Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert
First Lady Michelle Obama vividly remembers the days when she juggled being a new mom to Malia, her job outside the home and trying to find a few minutes for herself. “I probably was like every mom -- I was focused, I was going to do everything right, and then I started working and trying to breastfeed and pump in the office,” the first lady said. “I mean, those are just the crazy days.”
But then Mrs. Obama came to a realization so many of us working moms can relate to. It’s ok to ask for help. In fact, it makes us better moms. “So I just got help, whether it was my mom, babysitters, friends, other girlfriends. Instead of feeling guilty about getting the help, I just realized I'm better if I get a break” and “the support group was huge, we would wind up doing things for each other." Yes, I was sitting across the table from the first lady but the conversation is one that I have continually with friends, family and colleagues.
On Thursday afternoon, I had the privilege of attending Take Your Daughter or Son To Work Day at the White House. My 14-year-old daughter Amanda (read her essay about what it was like to meet Mrs. Obama here) and I joined four other online reporters and their children for an extraordinary experience. We attended a press conference at which Mrs. Obama addressed 200 children of White House staff members. She told them how important the work that their parents do is for the millions of Americans and acknowledged that sometimes they miss events or have late nights because they are doing important work and that the Obamas love and appreciate them. She told the kids that by doing well in school, listening and staying out of trouble, they were helping their parents do well in their jobs.
As part of the day, we were invited to have lunch in the White House Kitchen with executive chef Cris Comerford. With help from her daughter and two other children of White House staffers, Comerford prepared a healthy delicious lunch of chicken pita with hummus and feta cheese and a carrot strawberry spritzer. She spoke about the importance of healthy eating, a huge part of Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. It was fun to learn that there are seven full-time chefs and two pastry chefs who love what they do.
We also got to spend an intimate hour with the first lady as one of just five online media organizations participating in a roundtable discussion. There were so many things Mrs. Obama shared that really resonated with Amanda and me. In particular, we were struck by her strong values around education and studying and her devotion to family and commitment. My daughter constantly uses the term "Womentum" and yesterday it’s all I could think about as we sat together, listening to Mrs. Obama across the table. Here are my favorite highlights:
What did we learn about the girls?
Sasha and Malia are encouraged to do both a team sport and individual sport. Malia plays tennis and Sasha is learning about basketball.
The girls love sleepovers. But mostly, they sleep at their friends’ houses much to Mrs. Obama's dismay!
3. Role Models: Mrs. Obama says that she and Mr. Obama are the girls’ role models, just like her mom has been for her. "Everyone else is a just a symbol of something." She deeply believes her girls look to their parents for cues and deep life meaning and lessons.
4. House Rules
Malia and Sasha are permitted non-school-related "screen time" (TV and computers) Friday to Sunday only. During the school week, they can use the computer only if it’s for study purposes.
Mrs. Obama said that people will reveal their true selves and it is important to listen, give second chances but then trust your instincts and make sure you treat people the way you want to be treated. "Friendships shouldn't hurt," she said.
What did we learn about how she juggles her role as first lady with being a mom?
6. The Balancing Act
Mrs. Obama learned to set priorities while she was juggling a career, being a new mother and a wife of a politician who travels. As first lady, she has crafted her schedule so that she works three days a week and is a mom/wife/daughter -- and Michelle -- the other four days a week.
During those workdays, whether it’s for her work with Let's Move or Joining Forces or official work, she balances the best she can. How does she do it? By just focusing on what needs to get done. During campaign season, she will devote those three days to campaigning. She loves campaigning and meeting real people and talking about her husband and his work. She works long days - but when it’s done, she’s done. She seems to so effectively stay in the moment!
Mrs. Obama shared with us so much about what defines happiness for her -- she is clear on who she is as Michelle Obama. Being first lady is a privilege and a role right now in her life, but she is Michelle. Her happiness emanates from her children, her relationship with her family and husband.
8. The President and Basketball
She told a cute story about President Obama and basketball -- he loves to play basketball. She told him that he may want to consider limiting the amount so he doesn't get hurt. She then spoke about the time he played, got 12 stitches and the next day still had to go to work as president. She laughed at the story.
9. Her Perfect Birthday
Mrs. Obama gets so much joy from just being with her family. Her perfect birthday entails sleeping late, and doing NOTHING with her family!
10. “Being Michelle”
During the hour, she repeated a few times how important being Michelle is, keeping girl time and doing what she loves. Happy Mom, happy kids, happy husband.
11. On Being the First Lady
Mrs. Obama emphasized how much we share in common as Americans. No matter who we are and what we do, we all want what’s best for our kids. She also revealed how seriously she takes her job. She tries so hard to do it well. She enjoys all aspects of it, but does sometimes wish she could sneak out alone and go shopping. And have an ice cream, all by herself.
Jodi Kahn is the President of iVillage. Check out her daughter Amanda's take on what it was like to meet the first lady.
Watch Michelle Obama welcome young people to the White House on Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day: