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Swedish Politico / Traditional American Family Values in an Untraditional White House

As the country’s first Presidential family of color, both mainstream and minority groups will look upon the Obamas with great anticipation and scrutiny. The First family will have to delicately balance the distinct cultural identities that shaped the President’s own eclectic childhood, the First Lady’s strong roots in the African-American community and the expectations and norms associated with traditional White House families. This will not be easy and many will be swift to judge. Even the very composition of the Obama family is a first. Mrs. Obama, an intellectual and accomplished woman of the 21st century, brings a unique perspective as a Chicagoan, a successful career woman and a working-mother to her new role as First Lady. Yet despite all that makes the Obamas unique, they will have to grapple with the same challenges that all parents raising two young girls face in today’s America.

The Obama White House comes at a vital time in our country’s demographic history. In 1999, the majority of black families were composed of single-parent households. The President himself grew up without his father. This is why the Obamas’ focus on family, education, nutrition, and responsibility are so important not only to the black community, but also the country as a whole. In an age where legislation and the internet have had to step in where the lack of traditional parental roles have left a void; the Obamas have come to serve as a hallmark of traditional family values. Encouragingly, both the President and the First Lady take their responsibilities as parents very seriously. It should be noted that this is also the first time in forty-eight years that young children have lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Before the Inauguration, both Sasha and Malia attended the University of Chicago Laboratory School in Hyde Park, Illinois, where their father was a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School. It is clear that Mr. and Mrs. Obama prioritize education, and the couple has gone to great lengths to research the right schools for the girls. As one of the most rigorous academic institutions in the world, the University of Chicago would have undoubtedly nurtured a love for learning in the minds of the Obamasitas at a very young age. With President Obama’s pick of Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who is himself a graduate of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and a native Hyde Parker, the President has shown an interest in innovative pedagogic ways of raising the academic bar for all Americans, to ensure that the country’s students can compete on an ever globalizing market.

Mrs. Obama also believes that the First family should lead by example when it comes to family dinners, and has taken great steps to promote sit-down, family meals of higher nutritional value. The White House Garden Kitchen is meant to show kids and grown-ups alike that a healthy, fresh meal can be available even to urban families. Though the United States is the largest agricultural producer, American cuisine, and more importantly the average meal served to American children, often lags behind those served in other developed countries in terms of nutritional content. With the discouraging prevalence of food desserts, many children in produce-rich states such as Florida will rarely enjoy a meal that does not come from processed foods. This is a serious challenge for many families that struggle with obesity, diabetes, and other diseases associated with poor diet.

Mrs. Obama is said to run a tight nutritional ship, with dessert only being served on rare occasions-something, which was brought up by many sweet-toothed bloggers. A strong culinary influence from the African American tradition can be noticed in the meals of the first girls, which often include collard greens. Steps such as these are significant because they help minority children feel familiar with the first family. This in turn helps create an understanding that the highest office in the country is attainable to all Americans of all colors. In short, through the help of and, in spite of the media, children from all backgrounds are afforded the right to have a White House dream.

Finally, as if raising children in an environment of media attention was not hard enough, it should be pointed out that Malia will be entering her teenage years just around the time of her father’s 2012 Presidential campaign. Fortunately, the Obama children will be helped with the transition from Chicago life by “First Granny”, Marian Lois Shields Robinson. Examples such as these reflect the diverse and dynamic nature of the contemporary American family. The President’s own experiences in raising his children will help draw attention to issues that other fathers, mothers, and children struggle with on a daily basis. Through the home life of Mr. and Mrs. Obama, the White House could help focus federal policy on a more realistic and pragmatic approach to modern family life. From strong core values to results-driver parenting, new policy could help guarantee a better future for all American families.


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