She calls herself Mom-in-Chief. He says he wants his #1 legacy to be his role as a father. They were the epitome of class, hard work, and what it means to be a family. Their girls were taught the importance of household chores (even in the White House) and the value of getting not-so-fun jobs as teens. Sasha and Malia still played sports, had play dates with friends, and sat around at the dinner table as a family of four, even though their dad was the president.
For eight years, Michelle and Barack Obama showed us what it looks like to be the leaders of a nation but also the leaders of their household. They showed us how to manage work with parenthood and how to raise young children into good humans.
Here are 9 times the Obamas were #parentinggoals:
1. They taught us that when others go low, we go high.
Michelle Obama coined this famous line in her 2016 speech at the Democratic National Convention. She discussed the many lessons she and Barack try to instill in their daughters, including: “How we urge them to ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith. How we insist that this hateful language they hear form public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country. How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is: when they go low, we go high.”
What an important message for our kids to hear. Because ALL of our kids—not just Sasha and Malia Obama—will be hit with low blows at some point. And rather than responding with hate or revenge, we should take a page out of Michelle Obama’s playbook and teach our kids the invaluable lesson of taking the high road.
2. They showed us how important it is to make good on our promises.
I don’t know about you, but I am queen of empty threats and promises, and it’s not the best parenting strategy. Too often I find myself saying “Yeah, sure” just to shut my kids up, or “If you don’t ____, we are NOT going to Disney!” even though we’ve already sold a kidney to pay for Disney.
The Obamas, on the other hand, actually follow through. For example, their daughters were promised a dog if Dad won the election. And a dog they received. In April of 2009, a Portuguese water dog named Bo became a member of the Obama family—because keeping your word is good parenting. (I’m going to write that down on a post-it.)
3. They proved you can be a good parent and maintain your career.
In a Washington Post article, Michelle describes what it was like to be a working mom with a baby. “I didn’t have a babysitter, so I took Sasha right in there with me in her crib and her rocker. I was still nursing, so I was wearing my nursing shirt. I told my boss, ‘This is what I have: two small kids. My husband is running for the U.S. Senate. I will not work part time. I need flexibility. I need a good salary. I need to be able to afford babysitting. And if you can do all that, and you’re willing to be flexible with me because I will get the job done, I can work hard on a flexible schedule.’ I was very clear. And he said yes to everything.”
And women everywhere are clapping for this. This is how a working mom gets shit done. By showing her boss that she can do it, but also stating what she needs to get it done properly. BOOM.
4. They modeled unconditional love for their kids.
In a country where LGBTQ youth are still fighting for acceptance, are pushed into “conversion therapy,” or are ostracized by their families because of who they love, Barack and Michelle Obama showed America what it means to love our kids for who they are.
In his Weekly Address back in June of 2011, Barack discussed what Father’s Day meant to him: “Above all, children need our unconditional love — whether they succeed or make mistakes; when life is easy and when life is tough.”
And just before his 2009 inauguration, he was quoted as saying, “As fathers, we need to be involved in our children’s lives not just when it’s convenient or easy, and not just when they’re doing well — but when it’s difficult and thankless, and they’re struggling. That is when they need us most.”
That’s the most important part of parenting, isn’t it? It’s easy to show love when they perform on stage in the 1st grade musical. But what about when they are teens and mess up? Or when we are drop-dead exhausted after being up all night with a newborn and our toddler needs us too? That’s when the real parenting happens—when they need forgiveness and when life is hard.
5. They modeled self-care.
If there’s one thing I want my kids to value, it’s taking care of themselves. Even when they become parents. Especially when they become parents. I do not want my daughter to be a martyr and sacrifice every last bit of herself to motherhood. I want her to look up to someone like Michelle Obama, who is quoted as saying, “When I get up and work out, I’m working out just as much for my girls as I am for me, because I want them to see a mother who loves them dearly, who invests in them, but who also invests in herself. It’s just as much about letting them know as young women that it is okay to put yourself a little higher on your priority list.”
6. They worked as team.
Although Barack was president, he didn’t shirk his role as Dad. He didn’t hand over the parenting tasks to Michelle, but rather stayed involved—even coaching Sasha’s basketball team. He was there to help with homework. And he was there to talk about their day over dinner, during which his day—as president of the United States—was usually the last topic of discussion.
Barack and Michelle showed their girls what it looks like to have mutual respect for one another and to parent as a unit. He says of the early days when the girls were babies: “While Michelle got some well-earned sleep, I would stay up until one or two in the morning, changing diapers, heating breast milk, feeling my daughter’s soft breath against my chest as I rocked her to sleep, guessing at her infant dreams.”
7. They taught their girls to eat the cake.
Michelle is well-known for her “Let’s Move!” campaign, which promoted healthy eating and exercise. She showed kids how to cook with food from the White House garden and spent much of her time educating America’s youth about proper nutrition. So we can imagine that the Obama family eats healthy most days at home.
But she also taught her kids to enjoy life. As quoted in an article on Black Enterprise, she says, “When it’s time for the holidays and the fun stuff and the birthday parties, you don’t have to worry about [eating healthy] because you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing everyday.”
8. They instilled a strong work ethic in their kids.
Obviously, Sasha and Malia have grown up with the privilege of being well-off financially. But it’s their parents’ hard work that got them there, and Barack and Michelle want to make sure these two girls know how important that is. Michelle was quoted several times as saying “They’re going to need to make their beds and clean up,” even though the White House had a housekeeping staff. And Barack once said, “We are looking for opportunities for them to feel as if going to work and getting a paycheck is not always fun, not always stimulating, not always fair. But that’s what most folks go through every single day.”
9. They know how important their job is.
And I’m not talking about running the country. Both Michelle and Barack Obama take parenthood quite seriously, as evident in the way they speak about the job and how they’ve raised their kids. In fact, despite achieving the ultimate life goal of being president of the United States, Barack Obama still says his most important job in life is Dad.
“If I think to myself, what’s the thing that I’m going to remember on my last breath, it’s not going to be anything to do with my office. I’m not going to be thinking about Grant Park and me getting elected. I’m not going to be thinking about even passing health care, as important as that has been. What I’m going to remember is me holding my daughter’s hand, and walking her to the park, and seeing the sun go down, and pushing her on a swing.”
You can’t take this gig lightly. You can’t blow it off, even if you’re the president. And if there’s ever been a family to show us how it’s done, it’s the Obamas.