By now we have all heard about the presidential tradition of the outgoing President leaving a note for the incoming President when leaving the White House. Many have also heard about the charming letter left eight years ago for the incoming First Children, sharing some of the experiences Barbara Bush and Jenna Bush Hager had as grandchildren and children in the White House as well as advice for the Obama girls’ time living there. Yesterday, it was revealed that the Bush sisters have done it again.
In a charming, honest and inspiring letter, Jenna and Barbara expressed their support and admiration for Sasha and Malia Obama and gave them some advice as they venture out into the world as so few have done, as “former First Children.”
They tell the teens to remember the people who work in the White House and to keep in touch with those who have been such a big part of their lives growing up. They encourage them to enjoy college and gently point out that they will continue to be in the spotlight, saying “As most of the world knows, we did.” The Bush sisters go on to encourage the Obama girls to continue to learn and grow, to make mistakes and “to surround yourself with loyal friends who know you, adore you and will fiercely protect you.”
The letter talks about some of the wonderful experiences that only children in their positions could have, some of which can be life-altering, as well as the difficulty of having to hear horrible things said about your parents.
Despite the political differences of their families, these four girls have quite a bit in common. All grew up in the fishbowl of the White House, with a level of scrutiny that only those who have lived through it can possibly understand. They had to share their fathers with the country and sometimes the world. They had to endure criticism of not only their parents, but occasionally themselves (such as harsh criticism of the Obama girls’ short skirts in 2014 or the aforementioned coverage of the Bush girls’ college exploits). They have a strange sort of celebrity, one not of their own choosing and one impossible to avoid (remember all the coverage of Malia’s college search?).
The fact that this letter is unprecedented makes it all the more impressive. Here we have two young women who took time out of their very busy careers and family lives to encourage and inspire two younger women as their lives take another dramatic turn after eight years of living in the public eye. Unlike the rest of us, the Bushes know how leaving the White House is different from any other move they have before or will again experience.
The letter demonstrates an understanding and empathy that is rare to see, especially in public life. It provides a glimpse into a life that most of us can barely comprehend and will likely never know. It is a privileged life, yet a difficult one, compounded by the fact that there was no personal choice involved. None of us can choose who our parents are or where or how we live as children. The letter is real, it talks of childhood joys such as sliding down banisters and the inevitability of growing from girls to young women, while experiencing things most us never will, such as attending state dinners and meeting international leaders.
Though the Obama girls were, for the most part, effectively shielded from the public eye, it has to be difficult to grow up in an atmosphere when you are never truly alone. And moving out of the White House does not necessarily mean moving out of the spotlight. Their lives forever changed in 2008 when their father won the election. Though there will be some relief in their new lives, there are sure to be challenges as well.
Barbara and Jenna have lived through this transition and set an example for women who “have been there.” The class and grace shown in this letter is something that needs to be celebrated and encouraged. Too often we see women putting each other down when we should be lifting each other up. The Bush “girls” have set an example of how we all should behave. We need to root for each other and remind each other to: “Explore your passions. Learn who you are. Make mistakes—you are allowed to.” Malia and Sasha, like Barbara and Jenna, we too are rooting for you.