The Obamas' Style of Parenting

The Politics of Parenting: How the Obama's Are Raising their Daughters
ESSENCE.COM Feb, 24, 2009

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It’s not easy raising two kids to become responsible, well-rounded adults, especially when they have access to countless advantages at their disposal. Yet, President Obama and the First Lady make it look seamless when it comes to being parents to their daughters Sasha and Malia. Here are some examples of how the Obamas use effective parenting techniques to ensure their girls grow up as normal as possible and always know exactly who’s the boss. By Porsche Slocum

Despite their demanding agendas, Mr. and Mrs. Obama make sure that the same rules always apply. Sasha and Malia continue to get tucked in every night by 8 P.M. “Our goal is to encourage them to do things not because someone is telling you to do them, but because in your heart you know it is right,” said President Obama to Parenting magazine.

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Sasha and Malia must set their alarm clocks and get themselves up for school each morning. These daily responsibilities instill order and discipline. William B. Harvey, vice-president and chief officer for Diversity and Equity at the University of Virginia and father of two adult daughters, has written a story for PBS.org about what kids can learn from the Obamas. He believes that the importance of structure and order is not only fundamental, but craved by kids because it “constructs a sense of who they are, where they fit in and how they’re going to live their lives.”

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3 of 13 "Yogi" Portuguese Water Dog Courtesy of Bonnie Cooper

Sasha and Malia are not excluded from housework just because they live in the White House. In fact, the White House staff has been told not to make the girls’ beds in the morning.

Giving children chores to do around the house, like walking and cleaning up after their new Portuguese water dog, gives emphasis to teamwork and encourages quality work ethics.

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President Obama seldom misses a piano recital or skips a parent-teacher conference. He makes an effort to be involved in Sasha and Malia’s lives even with his extensive to-do list.

That starts with regular communication. “Get a sense of how you got to be successful and the steps and the process that helped you get there,” Harvey suggests. “Identify them and perhaps modify them because you’re not going to do the same things to your kids that your parents did to you. You have to recognize that change is ongoing.”

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President Obama has read the entire Harry Potter series with his oldest daughter, Malia. This will count as cherished quality time and a fundamental part in your child’s educational development. Twenty minutes of one-on-one story time each day can help feed their curious, expanding minds and enhance your connection with your child, which will also improve their self-confidence.

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The Obamas are sure to accentuate the importance of religion at home. Sasha and Malia take turns saying grace during mealtime. “I don’t think that the issue is religion. I think the issue is values and ethics,” shares Harvey. “That’s a good part of what we get out of a religious experience apart from the fellowship piece, which is connecting with other folks in the community and getting a sense that you are a part of something more than yourself.

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Parents have many different views on ways to properly discipline their children, but the Obamas have said they don’t believe in spanking. “When we talk about 21st century child rearing, that’s kind of the norm,” says Harvey. “Most Black families come out of that stern, Christian tradition and part of that is spare the rod, spoil the child. Our approach now is to engage in conversation and have a ‘reasonable discussion’ with our kids when they do something wrong.”

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Though President and Mrs. Obama enforce nutritious eating habits, Sasha and Malia are allowed to indulge in sweet treats every now and then. There is a limit on TV time but the girls can peek at Simon, Paula and Randy on “American Idol” and catch reruns of “Hannah Montana.” And yes, these First Daughters get an allowance—but it’s only $1.

“Originally, we were giving her a dollar a week as long as she did all her chores,” said President Obama to People magazine. “It turns out that she’s been doing her chores even without prompting from the allowance, which makes me feel guilty that she’s been carrying on her end of the bargain and I haven’t been as consistent.”

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First Grandmother Marian Robinson also has a hand in raising the girls. While Dad is at a press conference or Mom is temporarily out of state, Sasha and Malia are under the watchful eye of Grandma, who Michelle calls her “secret weapon.”

“Extended family relationships have been an important part of how we’ve been able to exist and flourish as a community against some real difficult hardship—by having Grandma, most often, but also family members who have been a part of helping us face difficulty and making the most of a good opportunity,” says Harvey.

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Building and nurturing relationships with friends of different backgrounds and ethnicities are healthy for a child’s growth and development. Sasha and Malia are more open-minded and able to adapt in an array of situations because of it. Harvey believes this is a great way for the girls to maintain normal lives.

“To have the opportunity to be involved in positive interaction with their peers and to let them be kids is really important and I’m sure the President and the First Lady want to try and preserve that normalcy as best as they can.”

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Show your children there’s a world beyond the corners of your backyard. It’s a good thing for parents to try to take your kids to places they only read about. “Traveling is important—not only for young kids but teenagers and adults,” says Harvey.

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In a few years, we imagine Sasha and Malia reaching their full potential. “The essence of what they are experiencing with those parents, with their grandmother and with that supportive community shows that you can do anything that you want to do and be anything that you want to be,” says Harvey.

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We’re reminded that neither the Michelle Obama nor the President grew up as “silver spoon” babies. Yet, they continue to parent in a way that allows their daughters to understand the importance of getting involved and paying their dues.

“Everything can’t and shouldn’t be given to you,” says Harvey. “You have to be a contributor yourself, no matter what age you are by carrying out your own personal responsibilities.”

In what ways would you like to be a better parent? Tell us below.

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