Monday, November 17, 2008

Mom- and Dad-in-Chief

I am a little bit obsessed with the Obamas' transition to the White House. So obsessed, in fact, that I fear I'm becoming one of those people who might actually order commemorative White House plates, or who knows every detail there is to know about the White House Christmas tree. I used to make fun of those people.

I am particularly obsessed with the Obamas as parents, primarily because they seem to be handling with great grace a situation I would find almost wholly intolerable--parenting in public. I mean, yes, we all parent in public because our kids have interactions with the public and those interactions reveal something about our parenting (much to our horror sometimes). But, ultimately the decisions I make about how I parent (like not breastfeeding, attachment parenting the first kid but not the second, choosing a magnet school over a neighborhood school, letting them watch more TV than is probably healthy) are made in private, with the input of the entire world.

When you are parenting in public, private parenting decisions take on a whole new life. I read recently that now that Barack Obama and Malia have finished all the Harry Potter books and Obama is home more, they've started the Twilight books. That's a private parenting decision, but he's making it in public. I've written before about my love of the first book, but not about how dismayed I was at the second, and how kind of horrified I am by what I hear about the third and fourth. I would never ever ever read these books to my daughter. I'm a little appalled that Obama is reading them to Malia. The construction of young womanhood in these books is atrocious. I imagine (I hope!) that Obama will come to this same conclusion, but, of course, we'll never know. He's not exactly going to hold a press conference to tell us that he's banned Twilight from his house because of it's jacked up gender politics. But he should, because some of us now are really concerned about his parenting, even though it's really none of our business.

Michelle Obama, too, is having some trouble in the public parenting department. Some object to her wasting her Ivy League education and law degree by becoming Mom-in-Chief rather than...actually, I don't know what else people expect her to be doing. She's soon-to-be First Lady, which, despite what Hilary Clinton would have you believe, is not actually a real job. But this too is a private parenting decision being made in public. The Obamas have clearly decided that Barack Obama will dedicate his life to public service and that Michelle Obama will do the heavy lifting in terms of parenting. In Chicago, with the amazing support system she built around her, she was able to have a high-profile, high-powered career and be a very hands-on parent to two young daughters. That support system isn't following them to Chicago, but those children still need taking care of. It makes perfect sense that Michelle Obama would spend this first year at least making sure her children are okay. I don't envy her having to juggle being everyone's symbol contemporary womanhood (there's no way to live up to everyone's expectations) with being an actual mother to real children, all while smiling pretty for the cameras.

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