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Michelle Obama: 'I Don't Have The Stressful Job. He Does'

First lady Michelle Obama at a "Joining Forces" event at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Wednesday, April 11, 2012.
Alex Brandon
First lady Michelle Obama at a "Joining Forces" event at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Wednesday, April 11, 2012.

To White House outsiders and maybe even more than a few insiders, the life of a first lady would seem to be a fairly anxiety-inducing one. After all, there is no greater fish bowl than 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

So NPR's Michel Martin, host of Tell Me More, asked First Lady Michelle Obama during an interview scheduled to air Tuesday how she deals with the pressures of being both the president's wife and the mother of school-age children.

Mrs. Obama, however, didn't accept Michel's premise:

"I have to disagree. I don't have the stressful job. He does. I have the privilege of working on the issues that I choose and the issues that I feel most passionate about.

"There are definitely pressures that come from being in the spotlight, but they are far overshadowed by the amount of great things I've been able to do and the impact I've been able to have. And to be able to do it in the warmth of the White House and to do it around people who do care about my kids and a country that has been respectful of my children and their privacy, it has been less stressful than I would have imagined for me.

"The president's job is a lot harder. That's why I'm working hard to get him re-elected. Because he's handled himself with a level of grace and poise that not many people could given the challenges he's faced.

"Our girls are good and I will keep working putting them first as I think any family would, any mother would their children. I don't think I'm any different in that respect. I think in the end I want to make sure my kids come out of this thing on the other end in one piece. But I also know that's how the rest of the country feels as well. For that, I am grateful."

Among the issues Mrs. Obama has focused on during her time in the White House, perhaps best known is her "Let's Move" initiative against childhood obesity.

But the challenges facing military members returning from wars abroad, and their families, have absorbed much of her time as first lady as well. Mrs. Obama was on tour last week with Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Biden and a with a son who is a military reservist, to promote an initiative called Joining Forces aimed at connecting veterans and spouses to jobs.

Obama told Michel that she's encouraged by the better-than-expected progress made so far.

"We knew we'd get a good response because ... there is no American who isn't grateful for what these men and women do, and their families.

"But we've just been overwhelmed by the response. Employment has been a source of excitement because we've called upon the private sector to step up and find ways to hire military spouses and veterans.

"And they have just gone above and beyond. The president asked for a commitment of, I think, 100,000 jobs for veterans and military spouses over the next couple of years and we announced during the tour last week that we have gotten more than 60k jobs and we're well on our way to just crashing that goal out of the water.

Asked why the jobless rate for returning military members has been significantly higher than for the overall work force — 12 percent versus 8.2 percent, Mrs. Obama said:

"I think employers need help in understanding how to translate a military career, right. Let's take the average spouse. You show up in an employers' office and its shown that you've changed jobs every two years. Well, to many employers that could be a red flag but the truth is you've made those moves because your serving your country. And each time you've found a career and you've been able to provide for your family and you continue to volunteer and on and on and on.

"So there are many ways a military person's career can be translated and the civilian private sector doesn't know how to make that connection."

In another part of their conversation, Michel asked the first lady about a couple of stories that have dominated news coverage recently, the Trayvon Martin case and Hilary Rosen-Ann Romney dust-up.

Was there something to learn from the shooting of the Florida teenager and all that has followed? Was there a way to talk about the controversial killing in a way that could be healing? Michel asked.

MRS. OBAMA: "... Talking is good. Conversations have to be forever. They can't come in spits (sic) and starts when there's an incident. I think we all need, as a country, to continue to talk about these issues. To understand our communities and the challenges that we face, which are different and unique, depending upon where you live. It's all about continuing to get to know ourselves in a very diverse and complicated country that is America.

It is a wonderful place to live. But because it is so diverse, our challenges are complex.

As for the Rosen-Romney contretemps, she said:

"Let me tell you, the one thing I believe is families are off-limits. My husband said it, and he was clear on that, and I totally agree with him. Also, my comment that I tweeted was, we need to respect all women in whatever positions and roles that they play in this society. That's where we need to be. And I think that's all I have to say on the issue."

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Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.