When Barack Obama assumed the presidency, Jenna Bush Hager extended a warm welcome to his daughters, Malia and Sasha Obama, and guided them through the intricacies of their soon-to-be residence.
As the daughter and granddaughter of former presidents, Bush Hager uniquely understood the exceptional childhood experiences that awaited Malia and Sasha within the White House.
Together with her twin sister, she accompanied the then 10-year-old Malia and 7-year-old Sasha on a tour of the mansion’s lavish amenities, including an on-site movie theater and bowling alley. They even encouraged the girls to turn the staircases into indoor slides.
Upon their official move, Michelle Obama granted her daughters the freedom to explore the expansive 55,000-plus square feet of the White House. “I’ve encouraged them to view this entire place as their home,” Michelle shared with People in 2009, adding, “Just let us know where you’re headed.”
Despite the opulent surroundings, Michelle was determined to provide Malia and Sasha with a sense of normalcy, which included everyday responsibilities that every child can relate to. To achieve this, she enlisted the help of the White House staff.
“I had to plead with the housekeepers, ‘These girls need to learn how to tidy their own rooms, make their beds, and do their laundry,'” Michelle revealed in the Netflix Documentary “Becoming,” as reported by “Today.”
She emphasized, “You can’t do this every day because they won’t be living here forever, and I won’t raise kids who can’t make their own beds.” Michelle Obama’s forward-thinking parenting approach, focused on nurturing her daughters into confident adults, was influenced by her own upbringing and her mother, Marian Robinson.
Reflecting on her mother’s guidance, she explained, “She used to tell my brother and me, ‘I wasn’t raising children, I was raising adults,'” as CNBC reported. This philosophy involved involving them in mature conversations and discussing any topic openly.
In raising Malia and Sasha to be self-assured adults, Michelle ensured their lives within the White House were not without challenges. She clarified her perspective in British Vogue in 2019: “My role is not to clear a path for them by eliminating all potential obstacles. Instead, I need to be a reliable and consistent support for them when they inevitably stumble, and to show them repeatedly how to pick themselves up.”
In terms of waking up, Malia and Sasha discovered they could have a daily wake-up call from the White House’s operator. Although they relished this luxurious treatment, Michelle intervened by arranging for alarm clocks through the White House’s interior decorator.
Drawing from her own childhood, Michelle explained to NPR, “Even in kindergarten, she gave us alarm clocks because she knew we were capable of waking ourselves up. She wanted us to feel empowered by our own capabilities.”
While dinners in the Obama household had a distinct ambiance during their White House tenure, Barack and Michelle Obama worked diligently to maintain a grounded atmosphere.
Despite his demanding schedule, Barack prioritized family dinners. He shared on his “Renegades” podcast (via PopSugar), “I set a rule: I have dinner with my family at 6:30 every evening, unless I’m traveling.”
During meals, the family played a game called “roses and thorns” to foster candid discussions about the highs and lows of life. Michelle humorously revealed, “Malia has pointed out to Barack that, as she said, ‘Dad, you seem to have a pretty thorny job,'” recalling their lighthearted exchange. Following dinner, Barack dedicated time to reading to his daughters and engaging in conversations about their day.
To help her daughters feel more at ease in the expansive 132-room White House, Michelle initiated a relaxed dress code for the staff. Explaining her rationale in the Netflix documentary “Becoming,” as cited by Daily Mail, she said, “I didn’t want them to think that grown African American men served them in tuxedos. You can’t walk around every day in a full tuxedo. The girls would have pool parties, playdates, and friends over, and that just didn’t seem appropriate.”