African American Moms Rejoice.

by Kuae Mattox


Just when I thought those darned mommy wars had piped down to an occasional simmer on the media hotplate, in walks a fresh face on the national scene and the stew starts to boil again.

Michelle Obama has received the advice of everyone from the wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair to former First Lady Barbara Bush. “Get used to the back seat,” she’s been told. “Understand the perils and pitfalls of the ‘trailing’ spouse.” “Michelle Obama is setting a poor example for women”, one author lamented. The feminist fury over the notion that Michelle Obama, an Ivy League-educated corporate attorney, will now be measuring the drapes for a living is plastered across cyberspace. The tug of war is well underway, and it’s making my head spin. “She’s part of the working moms club.” “No siree, Michelle’s going to be a stay at home mom now. She’s trading it all in.” “She’s throwing it all away.” “She really has no choice you know…Oh, by the way, did you see that dress she wore on election night?” Michelle Obama has been defined and pigeonholed, filed and categorized long before she sets foot in the bubble that is the White House.

But in the black community, there isn’t much quibbling between working moms and stay at home moms over Michelle Obama’s employment status. That’s because historically, most African American mothers have not had the choice to stay at home with their children. Most of our mothers worked. Period. They didn’t have the luxury of lamenting what they gave up when they trailed their spouse or left their careers. They worked because they had to. They raised their kids, and in many cases, other people’s children too. The mere notion of staying at home to many little black girls growing up, was, quite simply, profound, and at best, unrealistic.

Yet for the past decade I have been part of a movement of thousands of educated, successful African American mothers who indeed have been able to make the choice to stay at home. We call it a “season,” because we know full well that a stay at home mom in January could be a working mom in September. We know that a stay at home mom is as much a state of mind as it is a reality. What Michelle Obama calls “Mom in Chief” has yet to be truly defined. As First Lady, with a predefined agenda, it will be up to Mrs. Obama to create the balance for the role in which she chooses to play. As far as I am concerned, she can call herself a “working” mom, a “stay at home” mom, a “whatever she wants” mom. Many of us are still basking in the glow, grinning from ear to ear, reveling in the fact that Barack and Michelle Obama are simply “there.”