daughter, Myself – Reflections on Motherhood
An Interview with Matilda Raffa Cuomo
by Sharon Marantz Walsh
excerpted from spring 2013 issue of Glow Beauty Magazine
Family is everything to the closely-knit Cuomo clan, where attendance at celebrations is mandatory, demanding careers and public service is expected, and overachievement and high ethical standards is the norm.
As matriarch of the Cuomo clan, mother of five, Margaret,Andrew, Maria, Madeline, and Chris; grandmother of 13 granddaughters and one grandson, Mario; Mrs. Cuomo tells GLOW what it was like bringing up her three daughters.
Reflecting on Mother’s day, what was the single most important lesson your Mother taught you, and in turn, what life lessons do you hope to pass on toyour daughters?
My mother was a loving woman, with a genuine sense of giving. She enjoyed taking care of her five children. I’d like to think that I followed in her footsteps. When my own children were little,I gave up my teaching career to be a stay at home mom. Like my mother before me, I enjoyed my children totally. As they grew older, I began to tutor the neighboring children in English and Spanish. I always tried to be home when my children returned from school; that was snack time, our chance to talk about the events of their day, and to oversee their homework.
My daughters, Margaret, Maria and Madelyn, are enjoying motherhood as well. They do it with such heart. Their children know they are loved.
Do you have a favorite Mother’s Day?
I feel very fortunate to have been able to enjoy them all. I can still remember the joy I experienced, when one of my five children, Maria, was born on Mother’s Day. As I recall the hospital presented all the new mothers with a pink carnation.
How did you turn the Executive Mansion in Albany into a home for your family?
The first room I decorated in the Executive Mansion was the kitchen. Mark Hampton was my decorator, and to this day it still holds the heart of the mansion. I maintained a close relationship with the chef; we shared recipes and collaborated on all of the menus.
Chris and Madeline lived with us during the years when my husband Mario was Governor of New York State.
Pink was Madeline’s favorite color at the time, and we gave her a beautiful pink room with an aqua rug. Chris was ten at the time. He enjoyed a real boy’s room, tailored to his taste.
With the Governor working long hours away from home and a big family to raise, what household responsibilities were given to your daughters?
We had a natural cohesiveness. Mario didn’t let the children watch television during the week; he felt weekdays were to be devoted to homework.
We both felt that children need routines and structure in their lives and so our children all had their assigned chores. The girls would set the table and clear the dishes when the meal was done.
Andrew would take care of our dog and take out the garbage. I remember one night when the girls were upset. Margaret was the spokesperson. They felt that they had set the table, washed and dried the dishes, while Andrew didn’t even put his dish in the sink. I called Andrew into the room and the girls told him why they were upset with him. I then asked Andrew to make a list of all the chores he performed. The girls did the same. When my daughters realized all the chores Andrew was actually doing, they were so overwhelmed that they never brought the discussion up again.
As a fulltime wife, mother, and First Lady of New York State, how did you balance family and the demands of being the Governor’s wife, and still have time for yourself?
I did not allow myself a lot of personal time. For example, I don’t recall ever watching television at night. There simply was too much to do. We faced many challenges, and a priority was to assist the children and families of our state. We started many programs that became national models that still stand today.
If I was to do this at all, I was determined to do it well. As First Lady of New York, I traveled the whole state and had a very busy schedule. But for me, family and home was always my number one priority.
You have often been referred to as the most active First Lady in New York State’s history. As First Lady you worked with community leaders and elected officials to establish programs to prevent child abuse, strengthen families, promote adoption for foster care as well as preventing school dropout. Under Governor Cuomo’s initiative, you were the chief spokesperson for the New York State Decade of the Child, striving to improve the quality of and access to more than 140 state programs for children and families. In 1995 you founded Mentoring USA, promoting education, antiviolence and cultural differences. Your passionate support of children and families extends to Help USA (a non-profit started by Andrew Cuomo where Maria Cuomo Cole serves as Board chair), the National Mental Health Foundation, the Lupus Foundation, and various cancer organizations.
What message about “public service” did you share with your children, and what message would you like to share with our readers?
As First Lady, I was in a very fortunate position. My children realized at a young age that their father’s life was one of public service. Because of this, they became closer to, and more aware of, the many issues facing our state and our nation. This awareness provided life lessons that guided their lives, both then and now. If you have talent, and the desire to work hard, the greatest fulfillment comes from helping others.
What is your favorite family tradition that you hope your children will pass on to future generations?
We are a religious Catholic family. Therefore, the Catholic holidays are very special to my family. It was important to me that my children understood the true meaning of the holidays we celebrated. I wanted them to be able to incorporate the significance of these celebrated occasions into their everyday lives. We love sharing traditions and being together.
Do you have advice for new Mothers?
Before you decide to marry, think about your goals. Make sure that you and your future husband both want the same things. Be realistic, do you both want children? Motherhood is a selfless role, a sacrifice from beginning to end. The matriarch bears the burdens as well as the pleasures. You must do it with love.
What is you advise to mother’s having more than one child?
If you have more than one child, you must see them all as individuals; nurturing their talents, exploring their interests, constantly listening, and always being there for them.
In retrospect, is there anything you would do differently in raising your children?
I’ve never concerned myself with what I could have done better. I did my very best. In the end, my husband and I have five healthy children, thirteen granddaughters and one grandson.
This is a special gift from God.