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Michelle Obama: Balancing Barack - The working mom with one eye on the White House

Published on: September 01, 2007

Her husband is a U.S. senator, a presidential candidate and a media darling, but Michelle Obama doesn’t live in anyone’s shadow. A Harvard Law School grad herself, Ms. Obama is a high-ranking hospital executive and the mother of two girls, ages 6 and 9. Juggling those roles — and life on the campaign trail — isn’t easy. We caught up with Ms. Obama on her recent visit to Seattle and asked her how she does it.

Q: You’re a high-powered executive, a candidate’s wife with significant campaign duties, and the mother of two young girls. How do you balance all of this?

My ability to get through my day is greatly dependent upon the relationships that I have with other women — my mother, my aunts, my girlfriends, my neighbors, the mothers in my children’s schools. I have this wonderful network of women where we rely upon one another for emotional and practical support. In these women I find a place of comfort and sanity and peace like no other. We ground one another; we listen to one another’s problems, free to tell one another the truth about when we are being unreasonable or stubborn or foolish or blind; we encourage one another’s relationships; we support one another in our work; we share family holidays together; swap recipes; share childrearing advice. It is a true community, and I am blessed to have such a big community — one that includes many wonderful and supportive men, the most important of whom is my husband who I value, cherish and respect. But, it also is one that is highly populated by women — strong women.

Q: What do you and Sen. Obama hope to do for the millions of American women who also struggle to strike that balance, especially those who don’t have the advantages of education and income, and/or are single mothers?

We have spent the last decade talking a good game about family values, but I haven’t seen much evidence that we actually value women or families. Instead of offering support, what we’ve done is tell women and families to figure it out for themselves. Figure out how you are going to support a family on a minimum wage salary with no benefits. Figure out who will watch your children without quality, affordable child care. Figure out how you’ll keep your family healthy without quality health care. Figure out where you’re going to live without affordable housing.

Essentially, we have told women to dream big, but after that, you’re on your own.

Now, I am fortunate, because in addition to having the support of a community of strong women, Barack and I are very blessed, we are blessed to be in a position where we have the resources we need to care for our family.

I am also fortunate because I married a man who understands my struggle and the challenges facing women and families. That’s not just because he lives with me but because he actually listens to me and respects me and my perspective and my life experiences.  

But it is also because he was raised in a household of strong women who struggled and sacrificed to help him achieve his dreams. He saw his grandmother, who was the primary breadwinner in their family. He saw his mother, a young, single parent, trying to finish her education and raise her children across two continents. He sees his sister, a single parent, trying to eke out a life for herself and her daughter on a salary that pays too little.

He sees it in the eyes of the women he meets throughout the country: women who have lost loved ones in the war, women who don’t have adequate health care or affordable day care or jobs that pay a living wage.

Their stories keep him up at night. Their stories are what guide him throughout his life. Their stories — our stories — are why he entered this race, because he believes in who we are and what we can be as women, as families and as a country. And our stories are going to be what propels him into the White House to be in a position do something, because he brings an understanding and an appreciation for the minor miracles that women across the country are performing every day.

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