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Francesca Biller-Safran

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It's Stylish and Smart to Be a Mother Again, Thanks to Michelle Obama

Posted: 06/03/09 03:09 PM ET

It's seems stylish and even respectable again in political and social circles to admit that you may consider motherhood as important as any career, thanks to First Lady Michelle Obama.

Even though her resume lists a six-figure salary and a record of community organizing that rivals her husband's, she has made it clear that motherhood for the moment is her first and highest commitment; not only an important choice for her family, but a personally desirable one as well.

Imagine that, truly the workings of pro-choice at its finest hour.

Smart women have always known the importance of motherhood for themselves and their families, even though many have been told by their mothers and even slight feminists that putting careers first is the most important gift we can give to our children and theirs.

Most women can't afford "not to work'" anyway, but for those who choose to leave successful careers, many have felt the need to dismiss the interim title of full-time mother as an equally justifiable and worthwhile title.

She also does not defend her decision to women who can't afford to leave jobs to be with their children, who see her as taking a back seat to her husband, or to those who have chosen the cynical view that she has been branded and groomed by the political elite as the perfect American wife and mother, fearing she has somehow turned back the clock for all women.

But she has turned the clock, not back -- but entirely on its head, forcing us all to be more in the presence of our own decisions, whatever choices we decide to make.

This may just be the most important and valuable lesson she teaches us all.

She has made a choice, politically correct or not, and has done so without self-aggrandizing statements, preachy sentiments or lengthy explanations.

Mrs. Obama once said, "You can't make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen. We just weren't raised that way."

As women, we all know we will have a price to pay no matter what choices we make, as many have climbed economic and corporate and ladders higher than any glass ceiling we could have imagined we might build up or break down.

Most women have never stopped climbing long enough to ask themselves if that brand of success was what they might want at the exclusion of everything else that makes being a woman unique, invaluable and fabulous.

But the price has been steep for all women who have felt the need to apologize for putting careers or personal goals on hold for parenting or god forbid, for being a wife, as if these have become the worst of modern societal crimes.

This is the irony and inspiration the First Lady has already brought to the White House and into all of our houses -- that we are able to witness a real person with real issues and hard choices, giving us hope that we all have the autonomy and power to choose what is right for ourselves and families.

Michelle Obama told Time magazine that she doesn't feel as if she has given up anything, "A lot of times, women feel like they give up so much in comparison to their partner, or in life, for whatever. I don't look at doors closing." She added that if she or Barack ever thought she might be shortchanged in any way, "we wouldn't have done this."

During her speech to the Democratic Convention, she said, "I come here as a mom whose girls are the heart of my heart and the center of my world - they're the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night.

If she were not a highly successful lawyer with a resume as integral as her husband's, there would be not be as much to admire, because she would not be seen as giving up anything at all.

And therein lies the beautiful point-- she doesn't see it that way. She does not look at leaving her career as a negative, but rather, as a welcomed opportunity she is allowing herself to fulfill and be entirely present in.

Some mothers may be angry because they cannot afford to do the same, because they have bought into the idea that they need to balance careers and families always at a simultaneous pace or else they aren't worthy of any titles at all, or because they think she must have been brainwashed and politically pressured.

But Mrs. Obama's straightforward, brutally honest stance tells us that that her role as the First Lady comes with a different kind of style than First Ladies past, not as Jackie Kennedy style arm candy, for only throwing high-profile dinners or akin to Senator Hilary Clinton who made sure she knew every piece of business about her President and ours.

Rather, she sees her position as one she has taken on with her sleeves literally rolled up and taken off, with the wisdom to know that life later will mean something different; and the choice then will be hers then as it is now.

She also told Time that when this period is over and her kids are grown, that she will still be in the prime of her professional life. "If I'm alive and work till I'm 80, that's a lot of good years of doing a whole bunch of things that sort of fit into a particular line of work. And I don't even know what that is yet."

As a working mother, the most redundant and overplayed phrase in the English language, I have continually found myself apologizing for whatever I was not doing at the moment, rather than rejoicing in whatever work I may be engaged in.

While volunteering for my children's school activities or cheering at their games, I have often thought how I could be getting more worthwhile work done somewhere else. And while working, I always felt I could be of better service to my children just by spending more "quality" time.

All the while, I struggle with images and icons of ultimate womanhood and about how I might epitomize them all.

When I see Michelle Obama straighten her husband's tie and fasten the buckle on one of her daughter's shoes while the media circus thunders around her, I am reminded that being a loving and patient mother and wife can also be a success in and of itself, albeit the hardest and sometimes most unpopular of tasks.

This is the lesson-- that as women we all have a multitude of wonderful, compelling and complex choices that we are allowed to make, with only ourselves to blame for the harsh criticism and deafening silence that often gives our courage pause.

As I stopped at the market this afternoon to pick up snacks for my daughter's softball game, I glanced at a magazine with Michelle and her daughters on the cover, who are the same ages as mine.

They were all dressed in similarly brightly colored, perfectly pressed, happy dresses with equally bright smiles as they walked across the front lawn of the White House, a house that seems a lot more vibrant, livelier and more approachable than it ever has.

After my market romp, I rushed to my daughter's games to give them water, shiny apples the colors of their sun-kissed cheeks, and strong hugs, cheering them on without wishing I were somewhere else.

Imagine that.

 

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