Barack & Michelle Obama Open Up About Parenthood

Sen. Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, recently sat down with People to talk about all things family. They discussed how they set routines, boundaries, and playtimes with their girls. The couple also opened up about campaigning with their two young daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, and how they plan to balance parenthood should they be moving from their Chicago home to Washington soon.

On if they give the girls birthday presents: Michelle said, “No, because we spend hundreds of dollars on a birthday party and movie tickets and pizza and popcorn …” Barack added, “That sleepover is enough. We want to teach some limits to them. And their friends bring over presents.” Michelle added “They get so much stuff that it just becomes numbing. Malia believes there is still a Santa Claus even though she’s a little wary because some of her friends are non-believers. But Malia says, “Ma, I know there is a Santa because there’s no way you’d buy me all that stuff.”

On slumber parties at the Obama house: Barack said, “They’re pretty noisy,” and Michelle added, “The older they get, they just talk a lot. But they’re at the age where they’re pretty self-sufficient. [For Malia’s birthday] we’re going to go swimming, see Wall-E, make pizzas, have sundaes.” Barack added, “I usually go for the swim but this time I want to go to the movie just because Wall-E has gotten great reviews. I find actually that children’s movies are the best movies these days. But I’ll probably, after that, peel off until the cake.”

On if they give the girls an allowance: Michelle responded, “Sorta, kinda. [Laughs]” Barack added, “I’m out of town all the time, so Malia will say, “Hey, you owe me 10 weeks!” … Originally, we were giving her a dollar a week as long as she did all her chores. It turns out that she’s been doing her chores even without prompting from the allowance, which makes me feel guilty that she’s been carrying on her end of the bargain and I haven’t been as consistent.”

On what types of chores the girls do: Barack said “Setting the table, rinsing the dishes.” Michelle added, “They have to clean up their half of the third floor where they play. They have a closet of toys they have to clean up. They have to practice their piano every day.”

On what discipline looks like in their house: Barack said “Mommy raising her voice.” Michelle added, “It’s usually a lecture. It’s a lot of conversation. Or it’s separating them. Or it’s saying if you guys can’t decide nicely what program to watch, then you don’t get to watch anything. It’s sort of pulling away a privilege. But in all honesty, we don’t have to discipline.” Barack added, “If you ask them to do something, they’re like any other kid …” Michelle added, “They’ll whine a little bit,” and Barack added, “They’ll test boundaries. But if you say, “Guys, this is what we need to do …” Michelle then said, “An example of this is one night I was going out, I had to do a fund-raiser, and I told Malia, “You guys really need to have an early bedtime because you’ve got to get up tomorrow and have a busy day.” So my mom was there, and my mom doesn’t adhere to bedtime. She’s kinda, “Well, maybe you wanna start taking your bath…” But that night, she said she sat down to watch TV with them and they both got up, turned off the TV and left. And my mom was like, “Where are you going?” And they said, “We have got to go to bed early today, Grandma.” And they went downstairs, took their baths and went to bed, and my mom was just stunned.”

On the division of labor between the 2 of them before the kids arrived: Barack said, “I was doing the checkbook, the house and car repairs, the grocery shopping.” Michelle added, “That was a long time ago.” Barack added, “I would sometimes do the laundry – although not fold, I have to confess.” Michelle added, “Which is really pretty useless.” Barack then said, “But clean clothes, that’s something. … I mean, look, I gotta be honest. For the last 17 months I’ve been on the road 98 percent of the time.” Michelle added, “His job is to be there when requested. Right now, it’s important for him to be at parent-teacher conferences, piano recitals, things that are important to the girls. It’s less the household stuff because the household works; it’s more being there for them, which he has done an outstanding job at. There are few things that he’s missed that were important to them.”

On if the girls have mixed feelings if Barack wins the presidential election: Barack said, “I am absolutely certain because we’ve talked about it – that they are not looking forward to moving. They have a wonderful life in Chicago, they have lifelong friends in Chicago and the prospects of having to make new friends, that’s never something that kids are looking forward to. So I’m sure that there’s a part of them that says we won’t be heartbroken if things don’t work out.” When asked if they said tomorrow “I don’t want you to be President, I want you to be Daddy”? Barack responded, “Well, so far those issues haven’t been mutually exclusive. We talked about this before we started and Michelle and I monitor their attitudes pretty closely.” Michelle added, “They’ve been stable. Their lives just haven’t changed that much.” Barack then said, “And our job, more than anything, is to make sure that in addition to monitoring whether or not they’re feeling sad or neglected at all, that they’re also not feeling special because their dad is running for President.” Michelle stated, “That’s right.” Barack then said, “One of the things I’ve been really happy about is how nonplussed they’ve been by the whole thing. They don’t bring it up, they don’t talk to their friends about it. If anything, they’re actually more courteous and more careful with other people now than they were before I ran.”

