Amid the unprecedented amount of stress that families are enduring because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s nice to hear that a very successful man, a man with a well-adjusted family and brilliant wife, might have also had a hard time with work-life balance. It’s particularly meaningful when that person is Barack Obama, perhaps the 21st century’s best example of a “cool dad” who was also the leader of the free world. According to Bustle, in Obama’s forthcoming new memoir — The Promised Land — the President admits, none too proudly, that things between himself and Michelle Obama got tense in the White House, writing, “I continued to sense an undercurrent of tension in her, subtle but constant, like the faint thrum of a hidden machine. It was as if, confined as we were within the walls of the White House, all her previous sources of frustration became more concentrated, more vivid, whether it was my round the clock absorption with work, or the way politics exposed our family to scrutiny and attacks, or the tendency of even friends and family members to treat her role as secondary in importance.”
Like a lot of fathers and husbands, Obama’s work was messing up his relationship with his wife and kids. But, also like a lot of fathers and husbands, it’s not like Obama was in a position to quit his job to do anything about it. So, what was the solution?
We don’t know the answer from this small excerpt, but the thing that is immediately striking is clear: Obama didn’t have to admit that being a workaholic put stress on his marriage. He didn’t have to include that detail in his memoir, and, I’d wager, a lot of men with less-stressful jobs wouldn’t have bothered. Notably, Obama doesn’t blame his wife Michelle for any of this but simply points out that the idea that Michelle became “secondary” is clearly something he’s not proud of.
Admitting that a fracture has occurred in any adult relationship is important. Barack Obama isn’t going to suddenly become a relationship guru by revealing that working long hours can be bad for your family. But, his admission to this might be more meaningful to men than other sources.
After all, the first step toward fixing problems is to admit that there’s a problem. Too often men ignore this truth in relationships. Compounding this tendency is the idea that men are often ashamed that their work stress is bleeding-over into their family life. Obama is like many men.
This isn’t the first time the Obamas have revealed they had a rough time. As Bustle points out, in 2018, Michelle told Oprah that she and Barack did couples counseling. And, in case stubborn men out there forgot about this detail, let it sink in now. When you think of Michelle and Barack, if, you’re like me, you think of a strong couple and a solid family. The fact that they admitted they went through tough times and even went to therapy doesn’t make their family any weaker. It makes them smarter.
As couples and families continue to navigate an era that seems to keep getting more stressful, it might be worth it to reflect on what Barack Obama is willing to admit his limitations. Because if this guy can own up to some of his problems, then maybe the rest of us can get more honest about our feelings, too.