Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Obama's mama

I know that I am not alone in being fascinated with Obama's mama and wanting to know more about her. In particular, I always have been curious about her being a parent of two biracial children, and an anthropologist - I admit b/c that could be (or that is) me, too :) Here is an excerpt appearing in The New York Times from a forthcoming book on S. Ann Dunham.

Author Janny Scott's account of her interview with Obama himself on the subject of his mother is itself rather moving. She describes Obama himself as "someone whose patience had been tested, by a person he loved, to the point where he had stepped back to a safer distance. Or perhaps it was the knowingness of a grown child seeing his par­ent as irredeemably human." Is this not a knowingness that we all come to have?

Contrary to popular belief, I do not harbor much guilt or anxiety about being a "working mother." Which I did, esp. when I had to learn how to let go, first of Beanie and then again of Bubbie. However, I am fortunate in that I know that when I am not with them, my children are well cared for (not to mention sometimes better supervised and no doubt more entertained). This frees me to do the other work that I also find engaging.

So, I also especially appreciated Obama's observations about his mother:

Part of being an adult is seeing your parents “as people who have their own strengths, weaknesses, quirks, longings.” He did not believe, he said, that parents served their children well by being unhappy. If his mother had cramped her spirit, it would not have given him a happier childhood. As it was, she gave him the single most important gift a parent can give — “a sense of un­conditional love that was big enough that, with all the surface dis­turbances of our lives, it sustained me, entirely.”

Let us appreciate that enabling women to do meaningful work makes them better mothers, and that being mothers is not the only meaningful work that women do.


  1. I was a bit shocked when my students said earlier this semester that to be a good mother you needed to be completely selfless and put your children above all else. It never occurred to them that that might not be healthy for either mom or child. Nor did it occur to them that being a "good mother" might involve more about being assertive and resourceful than about self-sacrifice.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I guess I am not shocked b/c I might have answered the same when I was 18 or 19 years old and had limited understanding about what parents really have to do. (Were you teaching Meredith Small's "Our Babies, Ourselves"? B/c a moment like that always seems to occur when I use that article. Blurgh.)

    I like that you talk about being assertive and resourceful, rather than self-sacrificing. Unfortunately, I think women like my own mother really did experience being a parent as sacrifice - but I plan to make it a point from now on to describe my parenting as assertiveness and resourcefulness. So, thanks!