What I learned about parenting from Michelle Obama

When I first wrote this post the Obamas were at the end of their stay in the White House. The recent unveiling of Amy Sherald’s portrait at the National Portrait Gallery put this evocative image of a former First Lady and mom front and center once again.


Among her many roles, Michelle Obama is a mom. In fact, she’s what I call a Real Mom. A Real Mom is one who takes Job #1—raising her children—very seriously, but with a sense of humor and fun about her. (Like she rides in an SUV with James Corden and Missy Elliot and sings along to “Get Ur Freak On.”)

Michelle Obama has high expectations for her children as Real Moms do. A Real Mom speaks proudly and honestly about her children. Michelle Obama revealed one of her girls had teenage issues, referring to her as a “salty biscuit” who gives attitude. But true to the Obamas’ protectiveness of their children’s privacy, she did not reveal which girl was the “salty biscuit” and which was the “goody goody.”

When Time magazine named both daughters as Most Influential Teens, in an ABC News appearance, Michelle Obama flatly stated: “They have not done anything to be influential. They just live there” (pointing to the White House).

Michelle Obama’s high expectations for her daughters are tempered with humility about what it takes to meet those expectations. She revealed that she requires both girls to play two sports. One of those sports she chooses and it is not necessarily something the girls are good at or would have chosen for themselves.

According to Michelle Obama, the choice of something that doesn’t come naturally is so they can understand what it is like to have to work hard at something they don’t like. This may seem counterintuitive, even harsh, but I think the objective is to teach perseverance through mastering a task, even an unpleasant one.

Despite the privilege and access that a White House childhood confers, both girls have grown to be young women who are respectful and self- confident. Respect for others, self-confidence and perseverance in the face of difficult or unpleasant challenges, these are powerful values. Teaching and modeling values is a large part of Job #1. Like all parents, the Obamas have to work at conveying and instilling those values, just like other moms and dads. It’s clear to me, that whether it’s the White House or your house, the essentials of raising children are fundamentally the same. Are you clear on how you’re imparting values to your children? Try this.

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