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Nanette Fondas's picture

Motherhood, apple pie and a good speech: Michelle Obama hit the bull's eye in her Democratic Convention speech. But naming herself "mom-in-chief"--while endearing--missed the mark. Much ink has spilled already over her use of the phrase "mom-in-chief":

  • "If you feel let down by an arc that begins with anti-colonialism, immigration and women being dragged to jail, but returns to the cult of motherhood, you're not alone." (Irin Carmon at
  • The speech was "amazing" but the phrase led to "oratorical whiplash." (Janice D'Arcy in The Washington Post).
  • "She looked the nation in the eye and demanded that even women known primarily as wives deserve be heard on their own terms." (Amanda Marcotte, The American Prospect).

Missing from the critiques, however, is this: The commander-in-chief commands troops; hence, a mom-in-chief "commands" moms. Leading other moms -- in reality or symbolically -- is not Michelle Obama's chosen mission as First Lady. While her speech tried to connect with stay-at-home moms to validate their work--unpaid and uncounted in the formal economy--she did not promote herself as their advocate or spokesperson; rather, she implied she is simply one of them, and that few jobs are as important to a country's future as parenting.

A better name Mrs. Obama could adopt is CEO: Chief Executive of her family and household. Her "family business" tops her list of priorities right now, placing her own professional career on a backburner. As the wife of a person with a tremendously demanding job (!), this is a common coping strategy to manage spillover from a spouse's work, young children and family logistics. In fact, the French have a new name for wives like this: "hub decider woman." If Mrs. Obama has "opted out" of her legal career to serve as First Lady so as not to crack under the weight of trying to "have it all," well, she looks all the wiser!

Then who is "mom-in-chief"?  Which mom in America can "order rank-and-file moms into mombat"--whether a battle against unhealthy snacks or employment discrimination? Who can mobilize moms to make the country a better place?

Here are some nominations.

In the category "stay-at-home moms": Valerie Young, advocate for mothers and other unpaid care-givers in families, at The National Association of Mothers' Centers and her blog there, Your Woman in Washington.

In the category "working moms": Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, head of, a million member grassroots organization that advocates for mother- and family-friendly workplace and public policies.

In the category "social moms": Chrysula Winegar, community manager for the UN Foundation's Million Moms Challenge and author of When You Wake Up a Mother You Wake Up the World.

In the category "global moms': Christy Turlington Burns, founder of the organization Every Mother Counts that stops needless deaths from pregnancy and childbirth via advocacy, education and support for at-risk mothers around the world.

Who is your favorite mom-in-chief? Let me know in the comments section here or @NanetteFondas.


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