Obama’s childhood

As we contemplate Obama’s win, let’s think about his childhood for a sec. Far from being watched over every second by hovering parents, his dad split when he was still toddling and, for a while, his mom was absent, too. That’s when he was 10 and she sent him to live with his grandparents in Hawaii.

Quickie Moral? There’s no one right way to raise a child and even patchwork childhoods can launch a confident kid, an amazing adult. When you find yourself worrying – as I am doing right now – “What if my son has to miss football today because I totally forgot about it and made another appointment?” — remember: It probably doesn’t matter that much.

And in any event, it’ll all be forgotten by Inaugeration Day.   — Lenore

20 Responses to Obama’s childhood

  1. Tina Kubala November 7, 2008 at 9:56 am #

    I don’t have kids of my own yet, but have the honor of being “Aunt Tina” to my best friend’s toddler.

    My friend is divorced and is living with her parents while finishing up her degree in Math Education. Between three adults in the house, plus weekends at Dad’s house, it makes things complex in raising a child.

    I’m always telling my friend, these things make it hard on you, but your little one will be fine no matter what.

    Will she be the same person she would be growing up in a traditional household? No. Is she going to be scared for life? No. She is going to be an amazing woman when she grows up.

  2. Tina Kubala November 7, 2008 at 9:57 am #

    I don’t have kids of my own yet, but have the honor of being “Aunt Tina” to my best friend’s toddler.

    My friend is divorced and is living with her parents while finishing up her degree in Math Education. Between three adults in the house, plus weekends at Dad’s house, it makes things complex in raising a child.

    I’m always telling my friend, these things make it hard on you, but your little one will be fine no matter what.

    Will she be the same person she would be growing up in a traditional household? No. Is she going to be scarred for life? No. She is going to be an amazing woman when she grows up.

  3. Will November 7, 2008 at 10:24 am #

    I think you guys forget something.. Ive always been a nurture over nature..

    Consider this.. maybe obama became the man he is because of his hardships as a child. Making him want to strive and become greater and overcome his situations? no way to predict the future but cause and effect is very real.

    its naive to think experience doesnt shape a person.

  4. Will November 7, 2008 at 10:28 am #

    Furthermore.

    There is no recipe for successful adult but there are many ingredients.

    desire, intelligence, diligence, respect, trust, honor, love
    malice, sloth, greed, anger, etc. too many to name.

    what will become of your child will depend on what you and child decide. so help them make the right decisions.

  5. mjh November 7, 2008 at 10:29 am #

    For the most part, I agree with the things you post on this blog. But this one I disagree with. That someone from a the family life that Barack Obama had has succeeded to the presidency says more about the person than about his parents. But what it does not mean is that unstable family life is going to, on average, be good for kids.

    In the same way, you might end up with a child of healthy weight from a family that eats all fried, high fat foods. But the odds are against it. And the fact that such a child exists does not make that sort of diet a good idea.

    Yes, there are all sorts of parenting styles. No, I don’t think that hovering over your kids is a good idea. But I do think that most children thrive better in a family situation that has both parents being involved in their lives.

  6. paulmwatson November 7, 2008 at 3:34 pm #

    There are so many “normal families” that are poor families. They have a mom and a dad, possibly even some aunts, uncles, grandparents and brothers and sisters. The parents have good jobs, a nice house, go on holiday once a year. Food on the table etc.

    On paper it looks great, how could a kid want for more.

    The kid could easily want for more. Those two, normal by-the-book parents probably spend no more than 20 minutes with their kid. They get home from work at 6pm, rush around preparing dinner, clean the house, yell at the kids and flop down with their TV dinner in front of the TV. If the kid wants some attention they have to throw a tantrum, before being put to bed at 8pm. Two very poor quality hours with mom and dad.

    If you read Obama’s books you’ll see his mom and his grandma were busy but they took him with them wherever they went. His grandma didn’t go off to work and leave him in day care. He was exposed to the fullness of life, good and bad.

    There are plenty of kids from unstable families who do very well because they find one inspiring person early on in their lives. A teacher at school, a community minder, someone at Church or someone from their extended family.

    Sure, a mom and dad is ideal but it is more complex than just ticking “has mom and dad.” Mom and dad need to spend time with junior for it to make a difference.

  7. mnuez November 7, 2008 at 11:12 pm #

    Hey Lenore!

    I just watched the Penn n Teller piece and immediately upon hearing you speak a few sensible words (something I hardly ever hear on TV these days) I had to look you up. I still haven’t read anything of yours save your HuffPo piece but I’m pleased to have found out how to spell your last name so that I’ve found this blog and can read some of your other pieces. The overestimation of Stranger Danger on account of the advertising venue we strangely refer to as “The News” is one of the many things that annoy me about living in a world peopled by The Irrationalati who swallow (hook, line and sinker) whatever the tiny moneyed class tell them to swallow.

    Yah, so again, the compliment is deserved so I’ll repeat it. I rarely see someone speak both rationally and eloquently (and about one of my many pet peeves! :-) on television and I was sufficiently impressed by you to go through the trouble of figuring out how to spell Sckeneazi and to write ya.

    Cheers,

    mnuez

  8. Jamie | WiredParentPad November 8, 2008 at 5:13 am #

    Perhaps some of the commentors here are taking the point here a bit too far… I don’t think Lenore is at all saying that an unstructured family life leads to a prosperous childhood (and then adulthood) – rather, since Obama wasn’t raised in a situation where he had parents signing him up for every after school activity and picking him up from the bus stop one block from his house and not allowing him to ride his bike to school (the hovering parent), how the heck did he get to be such a successful parent? That’s the point – even a kid growing up with the circumstances he grew up with can prosper.

