Family

When Your Dad Is New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait

Featuring Joanna Chait, age 14, grade 8.

The Chait family.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Joanna Chait

In this series, kids (and not-exactly-kids-anymore) review how well their parents balance life and work. To nominate a potential subject ideally between the ages of 5 and 17, email humaninterest@slate.com.

Joanna Chait, age 14, lives in Washington, D.C., with her parents Robin Chait, who works for Center City Public Charter Schools, and Jonathan Chait, a writer for New York magazine. 

Laura Bennett: Tell me a little bit about your relationship with your parents.

Joanna Chait: My dad and I are really close. I think we both understand each other pretty well and we have a ton of inside jokes, like sometimes at the dinner table we’ll look at each other and both start laughing. We both like watching Michigan basketball and football together. When I was younger, he read me the entire Harry Potter series, so we bond over those things. I get along well with both of my parents, though. If I ever have a problem with school, with my friends or anything, I usually talk to my mom, because she gives better advice about these types of things.

Who do you think you’re more similar to, your mom or your dad?

I’m more similar personality-wise to my mom. My dad and I are more opposites. The girls in my family are similar, and the boys in my family are similar. My dad and brother are both very stubborn. My mom and I are both really outgoing, we’re both people persons. We like to have social plans and leave our house more than my dad.

I think a lot of people who know your dad as a journalist, or his public and social media persona, would be surprised that you wouldn’t describe him as outgoing.

Yeah. Well, he’s outgoing with people he knows. My dad is really funny. My mom has a really good sense of humor, she’ll laugh at almost everything. So my dad makes the jokes, my mom laughs at them.

My dad just does not like meeting new people. He is more OK with working at home. That would drive, I think, my mom and me crazy. He has lunch with people, maybe, like once a week. That, I guess, helps.

How would you describe your dad’s job?

He is a political opinion journalist. Basically, he writes about what’s going on in the—well, not really in the world. More in the United States. He writes a lot about Trump and the government. He doesn’t usually interview people. He reads his material online. He reads a lot of newspapers, magazines, and sometimes books, too.

That is a very good summary. What about your mom’s job?

My mom, she works for Center City Public Charter Schools. She does communications. She does a little bit of social media. She does a ton of grant writing for them, too.

Do you think you parents like their jobs?

I think my dad loves his job. He works a lot, but he also talks about his work a lot, and I think he finds it completely fascinating because there’s new and interesting things happening every single day in the news.

My mom, I think she likes her work. She’s gotten really passionate about charter schools, it kind of opened her eyes about what they do for kids in poverty, especially in D.C.

Do you think your dad likes arguing for a living?

Yes, he likes getting his opinions across and stating what he thinks.

Is he good at doing that at home, too?

Yeah. He’s very persuasive. He’s kind of stubborn, too. For example, when I didn’t want to go to soccer camp because none of my other friends wanted to do it with me, my mom was like, “Oh, you should do it.” I was like, “No, I’m sure.” Then, my dad said, “Think about how much of a better player you would be after you did this camp.” He was super persuasive and convinced me to do it.

How much is his mood affected by what he’s writing about for his job?

I don’t really think it is. Sometimes he gets down if he’s unproductive, but when he’s really proud of something he’s written or he has a really productive day, then he can be completely energized and happy.

What do you think stresses him out the most about his job?

I think he’s gotten pretty good at being able to crank out what he needs to write, but before when he was first switching over to writing longer pieces, he was slower at it, so that was stressing him out.

What about your mom?

I think when she has to do public speaking, that stresses her out a lot. And when she has a ton of, maybe a lot of grants to write, or a ton to do and not a lot of time to do it. Also, deadlines.

What is your parents’ morning routine like?

My dad cannot really sleep that well. He usually gets up at like 6:30. He’ll get up, and go downstairs, and turn on his computer, and check Twitter.

What’s your dad’s relationship to Twitter?

He’s always on Twitter. I would say he’s kind of addicted to it, because it’s how he knows which articles are relevant to him, I guess. He can follow and look at what other journalists are saying.

Does he ever talk about arguing with people on Twitter?

Oh yeah. He’s mentioned his Twitter spats before, usually with right-wing journalists. When he was writing his book, he talked about how people were saying that Obama’s legacy won’t really last, because Trump’s gonna come in and undo all of his policies. He was arguing the opposite that, no, actually Obama’s legacy is intact.

Do you think those spats stress him out?

