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The word “mother” may seem simple enough, but the archaic, 1950s catalog image of what it means to be a mom has left an insidious trail in its wake. You know the picture: The one with the smiling housewife with two (white) kids and a matching picket fence. If there was a picture of the bedroom, it would have said, “This marriage bed is where Sally and Jimmy were naturally conceived,” and if there was a shot of them walking to church, the caption would be, “Duh!”
There was no room in that spread for families of color, for mothers who adopted their children, or for those who used IVF. There was no room for LGBTQ+ parents, for mothers with disabilities, or for those who who worked outside of the home. There was no room for single mothers, or blended families, or mothers who had anything but megawatt smiles on their face.
And unfortunately, that image still has ramifications today.
“There’s a woman out there right now, who is single or divorced, who doesn’t see herself as someone who should be a mother, because she didn’t take the ‘right path,’” former First Lady Michelle Obama said in the first episode of her new podcast, Audible Original Michelle Obama: The Light Podcast.
“And you are an amazing mother,” she said, turning to her guest, TODAY Show anchor Hoda Kotb, who some might consider a “Not The Right Path Mom.”
Kotb is an “older mom” (which her peers have agreed has its benefits!) and adopted her two daughters, Haley Joy, 6, and Hope Catherine, 3, with ex-fiancé Joel Schiffman. She breaks a lot of mainstream mom molds, and Obama was quick to highlight the importance of sharing that.
“We live in a world, a society, and country where we’re taught that only certain people’s stories matter, that there’s only one way to be human,” the The Light We Carry author said. “And it’s really limited.”
And so it’s imperative, Obama said, for people who diverge from certain races, genders, and income classes to share their stories so that society’s understanding of “who matters and who counts” can start to change.
“If we’re not stating our truth because it doesn’t fit into a certain definition, then we’re just keeping the the definition of what’s important, what is American, what has value, and we’re hiding behind that,” Obama said. “And we’ve got to broaden the spectrum of what it means to be American, what it means to be accepted, what it means to be loved, who deserves it.”
The attorney went on to tell the anchor that she has no reason to doubt whether she should have become a mother, and while Kotb was quick to say it was the best decision of her life, there was a time when she did doubt it.
“I used to feel almost undeserving of it,” she told E! News in Feb. 2023. “But I don’t anymore. Something happened within me where I was like, ‘You know what, I’m worthy of these children, I’m worthy of myself. I’m enough just as I am.’”
Meanwhile, Obama is openly expanding the definition of what it means to be a mom by publicly discussing her miscarriage, by putting herself first, and by not waiting around for President Barack Obama with a honey-roasted ham on the table.
“When it came to the home-for-dinner dilemma, I installed new boundaries, ones that worked better for me and [my daughters Malia, 24 and Sasha, 21,” she said in her memoir Becoming. “We made our schedule and stuck to it. … It went back to my wishes for them to grow up strong and centered and also unaccommodating to any form of old-school patriarchy: I didn’t want them ever to believe that life began when the man of the house arrived home. We didn’t wait for Dad. It was his job now to catch up with us.”
Audible Original Michelle Obama: The Light Podcast debuts Tuesday, March 7 on Audible, with new episodes releasing weekly. Each of the eight episodes will be exclusively on Audible for two weeks, then available widely wherever podcasts are found.
Before you go, check out Michelle Obama’s best quotes about being a mom.
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