Michelle Obama on 'the Truth' About Marriage, Barack's 'Ugly Cry' & More Highlights from Her Oprah Talk
Michelle Obama sat down with Oprah Winfrey on Saturday as a part of the longtime talk show host’s Oprah’s 2020 Vision: Your Life In Focus tour, where the former first lady opened up about a little bit of everything: her past in the White House, her present as an empty-nester with her husband and her future working with the next generation and sharing what she’s learned.
The pair chatted in front of a massive crowd at the Barclays Center in New York City, where the 56-year-old former first lady discussed how her marriage with former President Barack Obama has grown and changed — most recently after sending their youngest daughter, 18-year-old Sasha, off to college — and about the next phase of her life in which she hopes to inspire and encourage future political and social leaders.
Mrs. Obama — who is coming off a packed 2019 that saw her sell more than 10 million copies of her debut memoir, Becoming, go on a stadium tour supporting the book, earn a Grammy nomination and be named one of 2019’s PEOPLE of the Year in the process — also talked about her favorite TV shows, shared how she would spend her perfect day and even recounted a bit of White House gossip.
Here are some takeaways from Mrs. Obama’s talk with Winfrey over the weekend.
Her Advice for Her Daughters
One of the highlights from the former first lady’s interview with Winfrey was the advice that she has for her daughters, Malia, 21, and Sasha, which she shared for other parents out there with kids growing up.
Mrs. Obama said she reminds her daughters that they need to lead their own lives and not define themselves by what others think of them — including her and former President Obama.
“What I tell them is what I continue to tell themselves is that they have to walk their own walk,” Mrs. Obama said. “They cannot define themselves by looking at each other or looking at me or their dad. They have to take the time to get to know themselves — give themselves a moment to figure out who they want to be in the world, not who they think I want them to be, not what the rest of the world says about them, but to really think about how they want to shape their lives and how they want to move in this world. So, I don’t want them measuring themselves by external influences, and for young girls that is hard to do.”
Michelle Obama Says the White House “Didn’t Define Us”
Although most Americans know the Obamas because of their time in the White House, the former first lady told Winfrey that’s not what defines their family.
“I’m Michelle from the South Side of Chicago,” Mrs. Obama told Winfrey. “I have nice clothes and jewelry now, but my mother made my clothes. I mean we were raised with the [idea that] that’s enough. You be grateful for what you have and you don’t look at the next thing. You be happy with what you have, and that’s how we worked in the White House. That didn’t change because we moved to a different house.”
The Obamas spent eight years living in the White House while President Obama and Mrs. Obama served two full terms as the country’s first couple. But the former first lady said the family was always driven by the values they came into the presidency with, rather than the things that came as a result of it.
“The House didn’t define us,” Mrs. Obama said. “It’s the values that defined us.”
The Emotional Moment the Obamas Dropped Off Sasha at College
Mrs. Obama opened up further about the emotional moment she and her husband dropped their youngest daughter Sasha off at college, officially entering the “empty nester” phase of their marriage.
The former first lady said “when you’re busy with the busy stuff,” like when she had to remind Sasha she couldn’t bring “100 pairs of shoes” with her to college, “you’re not thinking about the emotional stuff.”
“It was of course a little emotional to drop Sasha off at college,” Mrs. Obama told PEOPLE last year, admitting “the tough part” has been “missing our girls.”
And yes, former President Obama becomes a big cry baby when it comes to his daughters Malia and Sasha, the first lady laughed.
Barack Obama Gets “That Ugly Loud Cry” When It Comes to Malia and Sasha
Mrs. Obama joked with Winfrey that former President Obama gets “that ugly loud cry” when he gets emotional about their daughters growing up.
“We bawl like babies,” Mrs. Obama told Winfrey. She said the president tried to hide his tears with sunglasses at Malia’s graduation and he was getting emotional when the pair dropped off their youngest daughter Sasha at college last year.