No, he doesn’t stress out over them, I don’t think. He either finds humor in them or just ends up blocking the person.

Which of your parents gets more stressed out about work?

My mom.

How can you tell?

I can just tell. She might have a glass of wine with dinner that night.

Understandable. What’s the last time you remember your dad being anxious about his job?

Oh, I guess maybe when he wanted his book to do better than it did. After Trump was elected, he stopped having an appetite for food. He wasn’t really eating. But he didn’t get stressed because it was sort of like his brain didn’t really register it, or he was able to separate himself. It was like he was watching this happen to the American people and not being part of it.

Are you on Twitter?

No, I’m not.

Why not?

None of my friends are on Twitter. It’s just not something that my generation is doing. I could see myself definitely getting on it when I’m older, like in college.

Do your parents have rules for you around screen time, so to speak? Like how much TV you can watch, how much you can look at your phone, all that stuff.

Yeah. They have certain rules about activity, like exercise. You have to do a certain amount of exercise per day. So they will kick us off if we’re on our screens for too long. They’ll definitely kick my brother off. They kick him off screens a lot.

How often do you find yourself disagreeing with your dad’s political views?

Not very often. I agree with a lot of what he says, and I think that’s common among kids, because they usually just believe most of what their parents tell them. But I do read the news and listen to podcasts and stuff, like the Pod Save America ones.

Do you read everything your dad writes?

No, I don’t. I like listening to him talk about politics and explain it to me.
I think he’s very good at analyzing it, in my opinion.

What’s the last thing he wrote that you read?

I really love reading his Trump pieces. I read one recently, I think it was about the budget, the new tax budget. I remember thinking that there were a lot of vocabulary words that I didn’t know. He knows a lot of words. I can hear him talking through his writing, which is really weird. He used a lot of evidence to back his points, because that’s pretty easy to do in the Trump era. They lie a ton. His arguments sounded really strong. I thought that his writing was really good. I was really impressed by it.

Do you ever search online to see what people are saying about his pieces?

I sometimes Google search him. I read his Wikipedia page one time. It was very outdated. When I look at his Twitter, it’s usually just other journalists commenting on things he said or retweeting his tweets.

Do your parents ever fight about work?

Not really. My parents get along super, super well. They’re really different from each other, so they complement each other well. They love each other a lot. They both try and lift each other up and support each other.

My parents do fight about my dad having holes in his jeans. My mom always chastises him for having holes in his jeans. The jeans are really old. He refuses to get new jeans. He’ll be like, “It’s fine. I don’t want to go shopping. I hate shopping.”

What are dinner table conversations like at the Chait house?

Sometimes we talk about the news that dad wrote about that day. We always start off by asking each other how our day was. How school’s going for me and Benjy, my brother. My dad drills us in what we learned if he doesn’t get enough of an answer. He picks a class, and says, “Joanna, what have you learned in history today?” I tell him. “Benjy, what’d you learn in science today?” He keeps going back and forth until we’re done with all of our classes.

And when I talk about things that I’ve learned in, like, history, he’ll ask me, “Why?” Then, sometimes if I try to explain it and don’t have enough valid reasoning, I’ll have to rethink my position.

Do you ever get tired of having to give valid reasoning? Are you ever like, “Dad, I just want to eat my mashed potatoes”?

No, I think it’s pretty interesting. Then, usually it’s my brother who gets tired and is like, “OK, I want to talk now.”

Who usually cooks dinner?

My dad. My mom was sort of kicked out of the kitchen after she cooked too many frozen vegetables. That’s all she made when we were younger, stir-fried vegetables, when our dad was still working in an office. Then, when he started working at home, he started cooking.

Do you have any sense of what you want to be when you grow up?

Not really. Something in either politics, history, or social sciences, like educational policies.

Would you ever want to be an opinion journalist?

I would think about it. I would not want to work at home. If I could make a decent amount of money off of it, and I enjoyed it, I would think about doing it.

What would you do differently than your parents in balancing work and life, if you’re a parent one day?

I think that what they have is pretty good. They’re really good parents. I guess maybe being able to drive us to school more often. Yep, that would be it.

Read more from the Slate series My Parents’ Work-Life Balance.

When Your Mom Is “Tiger Mother” Amy Chua

When Your Mom Is the Longtime Manager of Wu-Tang Members and Your Dad Is a Shaolin Monk

When Your Dad Is BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith