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Lessons From the Obamas: Living With Your Mother-in-Law

The first mother-in-law is digging her new White House digs, and who can blame her? After some initial apprehension, Michelle Obama's mother, Marian Robinson, is settled into DC life, attending White House dinners and Kennedy Center performances. She doesn't have to clean the house or babysit too much, but she gets to sit in on fun stuff, like reading stories on Easter.

Whether you're leader of the free world or just head of your household, living with your mother-in-law — or your mother — isn't always easy. Especially a MIL as active as Robinson, who once worked as a bank secretary, raced in the Illinois senior games into her 60s, and now practices yoga. To see what the Obama family can teach us about how to make it work,


  • Give mom her own space. Though they live in the same (big) house, Michelle Obama told Oprah: "There are many times when she drops off the kids, we hang out and talk and catch up, and then she's like, 'I'm going home.' And she walks upstairs."
  • Make sure she knows the rules. Robinson says she tries not to say too much about how the Obamas are raising their kids, but when she's at their house, she follows their rules. (When they're at her house, they can follow grandma's rules.)
  • Don't assume you have an automatic babysitter. Yes, in-laws usually love to watch the kids, but don't book them without asking. Even Barack and Michelle have hired a babysitter when Robinson had plans.
  • Let her bond with the kids. Robinson reads the kids stories and drops them off at school.
  • But don't leave her out of the fun. Don't relegate the MIL to child-rearing duties. Marian Robinson also gets to entertain guests, attend state dinners, and check out performances by the Alvin Ailey dance troop.

Have you ever lived with your mother or mother-in-law? Share your coping tips below.

Join The Conversation
IAFN IAFN 7 years
My MIL lives with us (no we don't live with HER). It's been 3 years and so far we all are still alive. Hubby and I have 2 kids and my MIL is instrumental in helping us get it all done. She prepares dinner on the weekdays and helps with childcare, laundry and errands. I appreciate her helping me have more time with the kids - and bonding with my kiddos. I find my MIL challenging when it comes to communication. She's so conflict adverse that she avoids ANY conflict at all costs. Hmmm...not super healthy and I continually try to talk it through with her - face-to-face, phone, email, texting...whatever works in the situation. Ideally I would like my MIL to live in a house/apartment/townhouse next door to us - but right now - living with us (in the same house) is working out fine, but when it starts to's done! New arrangements will have to be made. -K of IAFN
PinkNC PinkNC 8 years
Some Grandmothers can be annoying and rude to their childs spouse. But this lady seems to be nice from what we can see of her. And Barack and Michele seem to love praising her.
JessieSP JessieSP 8 years
She seems like a great g'ma. I think it's better that she watch over the girls than servants and nannies. They just can't take the place of a parent. But a G'ma most likely could. Family around them is better when their parents are away on business, just like before Obama became President. I like her :)
bluebellknoll bluebellknoll 8 years
I would live with my MIL rather than my own mom.
omigosh omigosh 8 years
this is the first picture i see of her and Michelle really looks JUST like her! how cool
starbucks2 starbucks2 8 years
I guess it makes things a little easier when you live in the white house! Lots of space...I couldn't stand to live with my MIL. Love her, but she would drive me completely nuts.
RockAndRepublic RockAndRepublic 8 years
She has no life in her face. And this totally wouldn't fly with me.
Great-Sommelier Great-Sommelier 8 years
My mother in law is satan
Fleurie Fleurie 8 years
My MIL actually is pretty cool, she's still work at her own shop until afternoon, and she have this crazy schedule with her friends at night =) So there's not much time we spend together. Nice.
cordata cordata 8 years
Omg she looks JUST like Michelle
psychobabble psychobabble 8 years
I think we could do it, my MIL is pretty darn awesome! Our plan is to actually have a house with an extension (ideally a little guest house or apartment) for my MIL. It's quite possible that she'll be living with us in a few years after we start a family, so we'll see how it goes!
greenapples1987 greenapples1987 8 years
i could not live with my boyfriends mother, my to be mother in law. just getting through a week visit is hard on me. i don't like the way she feels that she needs to help with everything. doing our laundry. cooking every meal. cleanin. buying groceries to fix the meal she wants. rearranging our cabinets and pantry!! yepp she had time to do all of those things in five days, and annoy me at the same time!! and the worse part is we never do anything outside of the house!! we just sit here the entire week and talk to each other and look at each others faces, it's so crazy!! when we suggest we go out somewhere, she says oh we're not here for you to entertain us we just want to visit with you. the worse part is when i have to sit here at the house all day with time while my boyfriend goes to work all day..then it's up to me to sit and 'visit' with them. i just want to go to our bedroom and stay there all day.
Chouette4u Chouette4u 8 years
OMG having my MIL live with us is probably one of my worst nightmares! I'm glad the Obamas make it work though.
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