Michelle Obama on the things that matter most to moms

First Lady Michelle Obama (third from right) holds a roundtable discussion on the First Lady Michelle Obama (third from right) holds a roundtable discussion on the Wearing a dark pink-and-white print dress with brown trim that she says she got at Target, First Lady Michelle Obama sat down with a small group of women at the White House yesterday to discuss her "Let's Move" initiative. The roundtable discussion quickly turned to other topics, including fitness, healthy eating, work-life balance, and finding some semblance of a private family life while living in the public eye.

"Like any mother, I am just hoping that I don't mess them up," she said of her daughters, Malia (age 13) and Sasha (age 10). "Even when times are tough, in the end you are as happy as your least happy child."

Yahoo! Shine was lucky to be among the few invited to join the discussion. Here's the first lady's point of view about some of the things that matter most to moms:

On balancing work and parenthood:

She went from a demanding career as a lawyer to what may be an even more demanding one as the first lady of the United States. But she manages to create her own work-life balance because of her pre-White House career, she told Yahoo! Shine.

"I fortunately came with self-preservation tools," she says. "And I had developed those long ago, sort of realizing that I have to put myself higher on my priority list to stay sane."

"What I learned early was that I have to be healthy," she says. "I have to exercise. I have to eat right in order for me to be able to perform at my maximum capacity for my family. And I want my girls to see the model of a mother taking care of herself because, quite frankly, my mother didn't do that."

Though she credits her own mother's self-sacrificing nature with making her and her brother the people they are today, "Now I find myself pushing her to take risks and to do things for herself that she's not even used to," she says. "She has the time, she's just not programmed for it. And I don't want that for my girls. I want them to be young women who understand that you can be educated, you can be smart, you can be pretty, you can have fun, you can sweat, you can run-and you have to do all of that to manage in this world. So I have to be that role model for them."

She doesn't do it all by herself, she says, not by a long shot. "I still rely on my girlfriends a lot, too," she says. She also has more flexibility than she thought she would in the White House, working three days a week and making sure she's done by the time her kids come home from school. And since she didn't have that ability when she was building her law career, she doesn't take it for granted now. "I know how blessed I am, and I know how rare it is to live in an institution that can provide you with that kind of support," she says.

On screen time for her kids:

"We have clear rules about screen time and TV time," Mrs. Obama says. Among those rules: No TV or computer time during the week, unless it involves homework (for Malia, who is in eighth grade, many homework assignments require computer use). The girls have limited TV access on the weekends, she adds, but their weekends are pretty packed. "I try to fill up their weekends with a lot of stuff," Mrs. Obama laughs. "It's like, sports and games and… oh, it's bedtime. So sorry you didn't get your TV time in!"

While the President isn't a big fan of reality-TV shows like "Keeping up with the Kardashians," the first lady says that she's more concerned with what her daughters take in when they watch certain shows than she is about the shows themselves.

"My kids, fortunately, talk a lot. So we hear what's on their minds on a pretty regular, unrestrained basis," she says. "And if something is sounding kind of crazy, we'll talk it through. And it's like, 'Do you really think you should be watching that?' And they kind of talk themselves into the right answer, oftentimes."

On what she misses most about life before the White House:

Those clandestine trips to Target? They're one of the ways Mrs. Obama sneaks a sense of normalcy back into her life. In fact, before an AP photographer snapped a picture of her on her last shopping trip, she used to venture out regularly-and without a huge entourage in tow. "Standing, ordering an ice cream cone and having the kid behind the counter ignore me just like he's ignoring everyone else he's serving is really refreshing!" she joked.

What does she miss? "It's the ability to walk out through a door and go for a walk on any given day," she said, more seriously. "It's also being among people in a normal set of interactions. You forget how important that is just in establishing who you are in the world, in a sense, just having people normally responding to you."

Sasha and Malia are the ones who have more normalcy in their days, she explains. "We always say that when I'm with them there's a little more commotion," the first lady says. "When we're all together, it's bells and whistles and sirens."

On healthy food and fitness in schools:

Mrs. Obama's "Let's Move" initiative has led to a new awareness about childhood obesity, healthy eating, and the importance of exercise. Though the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act has yet to be implemented, schools around the country have found ways to make positive changes on their own, without additional resources. Mrs. Obama credits parents with making those positive changes possible.

