The Truth About Michelle Obama's Parents

What we know about former First Lady Michelle Obama's parents, we learned through her best selling autobiography, Becoming. Obama says her parents spent their whole lives living in the Chicago area, and had expected that she and her brother Craig would do the same. Her mother, the Marian Robinson (formerly Shields) had wanted to be a teacher but became a secretary instead. Her father, Fraser Robinson III, ran out of money to pay tuition at community college and joined the Army, using his salary to pay for his younger brother's architecture degree (via Today). 

Fraser Robinson had a strong work ethic and embodied perseverance. He had multiple sclerosis, which made everything he did — including mobility, walking, and speech — a challenge. The former first lady says that before she had finished elementary school, he had gone from using a cane when he wasn't driving, to using first one crutch, then two, in order to walk. Even then, he continued to work at one of Chicago's water filtration plants, tending to boilers. Michelle Obama lost her father in 1991, when he was just 55.

"My father, Fraser, taught me to work hard, laugh often, and keep my word. My mother, Marian, showed me how to think for myself and to use my voice. Together, in our cramped apartment on the South Side of Chicago, my family helped me see the value in our story, in my story, and in the larger story of our country," Obama wrote on Instagram.

Marian Robinson had Michelle Obama's back during her time in the White House

For the eight years that made up the Obama administration, Marian Robinson was the highly visible, albeit very silent Grandma-in-chief. In her first TV interview in 2018 (via Essence), Robinson says she moved from Chicago to Washington DC out of concern for her daughter's family. "I felt like this was going to be a very hard life for both of them, and I was worried about their safety. And I was worried about my grandkids — that's what got me to move to DC."

It was equally important to the former first lady that her mother was there for her daughters, Malia and Sasha. ""I wanted them to come home to family," Obama explained to Essence. "There were parts of the girls' life that I just knew were going to be ok because mom was there. When I traveled internationally grandma was there. When I wasn't home at the end of the day, grandma was there," Obama says.

Marian Robinson taught Michelle Obama the importance of her voice

To have Grandma around meant that both girls were raised the same way their mother was. In an essay for People, Obama used Mother's Day as a chance to praise her mother's parenting skills because "...when it came to raising her kids, my mom knew that her voice was less important than allowing me to use my own."

"She and my father, Fraser, were wholly invested in their children, pouring a deep and durable foundation of goodness and honesty, of right and wrong, into my brother and me. After that, they simply let us be ourselves," Obama writes in People.

There is deep love and respect between Michelle Obama and Marian Robinson, which shined through during the first press interview the former Grandma-in-chief gave to CBS (via Essence). When asked what it was that made her most proud of her daughter, Robinson replies: "When I grow up, I would like to be like Michelle Obama."