Michelle Obama: Quarantining With Sasha & Malia ‘Made Our Relationships Stronger’

Michelle Obama’s empty nest was refilled when Sasha and Malia came home to quarantine, and she couldn’t have been happier about the extra time to bond, she said in a new interview.

Like any family, quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on the Obamas. But despite the struggle of having four independent people — two who are supposed to be enjoying college — living under one roof, Michelle Obama is counting her blessings where she can find them. The former first lady, 57, said that staying at home together has actually strengthened her and husband Barack Obama‘s relationship with their daughters, Sasha and Malia.

“Our girls were supposed to have emptied out of my nest. I was sort of celebrating that they were out building their lives and allowing me the emotional space to let them go. Well, they’re back,” Michelle told PEOPLE. “[But] this time has allowed us to get some stolen moments back with our girls. Those recaptured moments have meant the world to us and I think they’ve made our relationships with our children even stronger.”

Sasha, 19, and Malia, 22, were forced to return home from college in spring 2020 when campuses worldwide closed due to the pandemic. One year later, the University of Michigan sophomore and Harvard senior are still at home like many students across the United States. The key to making it work was realizing that she and Barack needed to not treat their daughters like children, Michelle explained.

“There’s something about witnessing your children become adults and developing a different relationship with them,” The Michelle Obama Podcast host said. “They didn’t come back into the house into the same set of rules, because I didn’t want them to miss out on independence. They came back as young women and our conversations are more peer-oriented than they are mother-to-daughter.”

And there are plenty of conversations. Michelle recently told Good Morning America that she and her husband can barely interject when their daughters are chatting. “I always wanted them to start practicing the power of their voices early on,” Michelle said. “Look, if you sit around the dinner table, me and Barack can’t get a word in edgewise. And we like it like that. We like their thoughts and opinions.”

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