As the Obama administration comes to a close, this week has been filled with farewells, thank you’s, and plenty of reminiscing about the last 8 years. But of all the sweet goodbyes to the Obamas so far, one is standing out from the pack.
In a poignant open letter that’s now going viral, the Bush sisters, Barbara and Jenna, offered some sage advice to two members of the Obama family who are about to embark on perhaps the greatest new chapter of their lives: Sasha and Malia.
Though they may not know each other well, Jenna, Barbara, Malia, and Sasha are all members of a “rarefied club.” They have all grown up in the White House, becoming young women while under the glare of the spotlight. “First sisters” who had the unusual — yet incredible — experience of calling a President and a First Lady “Mom and Dad.”
More than anyone, Barbara and Jenna know what it’s like to grow up inside the bubble of the White House. And they also know what it’s like to leave that whirlwind of a life behind, right on the cusp of adulthood — just as Sasha and Malia are about to.
In their letter, published on Time Thursday, the Bush twins begin by taking a look back at their first meeting with the Obama sisters back in 2005:
“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.”
But just as Barbara and Jenna write about the incredible opportunities that come along with being a First Kid — from traveling to exotic locales all over the world to meeting dignitaries — they also note the “unbelievable pressure” that comes, too. And they acknowledge just how much other experiences — like meeting with the sick and the underprivileged — opened their their eyes in ways they never expected. Just as they likely did for Sasha Malia.
“And through it all you had each other,” the Bush sisters write. “Just like we did.”
Both sets of sisters also know what it’s been like to watch their parents weather criticism. And the Bush sisters talk about the hard parts of that so gracefully:
“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.”
The Bushes and the Obamas both famously guarded their daughters’ privacy, shielding them from the bulk of the judgements a president comes to expect. But we all know what they witnessed.
In many ways, their experiences were very similar; but in others, the Bush twins and the Obama girls couldn’t seem more dissimilar. Republican and white; Democrat and black. Separated by two different families, age groups, and — other than their White House years — very different upbringings.
These are just the kind of “differences” that we often let divide us more than ever these days. Even though they shouldn’t.
And that’s what sisterhood really looks like — women supporting and embracing and encouraging each other at every turn. And choosing to see our similarities rather than our differences.
In that spirit, the Bush sisters encourage the Obama girls to spread their wings beyond the White House and pave their own path.
“Make mistakes,” the Bush sisters urge, ” — you are allowed to. Continue to surround yourself with loyal friends who know you, adore you and will fiercely protect you.”
Yet while the Obama girls have come to represent the beauty of diversity, we all know the hatred that has aimed at these young girls simply because of their race.
“Those who judge you don’t love you, and their voices shouldn’t hold weight,” the Bush sisters wisely share.
They also tell Malia and Sasha to “enjoy college ” and “explore passions;” but my favorite part by far is the letter’s awesome display of solidarity.
If you’re a woman, you know that Mean Girls are a real thing — and not just in high school. The competition among grown-up women is real, too. We aren’t nice to each other often enough, even as we’re urging our daughters to be.
The Bush sisters recognize the awesome beauty and the strength in their younger counterparts. When they publicly praise and support them, “root for them,” they’re modeling that positive, affirmative behavior for all of us.
“It’s your own hearts that matter,” they tell the younger women. And I couldn’t agree more.
The Bush sisters’ tribute is sweet and moving, but better than that, it’s feminist. It gives heart-felt advice for ethical, positive living and it’s the perfect example of women supporting women.
And maybe we could all stand to take a page from their book. You and I may never have been First Children, but we know what it felt like to be young, with “light and wariness in our eyes.” We didn’t grow up in the White House, but we do all share the world.
Let’s root for all the girls and women we share it with — starting right now.