She is now considered the Grandma-in-Chief, but first lady Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Shields Robinson, once told her daughter that after raising two kids herself, “don’t expect me to raise any kid of yours!” according to a rare analysis of her White House role.
The scholarly study from a University of Minnesota associate professor quotes Robinson from a little-publicized biography of the first lady published in 2012 by author Alma Halbert Bond that detailed Robinson’s route from Chicago to the White House with the Obamas.
The study, just published in Affilia, A Journal of Women and Social Work, and written by Priscilla A. Gibson, said that Robinson “had no plans” to raise her grandchildren at first, but easily — and eagerly — moved into the role as primary caregiver, a familiar model among African Americans.
“The whole time I raised [son] Craig and Michelle, I was telling them, ‘I raised my own kids, so don’t expect me to raise any kid of yours!’ ” Gibson wrote of Robinson, quoting from Bond’s book. Then, Robinson added, “just look at what I’m doing now.”
Robinson was recruited to duty during the Obama’s presidential campaign and realized that she would be continuing that role in Washington. In the Bond book highlighted in the study, Robinson said, “When Barack got in this race, then Michelle was going to stop to go out and campaign, I was already picking the girls up from school, so I thought, maybe Michelle could use me, so I went on and retired.”
In fact, she told told Bond, “If anyone is going to care for them other than their parents, it had better be me.”
The analysis, “Grandmother Caregiver-in-Chief Continues the Tradition of African American Families,” sits behind a paywall and was made available to Secrets.
Since coming to Washington, Robinson has been the steady presence around first daughters Sasha and Malia, and a great relief to their busy parents.
But she is eager to return to Chicago, wrote Gibson.
There have been few stories about the president’s mother-in-law, and even fewer reviews of her insider role. Gibson writes that Robinson is continuing in the “tradition of African American families” where grandparents play a big parenting role.
Typically, it’s a role most noted in poor families, she writes, but Robinson is an example of how wealthy and very busy African Americans also get the help of their parents for child rearing. “Indeed, until 'The Cosby Show,' and the first Obama campaign when their lives were featured in the media, affluent African Americans tended to be less visible to most non-African Americans despite having existed for over 100 years,” wrote Gibson.
She adds that Robinson is a “positive model” for black families — and sociologists. Gibson concludes:
“History continues to shape the lives of African American women in their role as caregivers to their family members. Race and gender translate the role of African American women as caregivers for the provision of basic necessities, affectional ties, and for cultural values. Quotes from interviews, especially with Mrs. Obama, indicate the positive aspects of her mother’s role despite some disagreements. It calls for social workers to be aware of the social good that is intrinsic in family affectional ties that is irreplaceable. While social workers can rarely assist with increasing a family’s income, they can work with African American families to use the culturally ingrained capacity of intra family support.”Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.