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Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

Michelle Obama on What's Really Important.

I have a hard time trying to imagine what it must be like to be married to a presidential candidate [1] while simultaneously trying to raise two children under the age of 10. I find it challenging just tackling my own work, preparing semi-healthy meals, keeping the house clean enough so that it won’t be declared a Superfund site and raising my three small children with my husband, who works long hours out of the house. And that’s with no overnight work trips for either of us during the week.

 

So when I try to envision the life currently being lived by Barack and Michelle Obama as the Illinois senator attempts to win the Democratic nomination for president, my head starts to throb.

 

During a recent interview on CNN with talkmeister Larry King [2], the hideously overscheduled Michelle Obama went into detail about how she and her husband, in the midst of a hotly contested presidential race, attempt to keep their daughters – Malia, 9 and Sasha, 6 – “on track.” Explaining that she and the kids didn’t move to Washington, D.C. after her husband was elected to the U.S. Senate because her work as a university administrator was in

Chicago , Michelle Obama said her marriage became a commuter marriage, where Barack Obama kept a small apartment in D.C., but came home on weekends. Remaining in her hometown is “one of the ways I’ve tried to keep our kids grounded and focused” and not “pulled out of their lives.”

 

A few years after he became a senator, Barack Obama told his wife he wanted to run for president, an endeavor that starts at least a year before a single primary or caucus vote is cast in order to fundraise and drum up support. And though Michelle Obama -- a career-oriented working mom – had previously been relatively uninvolved in her husband’s political campaigns, a presidential bid would require her participation. And add another complicated wrinkle to their already hectic family life.

 

Once the decision to run for the Oval Office was made, the Obama family bought web cams so Dad could talk to his girls over the internet. Barack Obama now dashes home from wherever he is for parent-teacher conferences, ballet recitals, Valentine’s Day, his wedding anniversary, and for Halloween to take the girls trick-or-treating [3]. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama carries two BlackBerries [4] – one for work, one for the campaign – and keeps in touch with her daughters’ teachers via e-mail. Last summer after the last Harry Potter book was published, the couple’s 9-year-old said she would only read the book in bits and pieces when her dad was home so they could read it together.

 

When Michelle Obama is tapped to make speeches and attend events on her husband’s behalf – trips that she says she tries to limit to a few a week – her mother takes care of the children in her absence. The spouses talk on the phone multiple times a day and Michelle Obama is careful to try to keep her husband’s perspective “real.” Michelle Obama told Vanity Fair [5], “When he comes home, he’s taking out the garbage and he’s doing the laundry and he’s making up the beds, because the girls need to see him doing that, and he knows I need him to do that.”

 

When CNN’s King asked Obama if it’s hard to be, in essence, a single mother to small children while your spouse is running all around the country in his bid for the presidency, Michelle Obama played down her personal difficulties as no more burdensome than those on the shoulders of garden variety working moms:

 

“I think it’s hard being a mother, a working mother in society. Period. One thing I say is that what I’m struggling with in terms of the balancing that I have to do to get [the girls] through the day is no different than what any woman I know is struggling with. In fact, I think I can’t complain because I have resources that most mothers don’t have.”

 

Richard Wolffe, who recently wrote a Newsweek cover story [6] on Michelle Obama, seemed to agree, at least with the notion that the dual-career Obama family (Michelle Obama has temporarily reduced her work load to part-time for the duration of the campaign, and received mucho static for the move) is “not far removed” from being “a regular working family” coping with home-work issues. Earlier this year, she told ABC News she sometimes wonders if she’s doing all of this well: “We’ve been told we can have it all. The truth of the matter is that you can’t. You can’t have it all at the same time.”

 

Well yes, it’s true that I don’t have a grandmother at home to pick up the slack for me or my husband when we’re buried with work like the Obamas do. But I’d have to say, that, all in all, Michelle Obama’s got it much harder than me and many of the working moms I know, at least schedule-wise. My kids, for example, don’t have to talk to a digital image of their dad each night. And I’m not going to be flying hundreds of miles away from my home tomorrow and then heading for another time zone two days later while my spouse is someplace else entirely. To borrow a line from Wendy Sachs [6] I simply don’t know how Michelle Obama does it.


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