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Obama is Home for Dinner ... What About Me?

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When Barack Obama was elected President, he made two things clear: He was going to overhaul health care, and he was going to be home for dinner.

President Barack Obama with daughters Sasha and Malia

Ronda Kaysen: Well, he's achieved one of those things, and we all know it isn't health-care reform.

Obama has shown that a dad can be involved in his kids' lives, even if he's the President. He regularly attends parent-teacher conferences, recitals, soccer games and family dinners. Even planning war revolves around his kids' bedtime routine: A November huddle about ramping up troop levels in Afghanistan started at 8 PM, after the Obama girls were tucked in for the night. The President recently ducked out of a health-care powwow to watch Malia perform flute at Sidwell Friends School -- a move that got the attention of the New York Times. He came back after the recital and wrapped things up before midnight.

"There are certain things that are sacrosanct on his schedule: kids' recitals, soccer games, basketball games, school meetings," Obama's senior advisor, David Axelrod, told the Times. "These are circled in red on his calendar, and regardless of what's going on he's going to make those. I think that's part of how he sustains himself through all this."

Supporters hail Obama for giving voice to the turmoil of the modern dad -- the father who's as torn about balancing life and work as mothers have always been.

In fact, 59 percent of men experience work/life conflict, according to a survey conducted by the Families and Work Institute. That's a significant jump from 1977, when only 35 percent of men reported feeling that way.

Critics, however, call out Obama on two fronts. One: Americans didn't elect him to be a good dad. And two: It's nice that the boss can break for dinner, but the underlings he's summoned to his office can't go home to their own kids. Obama's sharp-tongued chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, once famously called Obama out himself, saying, "family-friendly to your family."

I think the critics are missing the point. Americans may not care whether or not Barack eats with his kids, but they certainly don't care if Rahm Emanuel does.

What they probably care about -- or at least the 59 percent of men who want to be home for dinner do, anyway -- is getting home to their own kids for dinner. And that's something the President could do something about.

I applaud Obama for setting a tone that family is as important as work. But I'd like to see him do more than show us how much he values his own daughters. This is not about the working dad realizing he needs to show up for the soccer game. It's about labor laws that need to reflect our changing society. It would be nice if he'd follow up his personal choices with political action. He could advocate for laws that support universal paternity leave and expand the Family Leave Act.

In these tough times, it might seem counterintuitive to call for less time at the office. But a little breathing room is exactly what working families could use. With layoffs come ramped up hours and intense pressure for those who've survived the grim rounds of pink slips. Those families need relief, too. Spending time with your kids isn't just about setting priorities, it's about having an employer who allows for it. Rahm Emanuel has a point: He can't be with his own kids because his boss told him to work late. And that's pretty true across the board.

It's wonderful that we have a President who values spending time with his family. It would be nice to have one who does something to make sure the rest of us can enjoy ours, too.

next: Woo Hoo! I Am Not a Perfect Mom
8 comments so far | Post a comment now
Sara February 22, 2010, 3:40 AM

It’s the republicans that are blocking healthcare reform (and they’re very proud of it) not Obama.

The president can’t just snap his fingers and have legislation appear. Congress does most of the work there and if they are not willing it’s not going to happen.

just sayin February 22, 2010, 6:09 AM

It is not the republicans who are blocking health care (the democrats had enough votes to pass it but instead they had fighting inside their own group) I for one would also like to have dinner with my kids but I have to work the night shift while my husband works the day shift so we don’t have to pay for childcare. I used to be a full-time sahm but that all changed 6 months ago. I wish Obama would get off of the health care and deal with jobs. If more people had jobs, they would have health care.

b February 22, 2010, 8:18 AM

1: this article was so not about healthcare and what has or has not been done by whom. 2: Amen to the article! Unless you’re the boss, you don’t get to set your priorities in stone. 3: i don’t think that being at everything makes a parent a good parent. At some point these girls need to understand that they aren’t the complete center of the universe and sometimes other things come first. Priorities should be fluid so that children learn that caring isn’t always being there for every game, recital, etc. Sometimes not being there is the best way to show you care. “Daddy loves you, so he goes to work each day to earn money to buy things like food, clothes and toys.”

chris February 22, 2010, 9:03 AM

My husband misses a lot of our kids activities because he is at work or on his way home from work. He works over an hour away and if traffic is bad, it sometimes takes him up to 2hrs to get home. Even though he wishes he wouldn’t miss so much and the kids wish he wouldn’t miss so much, they know and understand that his work has to come first because that’s how we can afford our home, pay our bills, eat and stay warm. As our president Mr. Obama needs to put the country first and start to fix many of the problems that we have. I’m not saying that he should never have dinner at home w/his kids but it doesn’t have to be every night when there are more presses issues at hand. When you become president you should know that you are expected to put in more than 9 to 5 each day.

tennmom February 22, 2010, 10:21 AM

Simple solution if you don’t care for Obama: do not re-elect him.
My husband drives an hour and a half twice a day for work. He could have a job in our town if we were willing to take a 30-40% pay cut.
Anyone not liking their job and/or commute should consider a change or take classes part time and get into another line of work.

johnsonj3 February 22, 2010, 11:39 AM

Where was all this crying when the republican were doing what they wanted to do. I am so sick of people complaining abouta the the President has not done. He is doing the best he can. if you don’t want to commute then find a job where you can be home for your children events. I guess the people who are complaining about health care never had any or do they just want something for nothing before President Obama got in the chair.

lainey February 24, 2010, 2:47 PM

Cry me a river-President Obama walked into the white house as a man. First things first ladies-never put your faith in man, put your faith in God alone. Second-let those girls be the center of their daddys’ universe afterall he is theyr’e daddy first. Now do I need to make a reference to those drunken Bush twins?

really... March 15, 2010, 8:44 AM

For everyone who said if you had a job you had to commute to then you should quit your job or move closer to work. my husband and I did that, we moved closer to his work, farther from our families and his job laid him off while I was 4 months pregnant with our 1st child. now a year later, he still doesn’t have a job. we both have college degrees and have worked hard but since his company had made terrible financial decisions, we are paying for it. thankfully we had been saving for 3 years so I could be off work while we had children but instead of me being off work, we have used that money for my husband to go back to get his masters and watch out baby. I think for those who think it’s easy to just quit a job and get one closer… try it and let me know how it works out. Only people I know getting jobs are un-educated people holding stop signs for street repair

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