Jodi Kantor, who seems to know almost as much about what goes on in the Obama household as the Obamas themselves, has written a summary in today's New York Times of the parenting rules in effect at the White House for 11-year-old Sasha and 14-year-old Malia.
- When the girls go on trips, they write reports on what they have seen, even if their school does not require it.
- Technology is for weekends. Malia can use her cellphone only then, and she and her sister cannot watch television or use a computer for anything but homework during the week.
- Malia and Sasha had to take up two sports: one they chose and one selected by their mother. "I want them to understand what it feels like to do something you don't like and to improve," the first lady has said.
- Malia must learn to do laundry before she leaves for college.
- The girls have to eat their vegetables, and if they say that they are not hungry, they cannot ask for cookies or chips later. "If you're full, you're full," Mrs. Obama said in an interview with Ladies' Home Journal. "I don't want to see you in the kitchen after that."
They also will be back at school Friday morning, hours after appearing with their father when he accepts renomination for President on Thursday night.
Good rules, probably. And, I confess, though I have experimented with versions of each of these over the years, I never managed the consistency that aides say the Obamas have. Some, of course, would have made no sense -- my boys never went on the kind of trips the Obama girls do, so there would not have been much to write reports about. And others don't apply because I don't live in the White House. The reason my guys needed cellphones -- in case of emergency once they started wandering out in the world on their own -- is moot when the Secret Service is following you around all the time. There is also the interesting question of whether rules like these are all the more important for two girls who will be otherwise be getting the message from the world that the rules don't apply to them.
But mostly I lacked backbone. I thought allowing my sons to try one activity after another, dropping them after a reasonable period of "trying", was a sign of flexibility, though even then I knew it was also a way to avoid arguments. And insisting that any food be finished, vegetables or otherwise, felt like forced feeding to me, though the result was that a lot of vegetables went uneaten.
What rules do you successfully stick with at your house? Which ones have you abandoned? Do you have any regrets?
Before you answer, I just want to say, that I would probably make it a rule that my children could skip school the morning after either of their parents accepted a presidential nomination. And also, both my sons DO know how to do their own laundry. More or less.