On talking to the girls about their behavior now being now being up for publicly scrutiny: Barack said, “It was more just like making sure the same standards we set before we were in the public eye were maintained.” Michelle added, “Be considerate of how other people might feel, you know, empathize. Put yourself in the place of other people.” Barack then said, “And just never think that you’re better than anybody else. Or worse than anybody else.” Michelle added: “That’s also one of the reasons why we don’t campaign with them a lot. Because no matter what you do at a campaign setting, they are special, right? It’s Fourth of July and everybody is singing “Happy Birthday” to Malia. … And everybody loves the kids so they get special treatment. That’s nice for a day or two, but they need to go back home, just so they realize that this isn’t life.” Barack added, “Which is good when they’re doing activities like soccer. Malia loves soccer, but she’s still so tall and gangly compared to some of these little kids who are zipping around her, although she’s getting better. The fact that she’s not good at everything right away – and Sasha’s not good at everything right away – means learning lessons about having to work hard at something and improve.”

On how they are preparing the girls for possible life in the White House: Michelle said, “Slowly. We talk to them about it as they are curious. … They ask about schools and making friends. … Their anxiety has nothing to do with the White House; it has everything to do with what kids think about: “If I have to go to a new school, will I make friends and what about my old friendships?”

On how this experience has changed their marriage: Barack said, “It’s made it stronger. The tough times for us were when the kids were real small, I was away a lot and Michelle was still working. So, the burden on her was enormous, and I think there’s a feeling that maybe I didn’t fully appreciate that burden. That was something we worked through. And I think we’re both more patient with each other. We both know how to avoid making the other person feel aggravated. And I’m so proud of her and I think she knows how much I love and appreciate her. So, she puts up with me.” Michelle added, “I think it has made us stronger. Time and love and sacrifice and hard struggles, I think, make you stronger.” Barack then said, “I also think that she knew at the beginning when I was doing this that if she came to me and said don’t do it, I wouldn’t have done it.” Michelle said, “That’s the key, for sure.” Barack added, “And if I ever thought that it was ruining my family, I wouldn’t do it.” Michelle said, “We’re constantly balancing each other. I know that if I were to say, “I can’t take this,” it would be over.”

Source: People

Photo: Martin Schoeller

Filed under: Barack Obama,Malia Obama,Michelle Obama,Sasha Obama

  • Threse

    Oh god, I cant stand Obama enymore! Wtf has he’s personality and family life hafto do with being a president? Stop trying to brainwash the people Obama!

  • anne

    @ first comment: Everybody’s ‘marketing’ does this sort of thing, for ages and ages. This kind of article in this kind of magazine is really pretty benign —- though not w/o risk because prospective voters can tell when it’s fake or an uncomfortable fit (see John Kerry, haha). The Obamas, on the other hand, seem pretty darn genuine and regular and likeable. This has been such a long campaign season already, it’s hard not to be sick of everybody sometimes! But with polls indicating that *lots* of people still doubt Obama “shares their values” and still find him and his family “exotic” (*cough*), it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Obamas might consider doing press that shows voters how normal (un-scary?) they are. Add to that all the people who vote *primarily* on the basis of “likeability” and it’s little wonder candidates want to reassure us via “family conversation” pieces, right?.

  • Amanda

    I think its ridiculous the way they parent,a dollar a week for chores?I highly doubt any of this is true,its all for looks.I’m sure his kids get PLENTY of presents and allowance.Its probably all fake and just said for the sake of looking like good parents and good people.

  • Meg

    I think whether or not the Obamas are “regular,” “likeable,” and “genuine,” is a matter of opinion. I tend to agree that this piece sounds a little rehearsed with the way that they are overly stressing their “value system.” I don’t find it believable that they don’t give presents and that their kids just govern themselves. It might be close to the truth, but definitely seems overexaggerated for effect. And copping to the whole idea that people who disagree with the Obamas must think the Obamas are scary… is a lame, overused bit. Maybe people really don’t agree with his values, and maybe that has nothing to do with how “exotic” he and his family are.

  • Tracy

    I didn’t read the whole interview, but I read the part about the presents and allowances. They said they didn’t give them presents for their birthdays because they spent a lot on the parties themselves. Not that they never gave them presents.