  9. Jamie | WiredParentPad November 8, 2008 at 5:15 am #

    from my comment above… “how the heck did he get to be such a successful parent?” – “parent” supposed to be “person”, though he probably is a great parent as well.

  10. Mandy November 8, 2008 at 3:23 pm #

    In regards to the comments made by mjh:

    I think a lot has to do with the perception of an “unstable family” vs. an actual unstable family… many would look at the family Obama was raised in with disdain, but he clearly had a very deep love for his mother and grandparents, and has shared many anecdotes regarding the sacrifices they made for him. He clearly appreciates the experience his childhood gave him, imperfect though it may have looked to an outside observer. I think the point Lenore was making is that our families don’t have to fit the mold of “perfect” that everyone else on the cul-de-sac is trying to live up to in order to raise healthy, successful children.

    I have said to my husband many times, this issue is tough for me. I grew up in a tumultuous household- though I was loved very much by my mother, I do NOT want the same situation for my children. Yet, I happen to very much like the person it made me into- and people I knew in school who were raised by “perfect” families were often quite boring and lacking in empathy or interest in the outside world. So what do we do?? Its a tough question.

  11. Jennifer November 9, 2008 at 11:30 am #

    It is the love and the dynamic within the family that matters. I have a career, and just because my son goes to a preschool and we only have a couple hours together in the evening doesn’t mean it is not “quality”. I don’t bark at my son all evening, and he doesn’t have to tantrum to get my attention. But neither do I OVERcompensate and spoil him during this time (“guilty working mother syndrome”). With my husband gone for months for basic training, it’s just me and my son. Neither of us always get all the time we want to do what we want. It’s just the way life is now and we both must tolerate it for now.

    Not angry or anything, but it is unwise to make blanket statements simply based on how many parents there are or whether they work or not. In our house love and respect and peace rule (no screaming fights, no unsavory things going on in frony of my son, etc.)

  12. Marinka November 9, 2008 at 8:49 pm #

    I agree that there is no one right way to rear a child, but is there really any doubt that Barack Obama is an exceptional human being and that his childhood is not necessarily a model for parenting?

  13. jimbino November 10, 2008 at 6:14 am #

    Someday I would like to see a list of the greatest physicists, writers, presidents, etc along with a description of the circumstances of their upbringing, starting with Romulus and Remus. Parents might be surprised to find out that, if not hindrances, they are largely superfluous.

  14. kelli November 14, 2008 at 4:25 pm #

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  15. Dick Tschingadero November 24, 2008 at 10:16 am #

    My aunt and uncle were the greatest parents ever. They always did fun things with their kids and took them camping and such. Both kids grew up to be raging alcoholics. One died at 50 in a drunk driving accident (she had a tumultuous marriage to the guy she babysat for in high school.) The other died at 49 in a home for incurable alcoholics in Toronto where he’d lived off and on for about 20 years. The father died a drunk in hotel room. The mother is now in a treatment center for dementia.

    An old friend of mine grew up in a horribly abusive home. His father was a drunk and beat this friend and his mother. He grew up to be one of the gentlest spirits I’ve ever met. He had a total knack for bringing people together. Amazing.

    My wife adopted two little boys from an abusive home. We are raising them with not a little fear and trepidation. Because, you really DON’T know how things will turn out. It’s a total crap-shoot.

    Nonetheless, I, personally, am totally behind the whole free-range kid mentality. I grew up that way and look at… how… I, ummmm. OK, bad example.

  16. Moses Clark December 18, 2008 at 11:18 pm #

    Very inspiring stuff here L…sometimes you can inherit fruit out of an un-attended harvest. I’m living witness to that.

    “Even patchwork childhoods can launch a confident kid.”

    Provocative point!

  17. اس ام اس باحال January 17, 2009 at 8:23 pm #

    hi

  18. scott October 28, 2009 at 12:47 am #

    Not to throw water on your “Kumbaya” moment (which I like to describe as a “circle jerk”), but Hitler, Stalin and Charles Manson were also so-called
    “free range children” as well.
    Actually, there is a very distinct comparison between Obamas vis Lenore’s analysis -where “his dad split when he was still toddling and, for a while, his mom was absent, too.” Where his mother abandoned (key phrase here) him to his grandparents, Charlie Mansons abondoned him to the courts and the foster system.
    As of this date, Oct 21 2009, nearly a year into Obamas “4 year term” we have seen the deceit, incompetence and “Hugo Chavez like” lack of concern for transparency, democracy and, whats most alarming, his undermining of The Constituion of these United States of America.
    Most alarming indeed!

  19. Jessica E Masse March 26, 2012 at 10:44 pm #

    I am a caucasion/ caribbean female who came from a broken home My mother was un-stable and a prostitute. My dad was absent; however I grew up to become a successful adult, what helped me transition into the opposite was the environment and positive impact my grandmother had on me. Although she could not do much because of being dominated by a controlling and abusive alcoholic husband who was also prejudice. Grandma managed to invest time and wisdom into me. I learned by her example, watched how she treated others around her. I admired her feminism, grace and personal etiquette. She facilitate church services for me where i learned biblical principles to help me on my life journey. Some times your dealt a bad hand in life but ultimately your personal choices will shape who you are a person. I decided i wanted to be the complete opposite of the example my biological showed me. I was taken advantage of by my mother’s pastor whom i went to live with at the age of 13, he began a sexual relationship with me and consequently i had three children by him, lived a life of being physically abused as often as three days out of the week in front of my children. In June 2010 I escaped him with my children, enrolled in college and currently serving my community as a volunteer while i am working on my college degree as a child youth worker so i can work with families who have been victims of trauma.

  20. Jessica E Masse March 26, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

    My two eldest children plan to become child youth workers as well.