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The President Barack Obama and (L-R) daughters Malia and Sasha, mother-in-law Marian Robinson and first lady Michelle Obama look on during the national Christmas tree lighting ceremony on the Ellipse south of the White House December 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. The lighting of the tree is an annual tradition attended by the president and the first family.

How Michelle Obama's late mother Marian raised granddaughters Malia and Sasha in the White House — inside their bond

Marian Robinson passed away aged 86, leaving behind children Michelle and Craig

Ahad Sanwari
Ahad Sanwari - New York
Senior WriterNew York
June 2, 2024
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Michelle Obama and her brother Craig Robinson announced earlier this week the heartbreaking news that they had lost their mother, Marian Robinson.

The 86-year-old was not only a caring mother who enjoyed a close relationship with her children (and son-in-law Barack), but was an extremely doting grandmother, becoming well-known as the "First Grandmother."

She was very close with her granddaughters Sasha, 22, and Malia, 25, and was a key influence on their formative years in the White House.

Learn more about the late Marian Robinson's relationship with her two granddaughters and how she raised them into the bright young women they are now while in the White House, exploring their journey in photos…


U.S. President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Sasha Obama, Malia Obama, and Marian Shields Robinson attend TNT Christmas in Washington 2014 at the National Building Museum on December 14, 2014 in Washington, DC.© Getty Images

Living in the White House

Although Marian was a native of Chicago, she was encouraged by her two children to move to D.C. and the White House when Barack was elected POTUS, and she was reluctant at first.

However, after receiving a push from her son in particular to start afresh after losing her husband and Michelle and Craig's father Fraser, she decided to do so to care for Sasha and Malia, who were only seven and 10 years old at the time.

MORE: Michelle Obama shares photos of ultra-private daughters Malia and Sasha in rare personal update


US President Barack Obama, joined by his family including First Lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, and mother-in-law Marian Robinson, react as they push a button to light the National Christmas Tree during a ceremony on the Ellipse near the White House in Washington, DC, December 9, 2010.© Getty Images

The best grandma of them all

Given that Barack and Michelle were often tied up in political and charitable causes, it was Marian who was able to step in and provide her two young granddaughters the support they needed, and allowed them to be more grounded.

And it wasn't just them, she proved to be an equally caring grandmother to her son Craig's four children, Avery, Leslie, Austin, and Aaron.


US President Barack Obama waves alongside First Lady Michelle Obama, their daughters Sasha(R) and Malia and Marian Robinson (2nd R), Michelle's mother, during the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 13, 2009. More than 30,000 guests will attend this year's events, which include a kids kitchen, an organic kitchen, live musical performances, kids yoga and the traditional Easter egg roll.© Getty Images

"A little more fun and games"

In their official statement after Marian's passing, the siblings shared more light on her role as a grandmother. "She relished her role as a grandmother to Malia and Sasha," they wrote. "Less encumbered by the responsibilities of motherhood, she'd indulge in a little more fun and games while keeping any danger of spoiling her grandchildren safely at bay." 

"And although she enforced whatever household rules we'd set for bedtime, watching TV, or eating candy, she made clear that she sided with her 'grandbabies' in thinking that their parents were too darn strict."

MORE: Michelle and Barack Obama's daughters Malia and Sasha appear in rare family throwback for Easter


U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, center, her daughters from left Sasha, Malia, Michelle Obama's mother Marian Robinson, right, and Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for photograph as they visit to Forbidden City, March 21, 2014 in Beijing, China. Michelle Obama's one-week-long visit in China will be focused on educational and cultural exchanges.© Getty Images

A public life

Marian attended public events often with Michelle, Barack, and their daughters, but was available for them on a more consistent basis thanks to the privacy concern being much less of a factor.

Given she didn't have to contend with the trappings of secret services compared to the rest of the family, she was often able to attend special events with Malia and Sasha, pick them up or drop them off at school, and step out with them in a more low-key manner.


U.S. first lady Michelle Obama (L) chats with a member of her mentoring program, as her mother Marian Robinson (3rd R) looks on at the State Dining Room of the White House May 7, 2010 in Washington, DC. Guests at the events included former first lady Rosalny Carter, former first daughters, spouses and mothers of soldiers,  and young women from Mrs. Obama's mentoring program and the notable women in their lives.© Getty Images

Embracing normalcy

Thanks to aides who carefully guarded her privacy, Marian was able to duck out of the White House for shopping trips, occasionally fly out to Portland to visit her other grandchildren, or host friends from Chicago over.

She enjoyed a sense of freedom that Michelle and Barack couldn't, and as a result, despite only planning to move to the nation's capital temporarily at first to visit with her granddaughters, she stayed there for a majority of Barack's tenure as President.

MORE: Michelle Obama praises rarely-seen lookalike brother as she discusses his bond with husband Barack


U.S. President Barack Obama (R) waves as he arrives with his daughters Sasha (4th L) and Malia (L), mother-in-law Marian Robinson (3rd L), and first lady Michelle Obama (2nd L) at the 2010 National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony December 9, 2010 at the Ellipse, south of the White House, in Washington, DC. The first family participated in the annual ceremony to kick off the 2010 National Christmas Tree Festival.© Getty Images

"Many good and valid reasons"

"There were many good and valid reasons that Michelle raised with me, not the least of which was the opportunity to continue spending time with my granddaughters, Malia and Sasha, and to assist in giving them a sense of normalcy that is a priority for both of their parents, as has been from the time Barack began his political career," Marian wrote in the foreword for her son's memoir A Game of Character.

While she rarely ever gave public interviews, never to White House press, she did open up more about the process of deciding to make the move to support her grandchildren, with whom she remained close even after they left for California for college and professional pursuits, till her passing.

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