Inside Marian Robinson's Relationship With Granddaughters Sasha & Malia Obama

It's hard to imagine the devastation and grief Michelle Obama felt upon learning her mother, Marian Robinson, died at 86. Still, it wasn't just Michelle who was rocked by the news; her daughters, Malia and Sasha Obama, were also undoubtedly heartbroken by the loss. The Obama sisters' relationship with their grandma was extremely close, and she'd been a constant presence in their lives since they were babies. Robinson even moved into the White House — albeit not of her own volition — to be there for her granddaughters during Barack Obama's two terms as president.

Robinson didn't want to move the nearly 600 miles from her home of 30 years on Euclid Avenue in Chicago to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. However, she knew how difficult it would be for the girls to suddenly be thrust into the media glare. "I felt like this was going to be a very hard life for both of them. [I] was worried about their safety. I was worried about my grandkids," Robinson told CBS in November 2018.

Meanwhile, Michelle wanted the girls to live as "normal" a family life as possible, given the circumstances, and not be surrounded and cared for by staff 24-7 — something that resonated with the then-71-year-old Robinson. In an op-ed Michele wrote for The Guardian in November 2022, she recalled her mom telling a reporter, "If somebody's going to be with these kids other than their parents... it better be me."

Marian Robinson was always there for Sasha and Malia

Marian Robinson wasn't keen on joining the first family in Washington, D.C. She loved her home in the Black working-class neighborhood where she'd lived with her late husband, Fraser Robinson. "The White House reminds me of a museum, and it's like, how do you sleep in a museum?" Marian told People in January 2009.

However, her love for Sasha and Malia Obama ultimately forced her hand. The "first grandmother" cooked them dinner and drove them to school, piano, and dance lessons, with the Secret Service trailing behind. "You see, my job here is the easiest one of all: I just get to be grandma. One of my biggest blessings is getting to see my granddaughters grow up before my eyes," she wrote in a 2020 op-ed for Essence. "I go to all their school plays and sports games; I'll answer their questions, and like any grandparent, I try to make myself scarce when their friends are around."

Marian remained steady in Malia and Sasha's lives as their parents fulfilled their work demands. "When I wasn't home at the end of the day, grandma was there," Michelle told "CBS This Morning" in 2018. "As a grandma, at every stage of their lives, from infancy and adulthood, she stood second watch over her grandchildren's growth and development, inspiring them, listening to them, telling them she was proud of them, making them feel loved in every way," Michelle shared in a statement on Instagram.

Marian Robinson had a huge impact on her granddaughters' lives

There's no doubt that Marian Robinson was a loving and devoted grandma, mom, and mother-in-law — and a wise one, too. Michelle and Barack Obama shared some of Robinson's sage advice in a statement on Instagram: "Don't sweat the small stuff. Know what's truly precious. As a parent, you're not raising babies — you're raising little people. Don't worry about whether anybody else likes you. Come home. We'll always like you here."

And the impact Robinson had on her granddaughters is evident, too. Malia and Sasha Obama have grown into strong, independent, intelligent, and capable young women with exciting lives and careers ahead of them. A lot of credit can be given to Robinson, who raised her own children in the same manner. "She made sure we felt heard. She made sure that she took our concerns and issues seriously," Michelle told NPR in an archived broadcast.

Malia and Sasha were 10 and 7, respectively, when their lives were upended, and they unwittingly found themselves members of America's first family. Growing up is tough enough for any child, but it's surely even more challenging in the public eye. However, their grandma was there with them every step of the way. "Her boundless love for my girls, and her willingness to put our needs before her own, gave me the comfort and confidence to venture out into the world knowing they were safe and cherished at home," Michelle wrote in her 2018 memoir, "Becoming" (via Time).