Cover photo shoot by Kwaku Alston, Stockland Martel for USA WEEKEND. Michelle Obama's Hair: Johnny Wright; Make-up: Derrick Rutledge.
How Malia and Sasha’s mom handles...
“I want them doing their homework in their rooms. Usually my mother or me, we’re around, coming in and out, just helping them and checking in on them. The first thing they have to do when they get home on Friday, usually, is a little homework. That’s the same thing when they wake up on Saturday morning. They can’t just run and turn on the TV. I have to see that they’ve done a page of homework.”
“During the week, they can be on the computer, but it has to be for schoolwork. You have to sort of monitor that, because there’s Skype and all that, and you sort of lean over and you think, ‘Are you really doing schoolwork?’ ”
“I did it one or two times and just found it to be completely ineffective because it was less about teaching a lesson and more about my own [feelings]. Malia was younger, probably 4.”
“That’s the president’s responsibility, and it’s been sort of hit or miss because he’ll forget. There are just some things I don’t want to have to monitor, so I tell Malia, in particular, ‘If you want your allowance, you have to remember to ask for it, or else you don’t get it.’ ”
Waking up for school
“I got my kids alarm clocks very early because I want them to be able to control their time independently, so they wake up on their own.”
“They’re not really interested. Right now, the thought of boys is just like, ‘Yuck! Please!’ ”
For Michelle Obama, mother of two very active girls, Malia, 11, and Sasha, 8, “taking care of family” comes first, Obama tells USA WEEKEND Magazine during an exclusive interview in the Map Room at the White House.
Baring those famous biceps in an explosive fuchsia-colored dress and metallic heels, Obama is no Donna Reed from an era past. But when it comes to her family, her take is unapologetically and forthrightly old-fashioned. Even she is surprised at “how much I draw on my own childhood and my mother’s style of mothering.” Indeed, her mother, Marian Robinson, 72, lives right above the first family on the third floor of the White House and is a key part of the Obamas’ family support system. (Just before our photo shoot, we spotted Robinson taking a morning walk on the grounds.)
Even though Obama sought advice early on from her predecessors Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton and even Tipper Gore, wife of former vice president Al Gore, she notes that “the beauty of this role [is that] it’s unique to the person who’s sitting in this position, and you define it.”
The goal is "regular little kids"
A graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law, ex-corporate attorney and professional hospital administrator, Obama is applying her formidable smarts and pragmatism to focus intently on making sure that Sasha and Malia feel like “regular little kids.”
“You’ve got a lot of people who are willing to help and to make life easy,” Obama says. “We have to just make sure that people aren’t walking in behind them doing things they should be doing for themselves.”
“We have to set some pretty clear boundaries with the staff to ensure the kids still take ownership of their spaces,” she says. “We have to demand that.”
“First grandma” Robinson embraces the do-it-yourself message — she “has to sneak to do her own laundry.” The girls’ turn at tackling the dirty-clothes pile is coming. “Malia doesn’t know this yet,” Obama confides, “but she’s going to be doing her own laundry, too. She can’t go to college never having done her own laundry!”
The dinner hour is sacrosanct in the Michelle Obama White House-hold. President Obama tries to have dinner with the family every night. That’s when they come together and talk about everything — everything that relates to the kids, that is.
Those wonderful family chats, however, don’t include too much talk about Dad — only “about 1%,” she says wryly.
The girls “pretty much want the floor 85% to 90% of the time. If the conversation is good, we can be at the table for a good 35 to 45 minutes. But sometimes I have to break it up because it’s time to walk the dog." Time for the kids to walk the dog, that is.
Prayer for the future
“I pray that they are happy with themselves so they are confident and secure in who they are. That’s the basis of everything — that they feel loved, and they have an internal peace. Then everything else will fall into place.”
Carol Clurman, a senior editor at USA WEEKEND Magazine, reports on Sarah Palin’s mothering style in next week’s issue.