"I think a lot of change happens on the ground," she says. "So I would encourage parents to be the advocates in their schools for this change. Many of the schools that do great things o it because they've got parents who are resourceful-because the funds aren't there, so they have to get creative and they have to rely on their parent base."

On encouraging healthy eating during the holidays:

"If you make good choices every day-I tell this to my girls all the time-when it's time for the holidays and the fun stuff and the birthday parties, you don't have to worry about it because you're doing what you're supposed to be doing every single day," she says. Besides, she points out: It's the parents who are sitting at the table, eating second helpings of pie; the kids are busy running around and playing with their cousins and ignoring meal time. "The question is how am I going to deal with the holidays?" she laughs.

But what about Halloween, the most candy-rific day of the year? "I don't want them to worry about how much candy they eat on Halloween," she says. "What we do is we get that bag of candy, and I let them hang out with that bag for maybe a day or two, and then I confiscate it." Keeping candy in their rooms doesn't work for her family, she explains. "The temptation is too great."

On making the White House feel more like home for her family:

One of the first things the Obamas did when they moved into the White House is establish certain boundaries, including a rule among the staff concerning Sasha and Malia: "They're not little princesses."

The girls have to clean up their own rooms, make their own beds, and Sasha has even started doing the laundry. "They have chores to do, and they don't get their allowance until they can prove that they've done their chores for the week," the first lady explains.

The girls helped decorate their own rooms and making the residence very kid-friendly, but "it's really the interaction that we have as a family that makes it feel like home," Mrs. Obama says. "It's sitting down at the dinner table and having Barack's day be really the last thing anyone really cares about."

On late night snacking:

Michelle Obama says that she copes with midnight cravings by limiting what's available in the residential kitchen. "I just tell them, 'Don't put junk in there," because if it's there, it wouldn't even matter what it was," she explains. So instead of stocking their personal pantry with chips and cookies and chocolate, she asks the White House staff to keep plenty of cereals, crackers, nuts, and dried and fresh fruit available.

"I'm a salty snack person," she confesses. "So if a bag of chips were there, I'd eat the whole thing, so I just can't have it around. And I think the same thing is true for the kids. It's just tough temptation. So we try to put out healthy snacks in clear containers." Being able to see what's available makes it easier to make a healthier snacking choice, she explains.

On staying motivated to exercise:

What motivates the first lady to keep herself looking fit? "Vanity," she laughs. "That's the start. That's just sort of the honest thing."

Really, though, it's a matter of how she wants to look and feel. "It's just personal," she says. "And what I tell my girlfriends who are struggling with it is that it takes a few weeks before exercise is fun. It doesn't happen overnight."

In an age where instant results are expected, you have to remember that it's impossible to get in shape all at once. "It doesn't happen overnight," she says. "A lot of us have to get over the painful hump of starting. And I think that's where we fail, because we're wondering, 'Will this ever get better?' And the truth is that you can get out of shape so much faster than you get in shape, and that's really frustrating."

After committing to exercising regularly, the first lady says that she's reached a point where if she's not eating healthily or exercising, she doesn't feel good physically. "So I've gone from vanity to, now, necessity," she says.

On women who feel disenfranchised or disempowered by what's going on with the world:

"The truth is, the greatest power I feel like I have is raising two more intelligent, decent people and putting them in the world prepared to give and contribute," she says.

Changing the big picture takes time, she pointed out, and the best thing to do is focus on the things you can control. "If everyone focused on raising their kids and doing the best that they can do at it, in addition to working and all that," she says, "there are hundreds of wonderfully small changes that we can make in our lives if we're doing all that. That becomes the collage of real change."

When confronted with the economy and the wars and the environment and all of the big problems in the world, "we lose sign of the fact that day-to-day work is really how change happens," she says. "So I would urge them not to get discouraged."

It's important to remember that the next generation was born seeing the world differently than we do. "They're born into a different way of thinking that I think is good," she says. "They're more open. They're more curious. The world is different. And each generation, just by the sheer fact that they come on this Earth, is creating change."

"That's sometimes more real than changing legislation," she added.




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