When Michelle Obama visited my city on her book tour, I had to go hear her speak. I idolize the former First Lady, not only for her many accomplishments and her super toned arms, but also for the admirable way she has raised her daughters. I’m a mother of two girls also, so I wanted to pick up whatever parenting wisdom she was dropping.
What surprised me was how candid Michelle was about her personal life. Freed from the pressures of the White House, she was relaxed, funny and ready to spill. For instance, did you know the Obamas had fertility struggles and ultimately underwent IVF? Hearing Michelle encourage women to share their miscarriage stories with each other made me love her even more.
But the story that stuck with me the most was about the Obama marriage. I mean, we all know they’re soulmates. Michelle still gets a dreamy twinkle in her eye when she talks about the first time they met and how he had a voice “like Barry White.” But that doesn’t mean it’s always been easy.
She described a rocky period in their relationship back when the girls were young and Barack was working in the Illinois state senate, with long hours and a long commute. Michelle found herself in the position so many moms do–picking up all the slack at home and putting herself last on the priority list.
“When it came time to who was making the doctor’s appointment, who was scheduling babysitters, who, you know, was making sure that the kids had summer programs and whose career got altered because he was making his political assent,” she said, “That’s when the tensions started.”
Michelle would feel particularly frustrated at dinnertime, aka the witching hour. “I’d be at home with the girls and he would be coming back from Springfield,” she remembered. “I’d be trying to figure out, do I keep the dinner warm? Do I keep the girls up? He would interrupt the flow.”
That’s when Michelle and Barack started marriage counseling. Yes, marriage counseling! She’s a huge fan. The therapist helped Michelle realize that it was not just okay but essential to start making herself a priority. Some of that involved self care, like her famous early morning workouts, but the biggest change was how she handled dinnertime with her daughters. Instead of waiting and wondering what time Daddy would be home so they could start eating, dinner would begin at 6:30 pm sharp (a tradition they continued through 8 years in the White House). If he could make it, great. But Michelle stopped putting her life on hold to accommodate her husband’s unpredictable schedule.
She learned to put herself first, not only for her own sanity, but as also an example to her girls. “I wanted my daughters to see me as a woman moving forward with her life and not waiting for a man,” she said. “It was like, ‘Dude, I know Syria, whatever is going on. But if you want to eat with us?…This is when we’re eating.'”
Though my husband isn’t in a war room discussing the fate of the nation, he does have awfully long work hours, so I really loved Michelle’s POV. More and more, I’m trying to make dinner with just me and my girls feel satisfying and fun, and not like the guest of honor is missing.
“I was looking to my partner to make me happy,” Michelle said. In marriage counseling, she realized, “It’s still my job in my marriage to figure out what my happiness is, and then to make that happen for myself — with or without him.” If their almost 30 year love story is any indication, that is some damn good marriage advice.
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