Lessons from Michelle Obama's "Single Mom" gaffe

Michelle Obama accidentally called herself a Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, April 11, 2013 - Now that Michelle Obama has safely navigated a first term with her husband in office, and managing it with an overall pretty high and consistent popularity rate, she has started slowly approaching  policy areas, much like previous First Ladies. Her predecessor, Laura Bush, went from reading children’s books for her literacy campaign to globe trotting and championing women’s rights all over the world during her husband’s second term.

Yesterday, we saw a little of Michelle Obama’s tepid trek out from the first term shadows, at a luncheon meeting to address youth violence in Chicago (which can be seen here) at Harper High School in Chicago.

At the start of a very emotional address during which she expressed empathy for the slain 15-year old Chicago girl killed a week after performing at President’ Obama’s inauguration parade, Michelle Obama said, “As I visited with the Pendleton family at Hadiya’s funeral, I couldn’t get over how familiar they felt to me. Because what I realized was Hadiya’s famly was just like my family. Hadiya Pendleton was me, and I was her. But I got to grow up…”

The speech ended with a call for members of Congress to entertain a vote on gun control legislation.

“Right now, my husband is fighting as hard as he can, and engaging as many people as he can, to pass common-sense reforms to protect our children from gun violence,” she said to applause. “And these reforms deserve a vote in Congress.

Last week, albeit unwilingly, she also brought to the forefront the issue of single parenthood, its stigma and challenges.

It came in the form of a gaffe during an interview about her White House garden last Thursday, April 4 discussing her ongoing “Let’s Move” initiative with CBS News.

“Believe me, as a busy single mother,” she said before promptly correcting herself “Or I shouldn’t say single – as a busy mother” adding “sometimes, you know when you’ve got the husband who’s president it can feel a little single. But he’s there.” 

At first, politics watchers from as far as the UK and beyond tried to connect the mistake to her husband’s earlier reference to California Attorney General Kamala Harris as the best looking AG around.

It wasn’t that serious, of course. Just a simple slip.

Married women whose husbands work demanding jobs likely can relate to her comments. There are those moments when their husbands are away on travel or on distant trips for extended periods of time, they may plead with their friends in real life or social media to pray for them as a sojourn as single moms for a few days. The real single moms who live it every day, day in and day out, probably roll their eyes when they see folks lament having tough solo parenting weeks.

Single parenthood is filled with solo efforts schlepping kids to activities, preparing meals, packing lunches, checking homework, dropping off and picking up from school, filling out paperwork sent home by teachers, managing the household bills and any plumbing or automobile breakdown issues, taking out the trash, bringing in the trash, being the disciplinarian, reading the bedtime story, ironing uniforms, putting out uniforms for the next day, scheduling parent conferences, attending school performances, helping with class projects, following up on dentist appointments, staying home with a sick kid, giving pep talks, helping a kid practice his basketball skills, fixing the daughter’s hair, buying knick knacks for the class party, volunteering for a field trip, putting up the Christmas lights, trimming the evergreen bushes from the front stoop.


It is enough to make one appreciate having a life partner more, not just for emotional and financial support, but because raising children can be taxing and exhausting and quite the adventure.

It is really easy to get it wrong, and the stress of going it alone can make it an even more daunting uphill battle.

Parents who are single, by happenstance, divorce, death or otherwise, often succeed in raising smart, conscientious, hard working, astute, civic-minded and overall wonderful kids – with half the resources of a two-parent family.

There are approximately 14 million single parent homes in the United States alone.  According to a 2011 U.S. Census Bureau report approximately 69% of households are two parent, a drop from 73% in 1991.  But the report also indicated that single parents aren’t necessarily going it alone. Many single parents live with their parents. In 2009, 7.8 million children lived with at least one grandparent, which is a whopping 64% increase from 1991.   

Nonetheless, the job of the single parent can be overwhelming. The world should celebrate single parents and view them with awe, rather than stigmatizing, shaming and degrading them. The term “single mom” is loaded with so judgment and baggage, some now adopt the term “solo parent.”

Isn’t that a little interesting?

When by reason of having a spouse with a demanding job, or one that travels often or one that is only temporarily away, the other parent is forced to step up and do the job of two, it all becomes real again how much of a challenge it can be to be a single parent.

Yet, day in and day out, many do with little to no recognition, fanfare or praise but rather with the opposite.

A slip of the tongue is so much easier. 


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Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is a former journalist turned lawyer turned citizen journalist. Currently, she manages her boutique communications law firm, where she has represented small businesses and nationally-recognized civil and consumer rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts and the FCC. She also covers the White House and US Congress for the online news site Politic365.com while authoring her own influential blog JenebaSpeaks.com which is frequently accessed by top policy makers and think tanks, and the investment community. JenebaSpeaks.com focuses on the intersection of politics and technology and reports on policies and rules in the communications and tech sector.
Before opening her law firm, The Ghatt Law Group, which was the first communications firm owned by women and minorities, Jeneba regulated Comcast and Starpower as the Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, and at one point was the only communications regulatory attorney in the entire city. She is founding member and policy chair for a new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs and provides advice and counsel to new businesses in the tech industry, particularly small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but raised in the United States by her Catholic mom and Muslim dad, she started her college career creating web content for one of the earliest websites in history while working part time for the University of Maryland's Office of Technology. Following her graduation from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she founded and co-wrote one of the earliest blogs and since then has gone on to found and author six different widely read and influential blogs. She was one of only 22 writers and bloggers to attend the first White House summit for African American media.
She holds a Certificate in Communications Law Studies from Catholic; a Juris Doctor from there as well, and a Master of Law in advocacy degree from the Georgetown University Law Center where she first taught and lectured as a Staff Attorney and Graduate fellow at that law school's Institute for Public Representation. She later went on to teach Media Law at the University of Maryland at College Park and guest lecture at Yale Law School and Penn State University, College of Telecommunications. She is well skilled and versed with social media and manages several Twitter, Facebook, Linked In accounts and groups.
She sits on the board of several non profits and trade associations.

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