Many find first family fascinating

SEVEN-YEAR-OLD AVAChilders will soon beresponsible for making herown bed every day.And she can thank theObamas for that.

Ava’s mother, Danita, got theidea after hearing that the soonto-be first daughters, Sasha, 7,and Malia, 10, are required tomake their own beds in themorning.

“I hadn’t given her any chores. . . and I just mentioned it to myhusband,” said Danita Childers,recalling their recent parentingdiscussion. “Maybe she’s oldenough to do something like that.”

Like others across the countrywho are looking to the Obamas asparental role models, theChilderses of Chicago are eatingup stories about the Obamafamily’s values — from the girls’ 8p.m. bedtime to the presidentelect’s“Harry Potter” readingnights to the task of selecting apet dog.

The fascination with the futurefirst family is not new. TheAmerican public clamored to hearreports of Teddy Roosevelt’srambunctious children, andBenjamin Harrison’s grandson,“Baby McKee,” helped thepresident counter his image as acold fish, said Richard NortonSmith, a presidential scholar atGeorge Mason University. And ofcourse there are the Kennedys,who introduced a new generationto White House family life withlittle “John John” and Carolineliving in “Camelot.”

But parenting experts say thefact that the Obamas are the firstAfrican-American family to moveto 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., alongwith their well-known personalstruggles growing up, make themeven more appealing as moderndayrole models.

“People just want to knoweverything about them,” saidChilders, a member of a Chicagogroup aimed at fostering positivedevelopment of African-Americanfamilies. “They feel like these twopeople are exemplary, and theydidn’t come from exemplarybackgrounds. So how do you takean average, ordinary family andraise an exemplary person?”Some organizations whosegoal is to instill good parentinghabits recognize the Obamas’influence and are using it.

At a recent group discussion atthe Chicago-area Teen ParentConnection, a parent mentionedhow much he admired the factthat the Obama children had to goto school the day after the historicelection.

“Having him, as presidentelect,share and come public witha lot of family values and familymorals is really going to shape theway that parents . . . parent anddiscipline their children,” saidCourtney Simek, the groupleader.

The tendency to look tofamous people for parentingadvice is natural, especially inrecent decades, when familiesoften live geographically furtheraway from their natural rolemodels — their own parents —than in the past, said JenniferDubose, a marriage and familytherapist and parenting columnistfor Chicago Parent magazine.But Dubose cautioned that, aswith any celebrity, people shouldnot fall into the habit of unfairlyjudging themselves based on theimages we see in the media.

“They look wonderfully shiny,clean and bright,” Dubose said ofthe Obamas. “They look like awonderful family and frankly,they may well be. But who knowswhat happens when the camerasaren’t rolling and the doors areclosed?”