“When the emotions come is when we are getting in our cars and getting on a plane and leaving our babies,” the former first lady said. “They’re going somewhere where they now live. That’s when it hits you. It’s like we all start choking up.”
Michelle Obama Says She Doesn’t Follow Her Daughters on Social Media
Mrs. Obama told Winfrey in their interview that she tries to keep a hands-off approach to parenting her college-aged children as much as she can these days. After taking charge of the girls when they were kids, always checking on where they were going and who they were hanging out with, the former first lady emphasized that now she must let her daughters Sasha and Malia find their own grooves as young adults and make their own decisions.
“It’s better for them to be checked by somebody younger than me,” Mrs. Obama told Winfrey, saying that there’s younger people that the family has mentored that follows their daughters on social media so she doesn’t have to in order to keep tabs on them now that they’re living on their own as college students.
Michelle Obama Shares ‘the Truth’ About Marriage
Now that the Obamas have their house (an $11.75-million mansion on Martha’s Vineyard) all to themselves, the former first lady says she and former President Obama are finally “seeing each other again.”
“Parenting takes up a lot of emotional space,” Mrs. Obama told Winfrey, later adding, “Raising a family together is a hard thing. It takes a toll. But if you’re with the person, if you know why you are with them. You understand that there was a friendship and a foundation there.”
“You can have chunks of hard, bad times and if that’s how you define your marriage by just the hard times, then you’ll miss the truth of what’s really there,” the former first lady said.
The Self-Doubt That the White House Can Bring
Mrs. Obama said that living eight years in the White House as the most powerful couple in the world gave her a certain level of self doubt because, “Not everybody likes [her].”
“Some people think I’m the devil incarnate, you know what I mean?” the former first lady said. “When you’re in politics, you get the good and the venom too.”
So when she embarked on what would become a sold-out book tour for a best-selling memoir that broke records in its own right, she wasn’t expecting as big of a reception as she got around the world.
“It’s like I lived in the cocoon of the White House for eight years,” she told Winfrey. “I knew sort of that people maybe sort of liked me and might be interested in the book. I don’t know.”
Michelle Obama Says She’s Done Talking About Herself
That book tour, for Mrs. Obama’s memoir Becoming, sold out with dates in arenas all around the world. While the former first lady’s debut book sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, she exhausted herself by talking so much about herself for a year straight.
“I just spent a year on a book tour talking about me. It feels like, that’s enough,” she said. “Now, let’s talk about somebody else’s story. Now, where are these girls who are not going to school? Because you know what I mean, that’s why I’m here. I’m not here to talk about my story, or to talk about my journey. I’m here to shine a light on other young women.”
“What people everywhere need to know is that knowledge is the true power. It’s the only thing that’s going to save us,” Roberts, 52, told PEOPLE during their trip in December. “It’s impossible to ignore that if women are 52 percent of the world’s population. How do we think we can get along with less than half of the knowledge we might need to carry on on this planet? So to invest in the education of girls is to invest in ourselves.”
What a ‘Perfect Day’ in Michelle Obama’s Life Is Like
Mrs. Obama told Winfrey that her “perfect day” would be spent “somewhere warm,” like Hawaii, where she can spend the day outside. “I’d wake up and have a workout,” said the former first lady, who still champions her Let’s Move! wellness campaign that defined her time in the White House.
“I love to be outside because so much of our lives, we don’t have the freedom to just be outside anymore because of security,” she said. “So what both Barack and I crave is a chance to be outdoors. I would take a long walk. I would come home and I would have lunch with my husband. I would sit on the beach and I’d read or I’d talk to some of my girlfriends because I love living in my community. I love to have people around. Our house is usually full of people.”
Michelle Obama’s Favorite TV Shows
While the former first lady told Winfrey she and President Obama don’t keep televisions on in their house all day because she tries to avoid watching anything where she and her husband might be mentioned, such as the news. But she still does love watching TV and has a list of shows she loves, though she doesn’t “have a favorite.”
“I love Blackish and all the -ishes,” she told Winfrey. “I love comedy. I started watching Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. Hilarious.”
