Thursday, November 13, 2008

Michelle Obama as "Mom-In-Chief," Not that There is Anything Wrong with That: Relevant Mommy Debate

I read a really interesting piece by Rebecca Traister of in which she discusses the "momification" of Michelle Obama. She observes that the coverage of the soon to be First Lady has revolved around her fashion choices, making the move to Washington, and specifically has focused on her self professed role of "Mom-In-Chief," with her primary concerns settling her girls into their new lives under the presidential microscope. Ms. Traister worries that Michelle Obama is being marginalized with this undo focus on her role as wife of mother, and that her aspirations and professional accomplishments are perhaps deliberately disregarded in a culture that is very sensitive about the possibility of undo influence that she might exert as the closest advisor to her husband. Following the Clinton years, many are wary of a presidential wife who asserts herself in the business of the presidency, the so-called "two-for-one" phenomenon.

Especially following the outcry that arose over Michelle Obama's controversial comments during the campaign that she "was proud of my country for the first time," Michelle assiduously cultivated the image as supportive, not necessarily participative policy partner to the now President Elect. In news reports Michelle Obama has taken pains, through "advisers" and campaign officials speaking on her behalf, to profess that she has no interest in participating in the policy decisions that her husband's administration will tackle, and will look for her niche as she gets settled, to "decide what kind of first lady she will be." Ms. Traister concludes that Michelle Obama faces the untenable choice that many accomplished professional wives and mothers must face, which is frustratingly not really a choice at all.

Many moms that have "off-ramped" to raise their young children chafe at this characterization, that the emphasis on her devoted role as wife and mother, in fact marginalizes the accomplishments that talented, educated and accomplished women achieve when they forgo executive duty for mommy duty. A poster to CNN's Michelle Obama Watch, expressed that many of these moms feel very happy and satisfied in their role choices, and emphasizes the equal challenges of raising children well. They do not feel that they have been "demoted," and feel equal frustration with a culture that does not respect their choices.

This divide goes to the heart of the "mommy wars," and many struggle to navigate the divide. Personally I think there is a middle ground that Michelle Obama seems to understand instinctively. There is honor and satisfaction in both roles, as devoted mother and accomplished woman, and they need not be mutually exclusive. I think one informs the other. I know I am a better mother for my professional experiences, and had I been a mother when I was a manager, I believe I would have actually have been a better mentor. That was my path of learning.

What matters, and where I think she will ultimately find her niche is in helping women navigate the divide in a culture that is not especially supportive currently of helping women find balance by providing supportive workplace policies for families, cultural support for strong AND accomplished mothers, as well as access to quality education and care resources. She will ultimately be a "working Mom-In Chief," and I believe we will see her work focus on empowering and supporting women to be educated, accomplished women AND mothers. I don't think there is anything wrong about that.

Jump into the discussion. What is your perspective on the role challenge for the soon to be First Lady, Wife and Working Mother? Comment if you wish.

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