Culture

Michelle Obama Says She Gave Up Her 'Hopes and Aspiration' to Have Children

FILE - In this Oct. 11, 2018 file photo, Michelle Obama participates in the International Day of the Girl on NBC's "Today" show in New York. Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon will be among the special guests when Michelle Obama goes on tour for her memoir “Becoming.” (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File)

Netflix launched a new documentary about Michelle Obama this week, called “Becoming.” The streaming show, which premiered on Wednesday, follows the former first lady on her 34-city tour to promote her book of the same name. Washington Post film critic Hank Stuever said people who watch the series hoping for a scoop or some new context from which to view Obama would instead likely find an “inside job”  with the “line blurred between ‘subject’ and ‘producer.'” That’s no surprise, considering how tightly the Obamas guard their public image, but what is surprising is that Mrs. Obama let the mask slip in the documentary, revealing that she feels having children cost her her “aspirations and dreams.” 

“My relationship with Barack was all about our equal partnership,” she says in the documentary. “If I was going to have a unique voice with this very opinionated man, I had to get myself up and set myself off to a place where I was going to be his equal.” However, when the couple’s two daughters, Malia and Sasha, were born, it “changed” their relationship.

“The thing that really changed it was the birth of our children,” she explained. “I wasn’t really ready for that. That really made it harder.”

“Something had to give and it was my aspirations and dreams,” she said. “I made that concession not because he said ‘you have to quit your job,’ but it felt like ‘I can’t do all of this so I have to tone down my aspirations, I have to dial it back.’”

Hopefully, the Obamas were wise enough parents to not let their daughters grow up believing they were to blame for their mother’s unfulfilled career aspirations.

One of the great lies of the 20th and 21st centuries is that women can have it all — career, husband, children, social life, vacations, nice cars, and a 5-bedroom house in the suburbs. As much as we’d like to believe we can have it all, we can’t. Michelle Obama had a better-than-average chance of having it all than most of us, owing to her elite Princeton education, but we all make choices in life and give up things we desire for things or people we want more.

To be perfectly honest, I never really had serious career aspirations. I went to college but never really settled on a career path. I wanted to be “just” a wife and mother. Fortunately, I was raised in a culture where that choice was validated and encouraged rather than disdained. I managed to avoid being indoctrinated by feminist ideology and never thought there was any shame in being “just” a housewife.

Other women are not so lucky. They’re raised to believe that being a wife and mother is oppressive and that fulfillment can only be found in career success and wealth. So when children come along, planned or not, it disrupts their career plans, forcing them to make choices, and yes, sacrifices. The problem is compounded when women, again, being led to believe they can have it all, find themselves drowning in college debt. Rather than leading to freedom, they find their college education has led to bondage. With $100,000 in student-loan debt, she has no choice but to dump the kids in daycare and return to work.

I’m sure I’ll take a lot of heat for this, but if I had a daughter, I would counsel her to think long and hard before starting down a path that could lead to massive debt that will, ultimately, limit her choices in life. Most young women don’t consider — and no one tells them — that they may one day fall so madly in love with their babies that it will crush their soul to leave them with a babysitter. Parents have a responsibility to help their daughters game out the various possibilities and be brutally honest with them, letting them know that they can’t have it all. At least not all at once.

I’ve never regretted for one second staying out of the workforce for nearly 20 years to focus on raising and homeschooling my kids. Nothing else I could have done — no career, no success, no wealth — could ever compare to the joy of being a stay-at-home mom. God surprised me at the end of our homeschooling years with a freelance writing job at PJ Media. I didn’t see that coming, nor did I see being promoted to managing editor eight years later. Life is full of surprises, isn’t it? I feel like I have had it all — just not all at the same time.

I hope Mrs. Obama doesn’t look back with disappointment at the sacrifices she made as a mother. I hope she looks back with joy and contentment, knowing that she did something more transcendent, more satisfying than any job could ever be.

Follow me on Twitter @pbolyard

I Spent 17 Years as a Stay-at-Home Mom and Have Zero Regrets