The Washington Post

Obama CNN admission: family trumps ‘wheeling and dealing’

The work-life balance struggle received the ultimate validation when CNN aired an interview with President Obama in which he said that parenting demands have curtailed his — even his — professional life.

(Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

“When we’re in town here in Washington, in the evenings, uhm 6:30, we want to be at the dinner table with our kids and I want to be helping them with their homework. I think sometimes that’s interpreted as me not wanted to be out there slapping backs and wheeling and dealing.

“It really has more to do with just the stage we are in our lives,” he said.

The comment was part of an interview with chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin and in the documentary “Obama Revealed: The Man, The President.”

Of course, in the frenzied atmosphere of the presidential campaign, such sentiments will be both championed and pilloried. Supporters will say it points to how Obama understands the “real struggles of real Americans.” Critics will say the president is using his kids as an excuse to avoid bipartisan efforts.

What may get lost is that such a statement reflects a major cultural shift for parents, and for fathers in particular.

A generation ago, few politicians, just like few working parents, might have freely admitted that parenting demands interfered with professional life.

It wasn’t so long ago that we had a president who was famous for constantly working and schmoozing, even though he had a daughter roughly the same age as the Obama girls. I don’t recall much conversation about Bill Clinton’s balance struggles.

“Bill Clinton was imbalanced. He would spend the hours between 6 and 9 p.m. talking to people in Congress,” David Maraniss, associate editor of the Washington Post and author of biographies of both Clinton and Obama, told CNN.

“Whereas President Obama is basically with his family during those hours, which is sort of a balanced thing to do but not necessarily good for a president.”

Maraniss’s view notwithstanding, many of us will likely not object to Obama’s statement. We’ve matured on a point that would have been treated as lunacy when my father was bragging that he didn’t change a single diaper of any of his five kids.

Obama’s not ahead of the curve here, he is part of the crowd. We now talk about family demands openly as we generally agree that everybody benefits when parents, including fathers, are engaged in things like family dinner and homework.

That’s not to say that all parents will embrace the idea that Obama has sidelined schmoozing.Whether the president has spent enough time reaching out to opponents is fodder for political debate.

Work habits vary by president. Others have embraced golf or mountain biking and faced criticism for not focusing enough on “the work of the people.” It’s just that now the competing demand is family, and that’s a refreshing acknowledgment..

What do you think of the idea that even the president has to juggle work and family? Do you think his admission was genuine and, if so, what does that say about us culturally?

Related Content:

Ann Romney’s mother love: What about Dads?

The great work-life balance question: To prepare or power through?

Can dads ‘have it all’?


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