Be Like Barack

A lot of parents took notice when president-elect Barack Obama and his wife Michelle discussed in an interview last month how they would try to keep certain rules in place for their two daughters when they’re living in the White House. Malia and Sasha, 10 and 7, will have to continue cleaning up their rooms and making their own beds, Michelle Obama said.

Terrific, said the conscientious parents who were watching, I can talk about this as a good reinforcement to help keep my kids from slacking off.

Then there’s the other kind of parent. Uh oh, said those of us who take a more slatternly approach. Er, how often are you supposed to make the beds anyway? Are we talking daily?

When a seven-year-old could show up my housekeeping (well, actually it’s not that hard) you know you’re dealing with a family that’s full of disciplined achievers. The girls are also supposed to clean up after their dog when they finally get it, but I’m betting after a few weeks as an Obama, the puppy will have figured out how to hold the scoop in one little paw and the bag in another and then toss the whole mess in the trash all by itself.

Okay, so maybe we can’t all jump completely in on the Obama parenting model. But the president-elect has provided me with another useful mom tool. Obama has written that when he lived in Indonesia, his mother had him doing English schoolwork through correspondence courses.

Well hey, living in Spain, I try to keep my kids’ English up to speed with some work at home. This goes over better at some times than others.

But for those times when it doesn’t go over so well, now I have an annoying mom phrase to use with the kids: The man who’s soon to be president did extra work in English with his mom, and look where he’s ended up! (Of course, Obama writes that he and his mother got up to study at 4 a.m., something that does not happen in my house.)

But while citing presidential qualities is a great, traditional noodging tool, I’ve found you do have to be careful not to carry it too far.

For example, once you use Obama as an example of the importance of studying English, you might then go on to try to generalize it, saying, “After all, how could someone be president if he or she doesn’t use proper grammar?” Or maybe you’ll try to sneak in something like, “A president needs to know how to spell.” But it’s tough to come up with a phrase like that – that’s accurate – if you think about the wide variety of language skills of presidents and wannabe office-holders.

In the interest of minimizing the number of fibs we tell our kids, I recommend cutting off the nagging with just the example of Obama, a particularly skilled writer and speaker.

Besides, it’s no small thing to have a leader who gives you an example you can use in parenting.