Michelle Obama: Women are so busy doing for others that we feel guilty taking time out


I’m so happy the Obamas remain in the spotlight, I miss them when they aren’t in the news. As People pointed out, they are out there living their best lives, with the exception of having to endure the Oaf in the Oval Office. When Michelle Obama was the First Lady *stares wistfully in the distance thinking of those happier times*, her First Lady cause was children’s health and fitness. She has never abandoned that cause and now she’s expanding her message to include women. Michelle attended the Essence Festival last weekend and while she was there, she sat down with Gayle King to encourage women to consider their own well being as much as they do everyone around them.

If Michelle Obama is living her best life — best-selling memoir, glamorous travel with family, freedom from politics — count her as determined to help other women live theirs.

“We [as women] have to own our health. It’s one of these things that no one can take from you,” the former First Lady said at the Essence Festival in New Orleans over the weekend.

That message crystallized in her headliner’s appearance at the festival on Saturday. Interviewed on stage by her friend (and CBS News anchor) Gayle King, Obama said that women need to “un-train” each other when it comes to putting their wellness last.

“When it comes to our health as women, we are so busy giving and doing for others that we almost feel guilty to take that time out for ourselves,” Obama said, getting personal about her own experience when her two daughters were babies and she and Barack were in marriage counseling.

“A lot of mothers will understand this, because I found myself looking around after I had my kids, and I didn’t have time for me, but my husband was at the gym every day. And I was like, well, how are you going to the gym? He was like, ‘I make time for the gym.’ I was like, what?”

“This was right when we started going to counseling, y’all, so this was one of our issues, you know? But I found myself getting mad at him because he was doing what he needed to do for him. And I think for us as women, many of us, we have a hard time putting ourselves on our own priority list, let alone at the top of it,” Obama said.

Obama pressed women to start a conversation — “with ourselves, with our own daughters” — about what keeps them from putting themselves first.

“We’re living in a world where we, as women, are so devalued, we have trained ourselves to think we don’t deserve it, that we don’t even deserve to take care of ourselves,” she said.

[From People]

The crux of Michelle’s message is retraining, or un-training as she puts it, and I think she’s spot on. I saw a lot of my own behavior in her words and I know I assumed that much of the workload because I saw my mother doing it. Honestly, I think my mom worked twice as hard as I do. But I remember her staying with us during a visit and it was laundry day. My mother always washed, folded and put our clothes away whereas I wash, but everyone has to grab their own stuff, fold it and put it away. I was expecting my mom to sniff about my delegating but instead, she enthusiastically said, “Good for you. I should have done more things like that.” It lifted about 10 pounds off guilt off my shoulders. The conversation Michelle suggests is important, primarily because discussions lead to actions. Just hearing that it’s okay to think of ourselves breaks down the guilt and frees us up to start actually tending to our own needs. As the flight attendant reminds us at the start of every single flight, “Please put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.”




Photo credit: WENN Photos

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21 Responses to “Michelle Obama: Women are so busy doing for others that we feel guilty taking time out”

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  1. Alexis37 says:

    I just love her real talk. That part about Barack going to the gym and telling her oh I make time for the gym, and her reaction, is so on point. Man, can I relate.

    • Esmom says:

      No kidding. Men tend to have zero problems continuing with their own things when kids enter the picture. It is so much harder for women.

      My boss, who has three young kids, told me that she recently told her husband that she was going to the grocery store and she really went for a massage. I was floored — and sad for her — that she felt like she had to hide that from him.

  2. Nev says:


  3. Inas says:

    I could frame that quote of Michael Obama. Very true and sad

  4. Seraphina says:

    Amen. Love Her. Miss the Obamas. Very very much. 🙁

  5. SJR says:

    And also, water is wet. Every female knows this is true.
    I miss the Obamas, they were so well spoken and had decent manners vs. The Orange Tool.

    • Seraphina says:

      I think while we all know it’s true and stating the obvious, we still need to hear it otherwise many of us get caught up in giving too much.

      • SarSte says:

        This 100%. And while there’s more of a conversation around it these days, I would suspect that most men don’t understand it from this perspective, especially as the concept of “self-care” continues to be commercialized an made to look trendy on instagram, etc. She gives people and concepts and important platform.

      • Otaku fairy... says:

        It is easier said than done, even when we’re aware of it.

  6. Amanda says:

    Wow, this hits home.

  7. Lindy says:

    This really hits home. The problem with this, though, and I wish she’d acknowledged it, is that a lot of the language around self-care and taking time for yourself doesn’t take into account the structural, systemic problems for women (especially women of color) in doing it. If you’re a single mom making minimum wage, how will you carve out the gym time? If you’re a woman of color and you have to work twice as hard to get half the salary of a white dude, when is that self-care time supposed to happen?

    Even as a woman in a well-paying white-collar job with a supportive and hands-on husband, I’m lucky if I even see my kids 3 hours in a day. Do I miss that to go work out? It’s really hard. Just really, really tough. On an average day, I might have 1-3 hrs not already accounted for, and that’s if I opt not to go to sleep early.

    Our whole system is f&*”ed up because we have such low wages, so little childcare and parental leave options, so little paid sick and vacation time…

    • Esmom says:

      You nailed it. Sometimes the only “self-care” for people without the means of the 1% involves a glass of wine or more between the kids’ bedtime and their own. It is so messed up.

