For Sasha and Malia Obama, four more years as the first daughters

November 7, 2012

When her father’s second term as president is up, Malia Obama will be 18 years old and entering into adulthood. She and her younger sister, Sasha, will have spent their formative years in the White House, a place that their parents have attempted to shape into something resembling a normal home.

Over the past four years, Barack and Michelle Obama — though jetting around the country and world — have put an emphasis on being home for family dinner at 6:30 p.m. most days. The president has been an assistant coach of 11-year-old Sasha’s basketball team, the Vipers, and has often gathered with both daughters and their friends on Sundays for basketball practice. Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson, moved from Chicago into the White House to meet her granddaughters after school and keep a watchful eye on them.

“I’m so proud of you guys,” the president told his daughters during his acceptance speech early Wednesday after being reelected. “Sasha and Malia, before our very eyes, you’re growing up to become two strong, smart, beautiful young women.”

As the president’s daughters grow up in such a public way, there are challenges that could pierce even their tightly knit circle. The repercussions of an Obama daughter being caught acting “bratty” have been discussed within the family, Michelle Obama has said.

“I think they are . . . the first kids in the White House growing up where everybody’s got a cellphone and everybody’s watching,” the first lady told the women’s Web site iVillage last month. “You may be having a moment, but somebody could use that moment and try to define you forever.”

Neither Obama daughter is on Facebook, though their parents have said they have active social lives. Both go trick-or-treating with friends, attend sports tournaments and have sleepovers, she told late-night talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel two weeks ago. This past summer, the girls went to sleep-away camp in New Hampshire, a privilege that their mother said they were allowed in part because of the Secret Service detail that accompanies them.

They have been spotted with friends around Washington, but the press corps that follows their parents’ every word and move does not routinely write about the first daughters, unless they are with their parents at an official event.

Politics is not a central part of the children’s lives, their parents have said. The girls were largely absent from the campaign trail this year. They made appearances at the Democratic National Convention and flew to Chicago after school Tuesday to have dinner with their parents and see their father voted into a second term — but that was it.

Before big speeches on such occasions, their father’s pep talks consist of a plea, such as, “Just look like you’re listening.” Their mother reminds them to smile. They have no “poker face,” she told Kimmel.

“The last thing you want is yawning,” the first lady said.

In the coming days, after catching their breath, the president and first lady will get “back to work, starting, like, right away,” said Valerie Jarrett, the president’s senior adviser and a close friend of the family. The same is true for their daughters, the president told Brian Williams in a recent interview on NBC’s “Rock Center.”

“Right now, what my family is thinking about is making sure Sasha and Malia are doing their homework,” he said.

Malia will presumably want to learn how to drive while living in the White House — a feat that could be challenging given that her parents travel in motorcades.

Then there’s the angst-ridden challenge of dating while living in the White House. Michelle Obama has promised not to discuss her daughters’ potential dating lives but has relished the idea that dating the president’s daughter will inflict no small amount of trepidation upon young men. The eldest Obama daughter attended her school’s homecoming dance with a group of friends at Sidwell Friends, where both Obama girls are students. Malia is a freshman in the upper school; Sasha is a sixth-grader in the lower campus.

The Obamas have given every indication that they hope to keep their daughters’ lives as normal as possible over the next four years. Although being the president’s daughters has meant meeting celebrities such as Beyonce and Jay-Z, the girls are also tasked with making their beds, and in Malia’s case doing her own laundry.

“I don’t want her to be that kid who is 15 or 16, and [she’s saying], ‘Oh, I don’t know how to do laundry.’ I would cringe if she became that kid,” Michelle Obama told Oprah Winfrey last year. “We have real discussions about responsibility, not taking things for granted. And not having a bunch of grown-ups doing stuff for you when you’re completely capable of doing it yourself, and being able to take care of your own business. And you’re not living in the White House forever — you’re going to college. . . . We have those discussions.”

Krissah Thompson began writing for The Washington Post in 2001. She has covered local businesses, traveled to El Salvador and Guatemala to tell stories of immigrants’ connections to their home countries and reported from the newsroom’s Prince George’s County bureau. More recently, she has written about civil rights, race and politics.
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