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They Say – White House Not Family Friendly

By brettsinger |

Rahm Emanuel says the White House is family friendly only for President Obama's familyA recent New York Times article sported the following headline:

‘Family Friendly’ White House Is Less So for Aides

This was on the front page of the paper on July 3. (Yes, I still read the Times in print.) I was curious. What big story has the Times uncovered? What’s happening in D.C.?

Parents are working long hours and missing out on things like birthday parties, school plays, or even family dinner.

You know. The same thing that’s happening in offices all across the country. Probably all over the world.

The photo caption on the first image in the Times story is as follows: “Lisa Brown, the White House staff secretary, said she felt a ‘daily tug’ about getting home for her 6-year-old son’s bedtime.”

And your point is…?

I’m not unsympathetic. Missing out on time with your kids because of your job? It sucks. It’s just that I don’t see how working at the White House should be better than another job. Aren’t these people doing important work?

The Times piece was remarkably similar to a story that was on Huffington Post a month ago. (Rahm: White House Is Family Friendly — For Obama’s Family (VIDEO) That story referred to an NBC News piece where various staff members were interviewed. Here’s the clip (click here if the embed doesn’t work):

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Slow, dramatic pan on the photos of staff member’s children. Rahm Emanuel pointing out that his children are still in Chicago. And also, finally, pointing out that he made a decision to take the job. Host Brian Williams dramatically intones, “Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, a father of three, chose to take on the long days and nights working for a President.”

Ah yes. Choice. It’ll getcha every time.

Over at, Katherine Lewis posted a blog entry about this where she is gently critical of the Obama Administration. She suggests that the administration should “allow job sharing,” “enforce down time”, and “Encourage reduced-hour work weeks.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want anyone other than the Secretary of State doing the job of the Secretary of State. Actually, that goes for almost every position in the White House.

Lewis feels that her criticism is more valid beacuse the Obamas have paid lip service to “work-life balance” at the White House. “When you’re leading the country, it’s important to lead by example — to practice what you preach.” For example, the President frequently talks about how nice it is to have dinner with his kids, or drop them off at school. In the NBC piece he says that it’s easier for him to balance his job with family time because he has “this nice home office”. (The man has a way with a phrase, doesn’t he?) But — horrors! — not everyone can get the same benefits as the President. Rahm Emanuel says that he has told the President that working at the White House is “very family friendly — to your family.”

You know something? I’m OK with that. Not that it isn’t hard for the people who work there, or for their families. But these are CHOICES. Nobody forced them to take the job. Nobody twisted their arm. (As far as I know. Let the conspiracy theories begin.) Emanuel talks about the great opportunity to work for a President. Well, yes. It is. And if you CHOSE to do something else, that would be fine. It’s possible that you can’t have everything. Sucks to be you.

Aside: I don’t know for certain, and I’m not in a position to do the necessary research. But I wonder if a story like this one was ever been written about a previous administration. Not to say that the press is out to “get” President Obama. It does seem to me that by offering so much access, the administration opens themselves up to criticism.

I don’t want to give anyone the wrong idea. I think there are probably many situations where employers can work harder to help their employees achieve a balance between work and family. But maybe not all jobs are created equal. And I think I’m comfortable with the White House being one of places where work can come before family.

Image: HuffPo

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10 thoughts on “They Say – White House Not Family Friendly

  1. Amy Kuras says:

    Did none of these people see even ONE episode of the West Wing before taking their jobs? I’m just sayin’. None of those people seemed to ever go home.

  2. Brett Singer says:

    Thank you! I was thinking the same thing. The NBC video looked like a less peppy episode of “West Wing.” The way Rahm claims to talk back to the President is too much like an episode where Pres. Bartlett yells at a staffer for being a little too familiar with him.

  3. Allie says:

    I am constantly battling for work/home balance, and I’m doing it on probably a quarter of the salary these people make. And maybe the White House is really only family friendly for the Obamas, but aren’t the perks the reason that people strive to be the boss?

  4. leanneclc says:

    Great comments…I believe we can have it all, but not all at once. If someone is working at the White House in your family, it’s a big decision and one that I believe is understood not to be very flexible. The other parent may need to take a “step back” in their career to accommodate the change in work/life. My husband is a consultant…he works where and when the client needs him to, that is the choice we made. When he recently decided to take a more responsible position recently, I choose to step back a bit in career as we knew his travel schedule would dramatically change our home life. It was a choice and we made it together, thought through all the implications and agreed on what was best for our family.

    Great post!

  5. Rosana says:

    I agree with brettsinger. The White House is not the only place where employees struggle balancing work and family. On the other hand, if Rahm’s family is still in Chicago is because, once again, he made that decision. I doubt he does not have the financial means to relocate his family, that is something that a lot of us cannot afford.

  6. jeannesager says:

    leanneclc – I think you hit the nail on the head. People who criticized Michelle Obama for not taking on bigger roles so far forget that her husband is in a job that’s 24/7. As parents, someone has to be there for the kids, and when one takes a high profile job like that (be it the wife OR the husband), they need to be aware of the choices they’re making for their family.

    So yeah, what Brett said!

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