Being part of the first family can be a tough job, especially for the children who move into the White House without having any choice about growing up in the spotlight. And the criticism that can come from an entire nation watching you and expecting you to behave just because your dad is the president of the United States ... well, it can be a lot of pressure. Barbara and Jenna Bush should know.
The Bush twins—daughters of George W. Bush and Laura Bush—received intense coverage in the media after being cited for underage drinking as 19-year-old college freshmen in 2001.
As Malia and Sasha Obama prepare to depart the White House with their parents this month, the Bush sisters published an open letter to the Obama girls with some sage advice for life after Washington.
"Now you are about to join another rarified club, one of former first children—a position you didn’t seek and one with no guidelines. But you have so much to look forward to," wrote the Bush sisters. "You will be writing the story of your lives, beyond the shadow of your famous parents, yet you will always carry with you the experiences of the past eight years."
The letter touches on many of the opportunities and responsibilities they've had as first daughters and even some compliments, as the Bush sisters say they've watched the Obama sisters go from little girls to "impressive young women with grace and ease."
While growing up in the spotlight can be tough, the media mostly has left presidential children well enough alone, and it's long been an unspoken rule that they shouldn't be subjected to the same scrutiny reserved for the president. But sometimes the first family makes headlines anyway.
"Enjoy college. As most of the world knows, we did," they wrote, referring to media coverage about them during those years, when they were nicknamed "Double Trouble" in headlines by The New York Post.
Although the Bush twins are perhaps the most scrutinized kids of any recent first family, they definitely aren't the only ones. In fact, gossip about the POTUS' children dates back more than a century. Kids of Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield (whose children were dubbed "undoubtedly the worst") and plenty of others have been the subject of headlines for their behavior or peculiarity. (Alice Roosevelt might have been the strangest of all; she once made headlines for carrying around a snake at parties in the early 1900s.)
The Obama sisters—who were 7 and 11 at the time President Obama first took office—haven't been strangers to criticism during their teen years in their father's second term, either. A GOP staffer resigned in 2014 after going on a Facebook rant about the first daughters, telling them to show "a little class" and making other jabs at the girls and their parents. The backlash was swift, but the words had already been said, and it ignited a fierce debate online about the way we treat the children of our nation's highest political office.
Jenna and Barbara also offered advice about moving into the next phase of their lives, outside of the constant spotlight. "You won’t have the weight of the world on your young shoulders anymore. Explore your passions. Learn who you are. Make mistakes—you are allowed to," they wrote. (Malia was photographed dancing at a music festival last summer, like any normal teenager would, and received plenty of comments about it. Here's to dancing like nobody's watching now! Or at least not being a national headline aimed to embarrass your dad.)
"Continue to surround yourself with loyal friends who know you, adore you and will fiercely protect you. Those who judge you don’t love you, and their voices shouldn’t hold weight," wrote Jenna and Barbara. "Rather, it’s your own hearts that matter."
Watching the Obama girls grow up in front of our eyes, on our TV screens and in the press, we can't help but believe their parents have raised them to believe that as well.
"Take all that you have seen, the people you have met, the lessons you have learned, and let that help guide you in making positive change. We have no doubt you will," the Bush sisters wrote.
We can't wait to see what the Obama sisters do with their lives after the White House.