It Takes a Grandma

Portrait by Rodrigo Corral

One of the most appealing things about Michelle Obama is her closeness to her mother. Some people might think it is strange or even pathological to bring your mother with you to the White House. Certainly, no one has done it since the Trumans, and no one at all seems to have done it as joyfully and naturally as the Obamas.

While many modern women have prickly or distant relations with their mothers, Michelle reportedly begged her mother to come with the family to Washington. Then she fielded out the manipulation to the most skillful and powerful manipulators, the 10-and-unders, saying, “All they have to do is look at her with sad eyes and she’s done for.” Mrs. Robinson responded the way any self-respecting American grandmother would: I don’t want to intrude. But isn’t it a sign of an extremely healthy mother-daughter relationship that she did anyway?

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Mrs. Robinson’s subtle subversion of our fashionable child-rearing trends is excellent: that she lets the kids eat inorganic food, that she lets them stay up past bedtime. The fact that Michelle, who seems dauntingly organized, even a tiny bit controlling, condones and even invites this grandmotherly pampering shows that she is a better and more resourceful mother than one might have thought. Most of today’s parents are too enraptured or blinkered by current vogues in child-rearing to see the wisdom of the old, freer way of doing things.

It’s a supremely elegant solution to the dilemma of the two-career family. Think how heavenly it must be to have built-in babysitting by someone who loves your child as much as you do. Grandmothers everywhere should beware. Their quiet years—playing Scrabble, reading books, drinking tequila sunrises—are distinctly imperiled.

It Takes a Grandma