by Shari MacDonald Strong
Let me be clear from the start: I love Michelle Obama. I admire her. I’m inspired by her. She is by all accounts a fantastic mom, and she’s had a highly successful career in law and community leadership. And now, as First Lady, she’s taking on admirable challenges and making her presence well known -- in a manner that is strong but in no way obnoxious.
So why, when I read about her growing list of accomplishments, do I feel the teensiest bit grumpy?
The last I checked, Michelle Obama was hosting an event celebrating the signing of the Lily Ledbetter bill – a bill whose passage thrilled me and elevated my faith in our government to a new height. Then today, I read a journalist’s summary of Michelle’s accomplishments since moving to the White House: supporting military families, encouraging national service, highlighting women’s issues, advocating for work-and-family balance, and breaking down walls between the White House and the surrounding D.C. community. And the latest? Bringing healthy eating to the White House.
Upon reading this, I felt my spirits deflate. Not because I begrudge her success in any of these areas – far from it. It’s just that it’s getting harder and harder to, in a sense, keep up.
I mean, I took my children to the park on January 19 to help clean up with other volunteers, after Michelle made a plea for community service. I recently edited a book about motherhood and politics. Throughout 2008, I talked about the pros and cons of various candidates to anyone who would listen. I’ve given money, and I’ve given time – both of which are in short supply for most of us. In other words, I’ve done the best I could – or tried to. But Michelle Obama has done more. And that’s fine with me. It’s great, even. I look to her as a role model, and I strive to achieve what I can in my circle of influence -- which admittedly looks different than hers, and that’s okay, too. So why am I feeling so out-performed now?
Before the Obamas moved to Washington, I wondered what kind of First Lady Michelle would be. Nancy Reagan told kids to “Just say no” to drugs. Hillary Rodham Clinton had health care reform, and Barbara Bush was all about literacy. What would Michelle Obama’s “thing” be?
So far, it looks like it might be a little bit of everything.
Which, in terms of my feelings, might just be the problem. The thing is, the scope of her involvement is wonderful, but it’s also intimidating to those of us who see her not only as a public figure, but also as “one of us.” Seemingly, she does it all – all while looking gorgeous. And now she’s doing it all while emphasizing healthy eating, too? I feel like I should be waving a white flag of surrender.
Of course, the problem isn’t Michelle Obama or what she’s accomplishing. The problem is, my own misperception that I should be just as successful, without the support of staff, without the same resources, and working from an entirely different set of circumstances. The problem is, even when it comes to politics – like in so many other areas of life -- women tend to feel like we’re not doing enough, and that we have do things perfectly, or we shouldn’t be doing them at all.
Personally, whenever I try to do too much (which happens far too often), I wind up feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. And since I don’t have a lot of help (my children are small and my husband works long hours), I end up ordering pizza or pulling through the drive-through on the very busiest of days, and I usually feel pretty guilty about it. Hence my knee-jerk emotional reaction to Michelle Obama’s newest cause.
But Michelle Obama isn’t my mother, or my conscience. Nor is she a saint. She’s just another mom, like me, doing the best she can – albeit with a much broader platform, a nice-sized staff, and a far better wardrobe. Her public persona is, indeed, that of a kind of Everymom, and the moms I know tend to say the same thing to one another: Take care of yourself. Cut yourself some slack. Give yourself a break.
So I’m taking that advice. I’m doing what I can, and I’m also giving myself permission not to do it all. I still can’t help but wish for overnight transformation -- in Washington, and in my own home -- but I’m learning to appreciate the small successes. Some days it’s a women’s rights bill, some days it’s my daughter’s geology project; some days it’s homemade chicken, some days it’s pizza – with applesauce or carrot sticks on the side.
We do what we can, together. And together, we hope for the best.