The first lady, who famously said that White House staff members would not make her daughters’ beds or pick up after them, has portrayed herself as a tiger mother in other ways. For example, she required Malia to stick with tennis, although her daughter wanted to quit.
“It’s not about you being a good tennis player. It’s about teaching yourself to do something hard and getting better at it,” Michelle Obama said on the women’s Web site iVillage. “Because that’s what life is. Life is getting through stuff that’s hard and teaching yourself that you can do hard things and you get better at it.”
But Malia and Sasha’s daily lives are, of course, extraordinary in ways that those of other kids are not — being shuttled around by the Secret Service, flying on Air Force One, hanging with the rich and famous.
At a recent Obama campaign fundraiser hosted by celebrity couple Jay-Z and Beyonce, the president said his daughters wished they were there. “Every time they get a chance to see these two, they are thrilled, partly because they are just both so generous, particularly to my kids,” Obama said. “And Malia and Sasha just love both of them.”
Despite the Obamas’ fierce protection of their children — the president was said to be furious when reporters wrote about a school trip that Malia took to Mexico over spring break — they have used their daughters’ images in campaign advertisements. The first family was front and center in a Web ad this year that asked voters to “help the Obamas stand up for working Americans.”
At the beginning of the election season, Michelle Obama hinted that her daughters would be a presence on the campaign trail, saying they love campaigning because, as little girls traveling through Iowa, they were enchanted by the state fair and could eat as much ice cream as they wanted.
With a teenager and an adolescent, however, the Obamas seem to think meeting voters is a task better left to adults. Malia and Sasha were in their classes at Sidwell Friends School the day after they flew to Charlotte to watch their father speak at the Democratic convention. And this summer, rather than traipsing around swing states, they were at sleep-away camp in New Hampshire, enjoying basketball, tennis, arts and crafts, and water sports.
Allowing her daughters to live outside the White House bubble for a few weeks was a treat that Michelle Obama has said she allowed in part because the girls have a Secret Service detail.
Protective parenting in the White House is nothing new. The Bushes and the Clintons similarly sought to shield their daughters from the spotlight. Only recently has Chelsea Clinton carefully chosen to become a public figure. Last year, she was hired by NBC to be a reporter. Barbara Bush helped found the Global Health Corps, which dispatches young professionals to work in clinics in poor communities, and her sister, Jenna Bush Hager, has been a contributor to the “Today” show.
The few times the Obama girls have spoken publicly have been to read books to other children, as they have done with their parents at holiday functions. If the president wins in November, the public is sure to hear more from them.
“Gosh, it happened so fast,” the president said, reflecting on their growth.
In another four years, Sasha will be a teenager and Malia will be heading to college before her father’s term is up — if he wins reelection.