Becoming Michelle Obama

Wife, Mother, Lawyer, First Lady

In her memoir Becoming, former First Lady Michelle Obama recalls her childhood fascination with The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Moore’s character represented the “hat-tossing, independent-career-woman zest” of a liberated working woman who did not let her supervisors boss her around.[1] Yet, Obama remembers feeling conflicted by this urge as she simultaneously yearned for a traditional family life, claiming that the “stabilizing, self-sacrificing, seemingly bland normalcy of being a wife and mother” might not coincide with her ambitious career goals.[2] Perhaps unexpectedly, this tension is a touchstone in her book, where much of her life experience is shaped by the desire to be successful in both her career and as a mother. Having been positively influenced by her own mother’s support growing up, Obama uses motherhood to drive her life’s focus, as she succinctly states, “motherhood became my motivator.”[3]

It is probably no surprise, then, that Becoming has already sold more than 10 million copies and is slated to become one of the bestselling memoirs of all time.[4] Women of all ages and backgrounds no doubt share these same internal conflicts of trying to balance a life inside and outside the home. When The Feminine Mystique became a bestseller in 1964—the year of Michelle Obama’s birth—Betty Friedan had pinpointed “the problem that has no name,” saying that there was “a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning” that plagued American women who wanted to be more than simply a wife and mother.[5] Taking a cue from a childhood piano lesson, Obama learned early on to ground herself and find balance in all things, remembering her first maxim to “find middle C.”[6]

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Shalon van Tine is a cultural historian who specializes in American and world history. You can visit her website at https://www.shalonvantine.com/.

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