The Bush Sisters' Letter to Sasha & Malia Obama Is the Kindness We Need in Politics

Johns PKI/Splash News; Olivier Douliery- Pool/Getty Images

The end of Barack Obama's presidency will mean big changes for all of us, but none so much as his own family -- particularly his teenage daughters, 15-year-old Sasha and 18-year-old Malia. Spending a huge portion of their formative years in the White House means that the sisters had a childhood very few of us can relate to, with the exception of those who lived through it themselves. That's why Jenna Bush-Hager and Barbara Bush chose to pen an open letter of support to Sasha and Malia, proving that the sisterhood of former First Daughters is strong -- no matter how different the political affiliations of their families might be.

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Now 35 years old, Jenna and Barbara (they're twins, in case you forgot!) were older than Sasha and Malia when their father, George W. Bush, served two consecutive terms as president. But they were still relatively young women, meaning that, like Sasha and Malia, they essentially grew up in the public eye (especially because their grandfather was president, too) ... all while watching their parents endure constant scrutiny.

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It's a reality few of us can imagine, one that would require some significant getting used to -- and as their letter reveals, Jenna and Barbara tried to help Sasha and Malia to adjust from the very beginning:

Malia and Sasha, eight years ago on a cold November day, we greeted you on the steps of the White House. We saw both the light and wariness in your eyes as you gazed at your new home. We left our jobs in Baltimore and New York early and traveled to Washington to show you around. To show you the Lincoln Bedroom, and the bedrooms that were once ours, to introduce you to all the people -- the florists, the grounds-keepers and the butlers -- who dedicate themselves to making this historic house a home. The four of us wandered the majestic halls of the house you had no choice but to move in to. When you slid down the banister of the solarium, just as we had done as 8-year-olds and again as 20-year-olds chasing our youth, your joy and laughter were contagious.

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So sweet -- and so not what many of us picture when we imagine what the transition from George W. Bush to Barack Obama might have been like. Their words are an important reminder that politicians (and their families) are still people. People who slide down banisters. People who sometimes feel a little lost and unsure. Ordinary people who, nonetheless, are thrust into the position of having to deal with some very extraordinary circumstances: 

In eight years, you have done so much. Seen so much. You stood at the gates of the Robben Island cell where South Africa's Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for decades, your arms around your father. You traveled to Liberia and Morocco with your mom to talk with girls about the importance of education -- girls who saw themselves in you, saw themselves in your parents, saw who they could become if they continued to study and learn. You attended state dinners, hiked in national parks, met international leaders and managed to laugh at your dad's jokes during the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon, all while being kids, attending school and making friends. We have watched you grow from girls to impressive young women with grace and ease.

And through it all you had each other. Just like we did.

Indeed, having a sibling by your side to help navigate such strange and sometimes turbulent waters must be invaluable. Being able to rely on each other for support is no doubt part of the reason why Sasha and Malia have managed to grow up in the spotlight with grace. A grace -- and strength -- which will certainly serve them well in the future, as Jenna and Barbara wrote:

Now you are about to join another rarified club, one of former First Children -- a position you didn't seek and one with no guidelines. But you have so much to look forward to. You will be writing the story of your lives, beyond the shadow of your famous parents, yet you will always carry with you the experiences of the past eight years. 

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The Bush sisters went on to talk about how the Obama girls should take all the lessons they've learned and use them to make "positive change," even referencing how meeting a little girl with HIV inspired Barbara to go back to school and change her major (she worked with AIDS patients in Africa, among other places). But the main point of the letter, it seemed, was more to offer support than advice, as in their closing paragraph:

You have lived through the unbelievable pressure of the White House. You have listened to harsh criticism of your parents by people who had never even met them. You stood by as your precious parents were reduced to headlines. Your parents, who put you first and who not only showed you but gave you the world. As always, they will be rooting for you as you begin your next chapter. And so will we.

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum or what you thought of Bush or Obama, this letter shows that shared experiences can bring us together as human beings like nothing else. As members of the same "club," as they put it, the Bush daughters and the Obama daughters are bonded forever, and that bond bridges the divide created by the difference in their fathers' ideas and beliefs. 

If only we could all find a way to relate to each other based on our humanity. 

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