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Michelle Obama's Work and Family Balance Choices

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Michelle Obama's Work and Family Balance Choices
Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Michelle Obama's Early Career:

Michelle Obama worked in the Chicago office of the prestigious law firm Sidley Austin after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1988. As a corporate lawyer, she represented clients such as Barney and AT&T on transactions and intellectual property issues.

Barack and Michelle Obama met in 1989 when he was a summer associate at Sidley. In 1991, Michelle Obama left Sidley and the for-profit world to work for Valerie Jarrett, chief of staff to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. She followed Jarrett to a job at the Chicago Transit Authority when Jarrett became the agency's chair.

Michelle Obama's Work After Marriage:

From 1993 to 1996, Michelle Obama ran the Chicago office of the nonprofit Public Allies, which trains young people in public service through internships. Then she took a job in student services at the University of Chicago, where she developed a new community service program.

After a series of promotions, in 2005 she became vice president for community and external affairs for the university's medical center at a salary of $316,962, according to the Chicago Tribune. Michelle Obama took an unpaid leave of absence to campaign for her husband and quit her job after he was elected president.

Michelle Obama's Work-Life Compromises:

Michelle Obama grew up in a warm, close-knit family with a stay-at-home mom and a loving father. So even as she climbed the career ladder she made it clear that family was her priority.

When she was on maternity leave with her younger daughter Sasha, she went to an interview at the University of Chicago medical center with the infant in a stroller. "She really wanted to make that known to me … that family came first," medical center president Michael E. Riordan told the Los Angeles Times.

During Barack Obama's campaign, she was rarely away from home overnight, often flying home just to tuck her daughters into bed.

Barack and Michelle Obama's Work-Family Conflict:

Barack Obama's political career took him away from the family's Chicago home often, for campaigning and governing in the Illinois state Senate and then the U.S. Senate. By the time Sasha was born, Barack Obama wrote, "my wife's anger toward me seemed barely contained. 'You only think about yourself,' she would tell me. 'I never thought I'd have to raise a family alone.'"

Eventually, Michelle Obama ratcheted down her expectations of Barack, but also demanded more from him when he was in town. For instance, she started going to the gym before dawn to exercise, so he had to dress and feed Malia and Sasha when they woke.

Barack and Michelle Obama's Marriage Partnership:

On election night 2008, Barack Obama acknowledged his wife's important role in his career. "I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last 16 years, the rock of our family, the love of my life, the nation's next first lady, Michelle Obama," he said in his acceptance speech.

Michelle Obama also relies on her husband, famously asking Valerie Barrett to meet with him before Michelle accepted her job offer. At the time they had not yet married.

Important Dates in Michelle Obama's Life:

  • Born Michelle LaVaughn Robinson in Chicago on Jan. 17, 1964
  • Graduated from Whitney M. Young High School in 1981
  • Graduated from Princeton University in 1985
  • Graduated from Harvard Law School in 1988
  • Met Barack Obama in 1989
  • Michelle's father Fraser Robinson passed away in 1991
  • Married Barack Obama in October 1992
  • Gave birth to Malia Ann Obama in July 1998
  • Gave birth to Natasha Obama (Sasha) in June 2001
  • Became first lady of the U.S. in January 2009

Michelle Obama and Child Care:

At Princeton University, Michelle Obama worked in the campus daycare center and is still in touch with some of the children she cared for, David Colbert, author of Michelle Obama: An American Story, said in an interview.

Michelle's mother Marian Robinson cared for Malia and Sasha during the presidential campaign and will live in the White House with the first family.

Sources: barackobama.com, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, First Lady of Hope by Elizabeth Lightfoot, Michelle Obama: A Biography by David Colbert and interview with the author, The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

Obama Biographies:

For more about books mentioned in this article, visit the following links:

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

Michelle Obama: An American Story by David Colbert

Michelle Obama: First Lady of Hope by Elizabeth Lightfoot

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