JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
When you ask former first lady Michelle Obama about parenting, she goes back to the way she was raised by her own parents, Fraser and Marian Robinson.
MICHELLE OBAMA: I was raised to be handed my competence early.
SUMMERS: So by the time she was 5 years old, Obama says her mom had given her an alarm clock.
M OBAMA: Because she knew that we were capable of getting ourselves up. She wanted us to feel the power of our competence.
SUMMERS: Shortly after that, Obama was walking to school by herself.
M OBAMA: My mother says her job is to put herself out of a job early. So she started, at a very early age, requiring us to be independent. And what that does for a kid - when your parent trust you, it encourages you. It tells you that if my mom thinks I can do this, that I must be capable.
SUMMERS: And that's exactly how Obama set out to parent her own daughters, Sasha and Malia. They were 7 and 10 years old when their dad, former President Barack Obama, was elected. They spent most of their adolescence at the White House. Sasha and Malia are now in their 20s, navigating early adulthood. They live in Los Angeles. They date. They invite their parents over for weak martinis, as Obama describes them. Parenting has changed a bit.
M OBAMA: Barack and I kind of do this kind of crazy parent text check-in, you know, like, writing things that are keeping us up at night.
SUMMERS: Some days it's checking in just to see how they're doing, what they're up to, you know, like most parents. And other days it's like this.
M OBAMA: Barack one day sent them a text on earthquake preparedness because they now live in LA. And it's - that's the kind of thing you do as a parent. You think, uh-oh, there are earthquakes. Have I warned them? Are they prepared?
SUMMERS: So what did former President Barack Obama do? He sent them an article that details a 10-step earthquake preparedness plan.
M OBAMA: Getting earthquake training and stocking up on water. And the response from one of my daughters was, OK, which of these things do you think we should do? - because it's a lot, right? But that's our own anxiety playing itself out.
SUMMERS: And that anxiety - well, it's really relatable.
M OBAMA: There are no guarantees that their life is going to work out, and something bad may happen. That is the hardest thing about parenting, is living with that truth.
SUMMERS: CONSIDER THIS - even a former first lady who's lived an extraordinary life has ordinary and relatable fears. I sat down with Michelle Obama, who talked about how she navigates the world even when it feels like things are at their lowest point, and her new book, "The Light We Carry: Overcoming In Uncertain Times."
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SUMMERS: From NPR, I'm Juana Summers. It's Tuesday, November 15.
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SUMMERS: It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. When former first lady and author Michelle Obama sat down to write her latest memoir, "The Light We Carry," we were in the middle of the pandemic. We were all struggling. Her first book, "Becoming," was very intimate, and so is "The Light We Carry." But it's only part memoir. It's also really practical, almost like a guidebook.
M OBAMA: I call it a toolkit. I mean, I think I'm like everybody. Over the last few years, we have been struggling - you know, economic uncertainty, a pandemic, isolation, injustice. It's kind of left us all feeling out of sorts. So I get a lot of questions from people. It's like, how do I cope? And so this book is my best attempt at offering people at least a look into my toolbox, the practices and habits, the people who keep me balanced.
SUMMERS: And one of those people is her husband, former President Barack Obama. Here he is talking about their marriage with Oprah Winfrey in 2011.
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BARACK OBAMA: Not only has she been a great first lady, but she is just my rock. And I count on her in so many ways every single day.
SUMMERS: And their marriage and how they have sustained it over three decades is something that I asked Michelle Obama about when we sat down in New York this week.
M OBAMA: To me, it's a philosophy. It's an outlook. We have to understand that marriage is never 50-50. I have found that if you stick with it, you know, over the course of your entire relationship, you may have 50-50 over time. But if I look over my marriage, if I were to judge it in year five or year 10, there was never 50-50. Somebody was always giving way more. Someone always needed a different kind of thing. You have to evolve with it.
SUMMERS: You also talk about some incredibly relatable experiences, such as the isolation of being the only, whether it is the only woman of color or the only Black person in the room, of being the only person who didn't come from money and college. And I wonder now, all these years later and the journey that you have been on, do you still feel that way sometimes? And how do you deal with it?
M OBAMA: You know, honestly, of course, as Michelle Obama, you know, I feel it less acutely. But that's fairly recent, you know? I mean, when we were in the White House, we were the first and the only at many tables of power. Watching people adjust to that, that was very reminiscent of the experiences that I had, you know, going to college and practicing in a corporate law firm and on and on and on. What I had to learn to do was to first get out of my own head about...
SUMMERS: Not easy, though.
M OBAMA: It's not. It is not an easy thing to do, and it takes practice. But part of what this book is reminding us is that there are no miracle answers to these things. It is a daily reminder that I have to take the mask that I am trying to hold up on my face, take it down so that I can see what I'm doing. And by mask, I mean stop - trying to stop pretending to be something that I'm not, trying to fit in and leave behind the parts of me that make me real and authentic, stop worrying about how I wear my hair and what somebody is going to think about it, stop thinking about how I conjugate my verbs or what stories I tell about myself to make me fit into somebody else's world. But it takes practice. And I open the book by urging young people to understand that patience is an important tool.
SUMMERS: You mentioned patience, and that is something that I've been wanting to ask you about. You mentioned earlier the call to action that many of us know you for - when they go low, we go high. And in a past life before I had this job, I was a political correspondent talking to young people in particular. And what I heard a lot - and I'm sure you hear this, too, from the people who write you letters or come to events that you hold - they feel a sense of urgency. Oftentimes they express that they feel a sense of rage given all of the hurt and harm and marginalization, the insurrection, attacks on LGBTQ rights, anti-Semitism. How does going high square with the urgency that so many people feel, especially young people feel, in this moment?
M OBAMA: Well, that's the interesting thing because some young people interpret going high as being complacent. Going high doesn't mean sitting on the side of the road and watching, you know, injustice go by. Going high is about having a strategy, a real concrete strategy for change. It's taking the rage and turning it into reason. And it will never feel like enough because until everything is perfect, it will always be urgent. But in the meantime, what I urge young people to do is be rageful and own it but have a plan, have a strategy that can work.
SUMMERS: You know, it strikes me as you write about how imperative it is that we should still go high, that we have - we're coming out of this period where all of us have faced so many challenges. Former President Trump is expected to announce that he's going to run for president yet again. And I just wonder - you talk about this toolbox. What goes through your head and what tools do you reach for when you think about something like that?
M OBAMA: Yeah, my husband helps me with this. You know, this is a moment. This is a moment, and we cannot let a moment turn us so upside down that we can't function. So in these moments, I tell myself - I ask myself - and this is a chapter that I call the Power of Small - all right, what can I do in this moment that I can uniquely control when I think something's about to happen that I cannot control, right?
Voting is one of those things. We each have the responsibility and the right to vote, at least right now. So let us exercise it, you know, so that we're not in a position to take it for granted and have those rights snatched away. Because let me tell you, if we don't use them, if we don't protect them fiercely, we will lose those rights. We've seen it with abortion rights.
And watching election after election people not turning out because they didn't like that guy - it's not necessarily Trump, but anybody, right? - you know, we sit out. We don't do the work because we're mad about who's in. We have this small power, each of us, to shape the direction of the country. And if we don't use it, you know, I mean - I, you know, never want to throw my hands up, but I think, well, what are we going to do in this democracy if we quit on it?
SUMMERS: Former first lady and author Michelle Obama. Her new book, "The Light We Carry," is out now.
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SUMMERS: It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Juana Summers.
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