Ann Romney, Michelle Obama call 'mom' defining role

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 11 2012 10:00 p.m. MDT

In a Jan. 10, 2012 file photo Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, celebrates with sons, from left, Matt, Tagg, Craig, Ben, Josh and wife Ann, after his New Hampshire Primary Election win in Manchester, N.H., Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012.

Charles Dharapak, ASSOCIATED PRESS

As the presidential election nears, the candidates' wives have been called to many roles, not least of which is drawing a picture of their husbands as real people to whom voters can relate.

Along the way, Ann Romney, 63, and Michelle Obama, 48, have painted a portrait of themselves, as well. The two women have been shown in different roles from intimate advisers to savvy individuals with their own interests and passions outside of family. But one of the points both Obama and Romney have underscored is that family matters and "mom" is a name they proudly use to describe themselves.

"This face-off between Mrs. Romney and Mrs. Obama marks a major change in the role of political wives," Charles Dunn, presidential scholar and professor at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., told The Christian Science Monitor's Gloria Goodale in an article titled "First lady face off."

"Political wives now serve as character witnesses for their husbands, soften their images made hard by the rigors of the constant bombardment of negative attack ads, and make credible advocates of policy position," he said.

Here's a nonpartisan look at how family roles of wife and mom play into the lives of these two accomplished women, presented in the reverse order the Deseret News presented the candidates themselves as family men.

Ann Romney:

"The 63-year-old mother of five and grandmother of 18 has embraced the homemaker image that Hillary Rodham Clinton so openly scorned," wrote Allen G. Breed for the Associated Press. "On the campaign trail, she's been filmed baking pies and serving her grandmother's Welsh skillet cakes on the media bus. But while Ann Romney is more Betty Crocker than Betty Ford, it's clear she's not going to be Mitt Romney's silent partner ….

"Critics have painted her as the dutiful, starry-eyed wife, standing by — and behind — her man. Friends say that's an over-simplification.

"With Mitt, it's always going to be 'we,’ ” Pamela Hayes Peterson, one of Ann Romney's childhood friends, told Breed. "She is NOT subordinate, trust me. Did she want to be in the public eye? Probably not. She is so gracious and she loves him so much that, if it's important to him, she will come outside of her comfort zone to be where she needs to be for him. But he will do the same thing for her."

The AP story also chronicles Romney's medical challenges. She has multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, and she is a breast cancer survivor.

Breed quoted her on the challenges that a chronic condition like MS can bring to family life. “You know what it’s like to work a little harder during the day to earn the respect you deserve at work and then come home to help with that book report which just has to be done."

In an op-ed article she wrote for USA Today, Romney talked about her life, from child to mother to grandmother. And she described the transition between the first two. Her own mother, she said, "let me be who I was, which meant playing baseball and football with the boys, and catching frogs and hunting for snakes out behind the house. I think the thing she loved the most was that I was always the ringleader, always more likely to get others into trouble than to follow along."

Her mother was her example of being a mother. And having five boys, she has noted, is tough. "I won't sugarcoat it. There were times I wanted to tear my hair out. I can remember visiting my friends' houses, seeing their daughters' manners, the way they helped with the chores. Then I would return home to my boys, hoping only that my house was still intact," she wrote.

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