The former first lady talked about the importance of making time for yourself at the Obama Foundation summit in Chicago on Wednesday

Saying Michelle Obama‘s schedule was packed during her time in the White House would be a gross understatement. But she always made sure to set aside time for some of the people most important to her: her girlfriends.

“I love my husband, and he is my rock, but my girlfriends are my sanity,” the former FLOTUS shared during a chat with friend and poet Elizabeth Alexander at the Obama Foundation summit in Chicago on Wednesday. “And when you live eight years in the White House, where you can’t even open a window, you can’t walk out on your balcony without notifying three people so that they can shut down security, your walk outside is a walk around the same loop on the South Lawn over and over and over again because the thought of you leaving those gates requires 50 people’s attention and work and inconvenience … when you live like that for eight years, you need your girlfriends.”

Joking that these days, “I still don’t move until some 30-year-old tells me, ‘Ma’am, you can leave now,’ ” Obama said that time with her friends “kept me whole” — and that men could benefit from doing the same.

Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

“I think women, we do it better than men,” she said. “Y’all should get you some friends! Get you some friends and talk to each other ’cause that’s the other thing we do, we straighten each other out on some things, our girlfriends.

“I just wish sometimes Barack, it’s like, ‘Who are you talking to?’ And it can’t just be Marty [Nesbitt, a Chicago businessman and close friend]. I see a lot of men laughing, but y’all need to go talk to each other about your stuff, because there’s so much of it, it’s so messy! Just talk about why you all are the way you are.”

Continuing the conversation with reflections on how to raise boys who become men who are leaders, Obama looked back on some of the choices she made raising daughters Malia and Sasha, now 19 and 16.

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“We could have spent eight years feeling sorry for them, that they were living in a bubble, that every misstep for them would be on YouTube or that they had to drive around in their teenage years with men with guns … that they didn’t have access to their father in a way. We could’ve felt bad for them and there would’ve been a truth there,” she said.

Credit: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

“But our view was, this is their life, and we can’t apologize for the life they have, because a whole lot of it is good. So it was like, ‘Get up, go to school, don’t feel sorry for yourself, yes it’s hard but it’s hard for everybody.’ We have to raise our children to be the adults we want them to be, and that starts young. You can’t be so afraid that life will break them that you don’t prepare them for life.”

And now, she’s in awe of the women her daughters have become. “They have brought me so much happiness and pride, how they have carried themselves and responded to the pressures that they didn’t ask for, living a life they didn’t want but coming out on the other end as good, solid people,” she shared. “That happiness and pride can bring me to tears.”