My dad often likes to retell the story about when he dropped me off at college. Since I was the youngest in the family, my parents reached “empty nester” status that year — their girls had grown up, and their main job responsibilities had toned down.
It doesn’t get easier if you’re the former president. As tough of a job as that can be, it won’t harden you in regard to the emotions you’ll feel saying goodbye to your last child.
Former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama recently had to part ways with their youngest daughter Sasha, and their viewpoints were very similar to that of my own father. Michelle spoke about the experience with People. “Time just goes so fast,” she said. “But like so many experiences in the last 10 years, we wanted to make it feel as normal as possible, given our family’s circumstances.”
Sasha turned 18 this past June, making her a full-fledged adult. It may seem like only yesterday when the world first met Sasha. At the time of the 2008 election, she was only 7. Unlike her big sister, who attended Harvard, Michelle and Barack are trying hard not to disclose which college Sasha chose to attend.
“It was of course a little emotional to drop Sasha off at college,” Michelle admitted. “It’s an adjustment to see each other for a weekend here, a holiday break there, but the moments we do spend together feel extra special because of it.” The good news is that Michelle always has ways she can fill her time — for example, I don’t think any Obama fan would mind a second book from our former first lady.
Curious about whether or not Michelle and Barack feel secure on campus? It might feel weird for them to hang out in a freshman dorm room again, but the two of them are trying hard to be normal parents. “We were there, just like most parents, helping her unpack and make her dorm room feel like home,” Michelle said.
One of the hardest things for parents is to learn when to back off. For Michelle, that’s all part of successfully raising a true individual. “By and large, we let her take care of herself,” she said. “As a parent, one of the most important things we can give our children is the freedom to find their own way in the world.”
You have to admit that Barack and Michelle have been very steady in their parenting. Back when Barack was elected into office, he wrote an open letter for Parade magazine. In it, he talked about how he hoped his daughters would be able to “grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world.”
The letter was published on January 18, 2009. In it, Barack admits that he knows it’s been a tough two years on the campaign trail, but he explains why he chose to run. It’s incredible to think about how much has happened since it was written. It’s unclear if the Obamas knew that they’d be such influential political figures, or if they knew that their eldest would be heading to an Ivy League.
“When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me — about how I’d make my way in the world, become successful, and get the things I want. But then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day,” Barack wrote, which touched the heart of every parent. “And suddenly, all my big plans for myself didn’t seem so important anymore.”
Interestingly enough, Barack’s letter also touched on the importance of a good education. “I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential — schools that challenge them, inspire them, and instill in them a sense of wonder about the world around them,” he said. “I want them to have the chance to go to college — even if their parents aren’t rich. And I want them to get good jobs: jobs that pay well and give them benefits like health care, jobs that let them spend time with their own kids and retire with dignity.”
On the topic of jobs, the Obama family has been quite realistic when it has come to opportunities for their daughters. Both Sasha and Malia have worked hard on their own, not fully depending on their family status to get ahead. For example, Sasha worked for a seafood restaurant called Nancy’s in 2016, which taught her plenty of valuable skills.
According to The Undefeated, there was still a major difference between Sasha and the other employees. For her own safety, Sasha had Secret Service agents with her at the job. She also went under her birth name of Natasha, in case anyone could have easily linked her identity by her name tag. It sounds strenuous but might have been the easiest way for her to find out what restaurant work was all about.
Even some of her coworkers weren’t able to identify her at first, meaning that it’s possible her plan to stay somewhat anonymous might have worked. “She’s been working downstairs at takeout,” a server at the busy island eatery told the Boston Herald. “We were wondering why there were six people helping this girl, but then we found out who it was.”
Michelle and Barack definitely did a good job with teaching their daughters independence. It might be why Michelle has admitted that while it may be an emotional experience, having her daughters out of the house isn’t the end of the world. She’s more excited about the opportunities ahead for them. “I don’t need my children to make me happy,” she said to People back in 2018.
Still, she admits that she knows that parents today have it a little easier. Thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with her daughters. “If I really get sad, I’ll go see them. Unlike my parents, who dropped me off at college and just had a phone call, I text with my kids. I can text [Malia] right this second and know exactly what she’s thinking.”
If you’re a parent who is worried about that big moment? Don’t worry. Like the Obamas, you might shed a tear or two. Just remember that they’re happy tears — this moment of independence is something you’ve been building up to for 18 years. Being able to watch your child thrive independently is one of the joys of parenthood.
Hopefully, Sasha enjoys her college experience. If her choice of her university stays hidden from the public, hopefully she’ll be able to get a little bit of privacy on campus. Still, it’s hard not to feel invested in her education, as so many of us got the privilege of watching her grow up.