First Lady Michelle Obama told a gathering at Howard University's School of Business today that working mothers must choose their own paths, balancing work with family.
"The one thing--the one message that I have is for all of you struggling with this issue is just remember there is no right answer. It took me a long time to figure that out. There is no one right way to do any of this. And the choices and the decisions will change, given your circumstances," she told an audience at a panel discussion at the school.
The event was billed as "Home, Work, Community: The Role of the African American Women As Change Agents."
Mrs. Obama, who wore a red dress with a single strand or pearls, spoke briefly at the start of of the panel discussion, which included four business women and a student leader. Howard officials said Obama's staff had called the university and asked whether the first lady could visit as part of her listening tour in her new community of Washington.
She has visited federal agencies, a D.C. school and on Tuesday a multicultural center, where she read to toddlers and spoke to teenagers about life's challenges.
"It was her saying she wanted to come to the university," said Alvin Thornton, interim provost and chief academic officer. "We wrapped the panel around her visit."
Students and faculty members, who were required to have tickets, lined up from early morning to get inside the auditorium. They listened closely as the first lady spoke calmly, saying, "In your struggle to figure these things out as women, as professionals, that you have to do what's right for you at any given time, and that's going to change--from week to week, from month to month, from year to year."
She said it was important for women "to be true to yourselves, not to worry too much about what other people are going to think or make of your choices, because everyone will question what you do and tell you you should've done it the other way."
She said that she had dealt with the issue her whole life, "trying to figure out how to juggle work-family balance in the process of getting an education. There isn't a day that goes by, particularly after having kids, that I don't wonder or worry about whether I'm doing the right thing for myself, for my family, for my girls."
Mrs. Obama said priorities will change, as life changes, as people grow older, as they change jobs and their families grow.
"The person I was when I was in college is very different than the person that I am today. That person is very different than the person who was single.....I was different when I was married. I was different when I was married with kids. I was different when I was married with kids in certain types of jobs. And every step of the way, I wondered whether I was doing the righ thing."
DeNeen L. Brown and Hamil R. Harris