The Obamas’ parenting philosophy in one word

Michelle Obama has strict rules for her girls.
Michelle Obama has strict rules for her girls.
Image: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
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Say what you will about Barack Obama’s temperament for politics but his parenting chops are less impeachable. Since he took office, he’s been a visibly involved father who forgoes currying congressional favor for nightly family dinners. As parents, Barack and Michelle Obama clearly impose normalcy through a single principle: structure.

David Remnick’s recent profile in the New Yorker offers some insights on what guided the president’s parenting philosophy. He says:

“Precisely because I didn’t have a father in the home and moved around a lot as a kid and had a wonderfully loving mom and grandparents, but not a lot of structure growing up, I emerged on the other side of that with an appreciation for family and marriage and structure for the kids. I’m sure that’s part of why Michelle and her family held such appeal to me in the first place, because she did grow up with that kind of structure. And now, as parents, I don’t think we’re being particularly conservative—we’re actually not prudes. . . . But, as parents, what we have seen, both in our own family and among our friends, is that kids with structure have an easier time of it.”

This structure has come in the form of rules imposed by the first lady. According to a 2012 New York Times story, here are just a few of the rules the Obama children follow:

  1. The girls have to write reports about trips they take.
  2. Computer use during the week is only for homework. Television and cellphone (Malia’s) is reserved for the weekend.
  3. Each girl has to play two sports, one they choose and one their mother selects.

Quartz recently published “How I made sure all 12 of my kids could pay for college themselves,” which details a family whose kids started chores at age 3, study for two hours every night whether they have homework or not, and each built his or her own car at the age of 16. Structure like this is undoubtedly as much for the parents’ benefit as for the kids’.

As Sasha and Malia enter their teen years, we’re likely to see whether the Obamas made the right bet.