SAN DIEGO – Michelle Obama is a good mother. When raising her daughters, 13-year-old Sasha and 16-year-old Malia, the first lady means business. She takes the job very seriously. Even when the girls were younger, she didn’t pass off her parental duty to nannies or baby sitters.
Obama could teach the country a thing or two about raising kids. By focusing on the do’s and don’ts of parenting, she could contribute more than she has through her attention to healthy eating and physical fitness. It’s those passions that fuel “Let’s Move!,” her national campaign to prevent obesity – especially in children.
That effort might have gone better if the first lady wasn’t such a foodie. “I don’t like to diet,” she told iVillage a few years ago. “I like food. I don’t like to have to worry and count every calorie … I just don’t like to live that way.” In an interview with The Associated Press, she also identified one of her chief weaknesses: “If there are french fries in the vicinity, I’m done. It’s over.”
Where Obama excels is in her approach to parenting, which is unmistakably old-school. Judging from her comments on the subject, she continually reminds her daughters that growing up in a special setting doesn’t make you special.
In 2009, when the first family moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Obama told reporters that she had instructed the housekeeping staff to not make the girls’ beds or clean up their rooms. They should do those things for themselves, she said.
And just recently, during an interview on “Live with Kelly and Michael” from the White House, Obama confessed to being mystified that Time magazine had named Sasha and Malia among the 25 most influential teens. The first lady is not having any of it, insisting that the girls don’t deserve the distinction. “They’re not influential,” she said with a chuckle. “They just live here. They have done nothing to gain any influence.”
Preach it, FLOTUS. That is exactly the right message, and one we don’t hear often enough.
Americans have it backward. Many of us are inclined to worry about children who are raised with little. We should worry more about those who are raised with plenty.
Imagine what our country would be like if parents stopped telling their kids that they’re special for no discernible reason, and started demanding that they do their chores, obey their parents, get summer jobs, stay humble, master their studies, and not make the mistake of thinking that they’re the center of the universe. Imagine what would happen if more parents set the bar higher and drove home the message that awards, honors and distinctions are not just given willy-nilly but earned through achievement, commitment and hard work.
It’s not that Obama doesn’t dote on her daughters. In the same interview, she acknowledged that the girls are “pretty self-motivated” and that “they get their stuff done.”
But doting is not where Americans are falling short. We’re good at that. All across the country, there are more than enough parents heaping cheap praise onto their children. What we could use more of is quality parenting where the grown-ups give up on the goal of being their kids’ BFF and stop worrying so much about angering or disappointing the little darlings. We need to get back to how it used to be, when parents laid down the rules and kids were expected to follow them. End of discussion.
As the father of three children – 10, 8, and 5 – I attend more than my share of birthday parties, school rehearsals, dance classes and Little League games. A lot of what I see sends shudders down my spine, and confirms what I’ve suspected about how the inmates are running the asylum.
It’s no wonder that, by the time they’re teenagers, too many young people in America are marinating in a stew of entitlement and self-importance. And, as you know, from there the story often doesn’t have a happy ending. We need to hear more about the success stories and get some tips about the best way to raise our kids.
Mrs. Obama, please make this your next campaign. It’s time to share your wisdom. You’ve already told Americans: “Let’s Move!” Now you need to give them a new set of marching orders: “Let’s Parent!”
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.