    • SarSte says:

      I listened to an incredible podcast on this exact issue (The Nod – How to Show Up), it was so eye opening.

      I also think with so many companies trying to capitalise on the trend of self care, it starts to feel like yet another things women get to suck at and feel guilty over. Like, oh you’re NOT taking time for yourself? Well, you’re failing!

  8. Lizzie says:

    i saw her speak in cleveland and it was…magical. she is truly inspiring and charming and beautiful.

  9. adastraperaspera says:

    Michelle really gets to the heart of issues! Her sincerity is so palpable, and you get a wonderful dose of it when reading her autobiography. We often have conversations with our daughter about self-care. We loved Michelle’s “Let’s Move” initiative. And then I remember the day Barack passed the Affordable Care Act… I actually burst out in tears when I heard, because I so wished my parents had had health care as children and youngsters. They died so much younger than they should have, and after suffering from serious health issues stemming from no access to doctors or dentists as kids.

  10. marjorie says:

    This lady is a true gem America – she always makes an impact and has something meaningful to say. Now hopefully you will elect a new leader who truly cares about women and their health. Adequate maternity leave and healthcare would be a great start.

  11. Gigi La Moore says:

    I get it but I am also exhausted by this conversation. Need some time for yourself, take it. Your husband and kids will be fine and if they’re not, they will live. I raised my son with the help of my sister and his father was not in his life. I didn’t have the time to do all I wanted but I had no problem telling my son to go do something with himself while I caught my breath, or took a bath or read. At 22, he is better for it as he learned early that the world doesn’t revolve around him.

  12. Lady Keller says:

    What she says is so true, but it’s not just as simple as “make time for yourself”. Women are still way more likely to be lower income and primary or single parent caregivers compared to men. Some women completely lack the support network or funds to make something like a visit to the gym possible.

    I do like what she says about women supporting women and teaching future generations of women about making ourselves a priority. Too often women are our own worst enemies. In my experience it is older women pushing the narrative that women should sacrifice themselves on the altar of motherhood and do it all. If I hear one more story from my mother in law about how she managed to work, and raise perfect children, and keep an immaculate house I’m going to lose it. OK, Barbara, you are perfect, but I’ve had a crappy day so I’m going to sit down and have a glass of wine. If you are offended by the messy floor of the pile of laundry why dont you ask your son to take care of it?

    • Surly Gale says:

      @LadyKeller….or that MIL can just take care of it herself, if it bugs her so bad…or maybe just handle it to help you……I’m sorry your MIL gives you grief. I’d love to be a MIL so I can be helpful. As it is, I borrow neighbourhood kids to take to the pool. Self-care is a very hard concept for me…it’s like I don’t deserve it. My doctor is pushing ‘self-care’ also. Thank God for my dogs, which means if nothing else, at least I’m out walking every day. Without them, I’d be in waaaay worse shape…they ARE my health care.

  13. Meg says:

    Michelle Obama brought this up at one point, even good husbands and fathers who mean well, tend to think of themselves first then they start their days: what they have to get done, run errands, etc. then think of the kids and ask their wives ‘how can I help?’ (This was also covered in the movie Tully.) Instead of most mothers who know they have to think of their kids first when they wakeup, otherwise the kids needs won’t be met. That was the story michelle told. She knew that if she wasn’t home, barack would take care of their girls; but if she was home he’d assume she would do it. So she told him, ‘I’m going to the gym in the morning. Just FYI.’ And when she got back, the girls were dressed and eating breakfast before school with barack where normally she did that on her own.
    A big issue I see is mommy shaming. (and we are soo so pressured to be mothers- I was told myself by my own mother that I am selfish for not having kids), So many seem to think that once you become a mother, then how dare we do anything without our kids. Mothers are asked, ‘where are your kids?’ frequently when they’re not with them and the fathers aren’t asked that nearly as often, if ever. Or their kid got hurt and mothers are asked, ‘where were you?’ This is part of the issue-so many think women are here to give to others, but not themselves; and that expectation is not put on fathers nearly as much. That has to stop too, its so sexist. Jason Biggs’ wife just said she is told she’s lucky by other mothers when her husband does things for their kids. And she thought, would you say that to my husband about me doing things for the kids? No, you wouldn’t because you expect me to do those things as a woman. This to me is the biggest issue here-sexism. Mindy kaling was mommy shamed on twitter when just her TV show character was a mother. Mindy had yet to have her kid-yet people shamed her for not being with her kid often enough on TV. She responded, ‘my fictional kid is the same place all fictional kids are in male led sitcoms that no one asks them about.’

    • Otaku fairy... says:

      “So many think women are here to give to others, but not to themselves….” This is true even on a group level and social justice level too sometimes. There’s often an expectation on us, especially from men (whether they ‘re from the same ethnic, racial, socio-economic, or religious backgrounds, the same marginalized sexual groups, or just places, movements, or families as us) to always prioritize things that directly affect men and boys over things that effect women and girls more. Even though the pressure comes more from male voices, sometimes women reinforce it too, and both can act betrayed if a woman doesn’t automatically do that.