Friday, March 16, 2012

Michelle Obama and Jill Biden on maintaining their own identities, careers

Back in Nov. 2011, I sat down with First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden for an on-camera interview for Yahoo! News. Our conversation touched on several topics, from what it's like to raise kids in the public eye, why they're focusing on help for military families, and how they'd react if their own children decided to join the armed forces.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden during an interview with Yahoo! Shine Senior Editor Lylah M. Alphonse in the Diplomatic Room of the White House, Nov. 2, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

The videos have expired online, but the articles are still available. Take a look at what they had to say about Let's Move!, patriotism, pride, and maintaining their own identities and careers while I work to get the clips back up and running!

Yahoo! Readers Ask Michelle Obama and Jill Biden About National Pride, Let's Move, and Keeping Their Careers

 Yahoo! and Yahoo! Shine readers recently offered up nearly 5,000 questions for us to choose from for our exclusive interview with First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden. The First and Second ladies answered some of them in clips that aired earlier this week (you can watch them share their families' holiday traditions here, and talk about what they'd do differently as parents here). And, on Veterans' Day, November 11, we'll share what Dr. Biden (a Blue Star mom herself) has to say about helping military families, and how the First Lady says she'd react if her daughters wanted to join the armed forces.

But readers asked questions about other things: opposition to the White House campaign against childhood obesity, whether Mrs. Obama feels pride in her country now that her husband has been in the Oval Office for three years, and how Dr. Biden maintains her own identity and career in spite of her husband's high-profile job. Here's what they had to say:

On maintaining their own identities and careers:

"The real joy for me is I can continue teaching," Dr. Biden told Yahoo! Shine. "I teach full-time at a community college right nearby here and so that, I think, really kind of keeps me grounded. And I love it. I mean, I was this morning grading papers. I'll be in the classroom tomorrow. So I think that this job has been great as Second Lady because I can have a career and I can also do all the wonderful things that I have the opportunity to do by myself or with Michelle."

"I think we both have strong spouses who care deeply about our own happiness and development," Mrs. Obama said. "You can't do it without that support."

Both women acknowledge that ever person's path in life is different, and you have to figure out what works best for you and your families. "And that may change throughout the course of your life with the kids," Mrs. Obama said. "So I would urge spouses to go with that flow and not be defined by what they think they should do. They should do what's best for them and for their families, and know that that is not going to be static."

On having pride in the United States of America:

Mrs. Obama came under fire in February, 2008, when during a campaign stop in Milwaukee she said, "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country." She later explained that she was talking about the political process in particular, and that she was "absolutely" always proud of the country, but the criticism continues more than three years later. One Yahoo! reader wrote: "I would like to ask Michelle Obama: What do you think of America now, since your husband has been President for three years? How do you think America has changed, if at all?" So, we asked her exactly that.

"In so many ways we've been changed, and we've grown," Mrs. Obama replied during our on-camera interview. "I think we're growing as a country in terms of our understanding and appreciation for the sacrifices of war. It is very difficult to take for granted the complicated nature of the lives of our men and women in uniform when they choose to serve. We have one percent of the country protecting the freedoms of the other 99 percent of us. That burden is deep, and it is real, and it's something that the rest of us can't take for granted."

Dr. Biden-whose stepson, Beau, is a member of the Delaware Army National Guard-agreed.

"I think that there has been a really positive change," she told Yahoo! Shine. "I lived through the Vietnam War. And seeing those soldiers come back and how they were treated, and seeing now how American embraces military families, I mean, there's a big change."

On Let's Move and childhood obesity:

Several readers wondered whether the administration had ever imagined that people would oppose efforts to inspire better eating habits, but Mrs. Obama says what she sees is support, not a backlash.

"The truth is, is that there is always opposition, it's just a question on whether you focus on it," she said. "The truth is we've seen some tremendous changes, and every industry stepping up."

Pointing to voluntary changes in the restaurant industry, school lunch programs, food manufacturing processes, Mrs. Obama added, "The support has been tremendous. And I think we're making some progress. And it starts with changing the culture."

"We also know that we can't do this alone. You can't ask a family to solve this problem for themselves in a vacuum," she said. "And everybody has been stepping up to provide the kind of support in communities and schools that parents who care -- do care -- about the health of their kids, so that they have that support to make the choices that they need and the changes that they see fit for their kids. So it's been exciting."

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