    My kids are inundated with gifts every holiday and birthday, and it is way too much. They don’t even appreciate it, there’s so much. They are also expected to do chores to help out since I work, too. They don’t get an allowance for it.

    Fake? Who knows, but the world might be a better place if all parents followed their example.

  • antigonie

    At all the people who said that it’s all fake and it’s for publicity, WHAT THE HELL IS A 10 AND 7 YR OLD GONNA BUY WITH A CRAPLOAD OF MONEY ANYWAY…A STUPID TOY THAT THEY PROBABLY WON’T PLAY WITH?! This is what’s wrong with America now, parents shower their children with money and don’t set boundaries and teach them morals so they can grow up to BE SOMETHING other than spoiled little brats who don’t know how to function without mummy and daddy. A birthday/slumber party or going to the movies is good enough for children that age because young children appreciate it more if things are kept small and private. If you have some big bash with clowns, bouncy houses, etc. they’ll think “Well if I get get this, then I can get what I want when I want it.” Children need to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them and you don’t always get what you ask for, you have to work hard for what you want. Just because you’re campaigning doesn’t mean you have a lot of money so don’t expect Barack and Michelle to shower their daughters with these extravagant gifts.

    BTW having an interracial family doesn’t make you exotic it makes you a human being. People are people no matter what race you are because in the end everyone has done some good and some bad so if you don’t like Barack because of who he is or what he’s done look back on your life and ask yourself “Who am I to judge?” Find it in your heart to forgive others and yourself for their/your past transgressions because people already know what they’ve done and they don’t need you to constantly remind them.

  • anne

    Reply to M, above: You might want to re-read my comment. In no way did I state–or even imply–that people who “disagree” with Obama are automatically racist or some such: (1) I don’t believe that, and (2) I wouldn’t bring up ideological “disagreements” on Celebrity Baby Scoop, anyway. My comment concerned candidates doing ‘family values’ press — which they all do, no matter what office they’re running for. It’s always deliberate & calculated to appeal (um, they want to win?) — so some degree of marketing ‘fakery’ isn’t a phenomenon peculiar to Obama, and no candidate should be slammed just for indulging in it. He does have an extra reason to do this kind of article, though … and that’s the fact (not a “[lame] bit” — see polling data, interviews, news reports) that an awful lot of people claim they don’t know enough about him/them and suspect/believe he doesn’t share their values. Any candidate would address that on several fronts, a magazine interview about ‘family’ being one of them. Yes, my impression from the article & elsewhere is that the Obamas are “genuine..regular..and likeable” as people, are parenting successfully, and their daughters are spirited, smart, charming, and esp. in Malia’s case, very aware, poised, and level-headed. You are not convinced … OK. My estimation is (1) obviously a “matter of opinion”…which I’d have thought goes without saying on a Comments page (sheesh), and (2) irrespective of Obama’s political views.

  • Threse

    Anne I just saw your reply on my comment,
    And I hafto say that I disagree a bit with what you say because Obama tryes to brainwash the people, with his nice and cute storys about his family. And thats what bothers me. It would be normal if he did it just a bit, But all he talks about is his family or about what Geroge Bush did wrong while he was president. He doesn’t really talk about his opinions or what he will do and chagne ( if ) he becomes a president. He doesn’t give direkt answers when people asks him qusetions about politic, But he can more then gladly talk about his family and try to charm the people. That is not genuine, Thats just giving a false picture of him as a president.

  • anne

    (It would be inappropriate for me to address the political stuff on this site — I’m doing my best to stick to the magazine article cited and the issues it raises.) Basically what I’m saying is, it’s understandable–given what polling data reveal a lot of voters are interested in–if the Obamas do ‘family’ interviews that just might reassure people about what they value in their personal lives. But you know, I’ve come across a lot of p.r. about McCain’s family, too (it’s a campaign, y’all!)— and there’s been plenty to read & hear from *both* candidates about their positions & policy proposals — so I’m not sure I understand the brainwashing-via-magazine charges.

  • C

    maybe the guy talks about his family a lot just because he’s madly in love with his family. That doesn’t make him fake!!! It’s a natural tendency of human beings to talk a lot about things they love, or feel strongly for, or even against. He talks about Bush a lot because he’s so against Bush. I don’t think that makes him fake- it makes him human. Perhaps if you consider yourself more, and judge your own self, you won’t have the time to judge others. How would you feel if you/your husband or family member was running for president, and you tried to be a real as possible, and people were saying that you were fake. I didn’t read anything fake in that interview. I read about a normal guy who is just trying to instill some values into his children.

  • anne

    (#10: What a lovely valedictory for this post!)

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