Michelle Obama’s Becoming: The Power of Family

Perhaps the biggest risk she took was on Barack Obama. Already nicely settled in the partner track in a top law firm when Michelle met him, this gangly, weirdly cerebral stranger was messy, disorganized, and worst of all, a smoker. Despite his air of brilliance and promise, his ideals and goals didn’t match the blueprint for success that Michelle had followed so far. In many ways her opposite, Barack was a maverick compared to her conventional tastes. She was already living in a neat condo and driving an Audi, while he lived in poor students digs and drove an old car that had a gaping hole in the bottom through which Michelle could see the street as they drove.

In the end, he changed her, more than vice versa. Michelle left the law firm and took a series of public interest jobs, while he began a career as a community organizer and law professor. But never do you get the sense that she capitulated or lost her sense of self. Throughout, you see her challenge and question Barack, and serve as a  full partner and spark of inspiration to this unusual man. Like all loving partners, she gave him the room and the strength to become the man he is.

We all know how the story turns out, and if the reader doesn’t end up fully understanding Barack Obama, that is partly because he is a genuine enigma. She herself is constantly surprised by the way his mind works. Recalling one night early in their courtship when he was still a student, she asked him what he was thinking as he lay in bed staring at the ceiling. His answer? “Income inequality.”

Still, he comes off as charming, warm, and truly playful. But Michelle, ever true to herself, remains the protagonist in this book. Like her mother, she nurtures her children and her family with consummate skill. Like her family, she encountered racism and discrimination along the way. Unlike her mother, she juggled this with full-time employment, and ultimately with being the most famous woman in the world.

Recently, Jimmy Kimmel remarked in his interview of Michelle that she “came from nothing.” She did not take exception, but I do. She came from a powerful place—a good family, with nurturing parents who gave her love, wise guidance, and self-assurance—the best place to start from. Michelle did endure hardships, of course, but that’s different, particularly for someone with such an excellent foundation.

Michelle Obama is rightfully a super star in her own right. She is a model for millions of women and remains one of the most popular First Ladies in history—just behind Jackie Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martha Washington. None of this seems to have gone to her head though, and in the end, she got to live in a house with lots of stairs.


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  • Jo Shafer January 10, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    Loved this review! I can hardly wait to read it after it’s made the rounds on my daughter’s list. I’m next in line! Michelle Robinson grew up questioning whether she was ever “good enough.” So did I, but for different reasons. I still raise that question in my 70s in spite of my accomplishments, both private and public. That’s another story for another time which I struggle with in my memoir-in-progress.

  • Emily January 10, 2019 at 9:29 am

    Thank you for correcting Kimmel’s comment.
    We all have obstacles in life. A mother like Marian makes the obstacles doable without losing yourself.
    Many women who have to fight through their childhoods to hold onto themselves have come to adulthood successful…as defined by her story.
    I’m happy for Michele but she doesn’t represent the majority.
    I’m giving a “ shout out” to all the women who were robbed of a childhood and still managed to make an inspirational life for themselves and their children!

    • Jo Shafer January 10, 2019 at 2:29 pm

      Michelle represents me, I must say.