The former first lady said she loves comedies and also listed Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as one of her go-to shows recently.
“See I love TV — I love watching TV,” she joked. “I probably watch a little too much TV.”
Mrs. Obama Dishes on Drunk Guests at the White House
During her time in the White House, though, Mrs. Obama told Winfrey about all the organic entertainment she had from observing nervous guests.
“If there’s a party, people usually over-drink because they’re nervous because they don’t know what to expect,” she said. “The drinks at the White House are strong, so we’ve seen some people falling out and I’m not going to mention any names.”
She Has Been Trying Yoga Lately
The former first lady couldn’t think of anything she’s “mastered” recently, when Winfrey asked her what she’s been perfecting and practicing, but she did say she’s starting to get into yoga more and more.
“The older you get, the more important it is,” she said. “There are all these crazy yoga poses that — you know, like — the day before yesterday, they were trying to have us do something where our chin was on the ground. They kicked their legs up and I was like, ‘I’m about to talk to Oprah. I can not have a bruised chin because I’m trying some stupid yoga pose.’”
She Shares What Makes Her Feel Old
Winfrey then turned the conversation to what makes Mrs. Obama feel old nowadays.
“Oh … any conversation with a young person?” the former first lady laughed before sharing a personal story. “I have a godson who has just got his permit and his mother sent me a video of him behind the wheel and that just tripped me out because I was like, ‘No one should let that little boy drive.’ He’s on the road. He was the kind of kid where the girls would go over to his house when they were little and they’d come back with scratches on their face because he was a wild little boy when he was little and I would come home and it’s like, ‘Oh, you must’ve been at’ — we call him Mooch — ‘You must have been at Mooch’s house because your face is all scratched up.’ He’s driving. That made me feel old.”
But Mrs. Obama said while children grow up, they often still show signs of being kids themselves.
“The thing about young people though it’s like their baby comes out,” she said. “It’s like my children can be all elegant and saying interesting points and then I get a FaceTime because somebody doesn’t know how to get a stain out of their duvet cover and I’m like, ‘Oh, you’re still a baby. You don’t even know how to do laundry right yet.’ ”
Mrs. Obama Says Her Superpower Is ‘Empathy’
Winfrey asked Mrs. Obama what she believes her “superpower” is and the former first lady told her that she hopes it’s “empathy.”
“I hope that’s my superpower, that I make the people that I come in contact with feel seen and heard, especially young people,” she said. “I hope I have that power to make them feel relevant and heard and deliver to them what I didn’t have when I was that age. Like, the sense of importance and relevance in the world. I hope that’s my superpower.”
Mrs. Obama Explains Why She’s Always So Happy
Winfrey noted that every time she’s seen the former first lady and former President Obama out in public since 2016, they seem happier than they ever have been. Mrs. Obama told Winfrey she and the former president are happier now that their two terms in office are over, because of all the hard work the jobs entailed.
“We are happy people but why wouldn’t we be?” Mrs. Obama said. “We have our health. We have each other. We have a sense of purpose. I mean there are things to complain about, he and I believe the two of us, we don’t have anything to complain about. That’s why we believe we owe so much because so much is given, much is expected. So I cannot sit up here and complain about my life.”
Michelle Obama’s Believes Her Purpose Is Helping Young People
The former first lady’s interview with Winfrey ended by noting that she believes her purpose in life is to now help younger people and make a better world for future generations.
“The next phase of my journey of becoming is really continuing to make sure that what I do has meaning and purpose to somebody outside of myself. So my vision is, in particular, is to keep helping young people define and build and support that next generation of leaders. To help them understand a broader sense of balance that they can operate within because I do think that we are short on that right now.”
The former first lady said she believes young people are “hungry” right now for change and to make their voices heard in the world.
“My hope is that I want to empower young people,” she said. “I want to empower the next generation of politicians, and community activists, and teachers and doctors and lawyers. I want to be a part of laying out a set of values and principles that we can all be proud of, of this country.”