4 pieces of advice on marriage and family from Michelle Obama : Life Kit In her new memoir, 'The Light We Carry,' the former first lady shares her philosophy on the relationships we have with our partner, our family and ourselves. 'You have to evolve with it,' she says.

Michelle Obama's best advice on marriage, parenting and being your authentic self

Michelle Obama's best advice on marriage, parenting and being your authentic self

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Former first lady Michelle Obama talks to Life Kit about her new book The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times Photograph by Mito Habe Evans/NPR; Collage by Life Kit hide caption

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Photograph by Mito Habe Evans/NPR; Collage by Life Kit

Former first lady Michelle Obama talks to Life Kit about her new book The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times

Photograph by Mito Habe Evans/NPR; Collage by Life Kit

Former first lady Michelle Obama's new memoir, The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times, offers insight on a wide range of topics: feeling seen, dealing with fear and making new friends.

But a throughline of the book is advice about relationships — with our partner, our kids and ourselves.

She draws from her own experiences with her husband, former President Barack Obama, her daughters Sasha and Malia, and her mother, Marian Robinson, to illustrate how she's helped each of her relationships thrive. The key, she tells NPR's Juana Summers, is that "you have to evolve with it."

The Light We Carry, which came out this week, follows Obama's 2018 memoir Becoming, about her upbringing in Chicago, her marriage and her life inside the White House.

She was inspired to write the new book after a tough past few years, she says. Americans have been struggling with economic uncertainty, the pandemic and racial injustice. And people have been looking to her for guidance, asking her: "How do I hope?"

"This book is my best attempt at offering people ... a look into my toolbox: the practices and habits, the people who keep me balanced," Obama says. She shares her philosophy around marriage, parenting, partnerships and more with Life Kit.

'Marriage is never 50/50'

Obama often gets questions about how she and Barack have stayed together for so long. This year they celebrated their 30th anniversary.

She says that in her marriage, "somebody was always giving way more." She's had to make sacrifices, for example, to prioritize her husband's career.

That's how relationships are, she says. For those who choose to be in partnership, there won't be a magical point when everything feels even, she writes.

"We have to understand that marriage is never 50/50," she says. Marriage is less like a scale, writes Obama, and more like an abacus – with beads sliding back and forth. Over time, there will eventually be a 50/50 split of attention, support and love, but it's important to let a relationship be dynamic.

Don't 'quit too soon' on your relationship

Obama says she's fascinated by how little our culture talks to young adults about what it means to partner with someone. So as they seek out romantic relationships, young people should ask themselves a few critical questions.

"What are you trying to get out of this relationship with this other person? Have you thought it through? Are you seeking a wedding or do you want a relationship? Those are two very different things," she says.

She also wants young people to understand that being in a relationship also means making compromises with your partner, which isn't always easy. Obama says she feels bad when people give up on relationships because of a period of disagreement or conflict. Her advice is to expect those "long stretches of discomfort."

"I think it's important for us to ... not to glamorize what a partnership feels like because then young people quit too soon," says Obama. "They quit before they've really played out the full scenario."

Raise adults, not children

When it comes to parenting, Obama says she admires her mother Marian Robinson, who helped raise Sasha and Malia when they were in the White House.

"She always [said] I'm not raising children, I'm raising adults," says Obama.

That approach allowed Obama and her older brother, Craig Robinson, who has a successful career as a basketball executive, to find their own independence at an early age.

"She made sure we felt heard. She made sure that she took our concerns and issues seriously. We were never treated as kids [who] should be seen and not heard," she says.

Obama recalls being given an alarm clock by her mother in kindergarten. "She knew that we were capable of getting ourselves up. She wanted us to feel the power of our competence. So, from five years old, I was setting an alarm. Soon thereafter, I was walking to school by myself," says Obama.

What this teaches kids, she says, is that they can do a lot on their own. "If my mom thinks I can do this, I must be capable."

Be your 'authentic self'

Obama writes about being "the only" person of color, woman, or — at times — both in a room. And whether it was during her time as an attorney at a corporate law firm or as the first lady in the White House, she says it felt isolating.

"When that occurs, you start feeling self-conscious," says Obama. "You're carrying that burden rather than focusing on the task at hand. And that makes overcoming all of that just even more difficult."

When that happens, she says, she has to force herself to get out of her own head. That means she stops worrying about how others might perceive her, how she wears her hair, "how I conjugate my verbs or what stories I tell about myself to make me fit into somebody else's world," she says.

It's all about quieting her mind so she can remind herself of "the power that I have and bring."

This isn't easy, she admits. But she urges young people to be patient and practice. "It doesn't happen overnight, but we have to keep telling ourselves: I am going to show up in the world as my authentic self — and that is good enough."


The audio portion of this episode was produced by Clare Marie Schneider. The digital story was edited by Malaka Gharib. We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org.

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