First Lady on Balancing Work and Family: “A Whole Lotta Guilt”

ABC News’ Yunji de Nies and Karen Travers report:

The First Lady made her first “listening tour” stop of 2010 at the Department of Labor today, where focused on the familiar theme of work/family balance.

“You know it, the constant struggle to meet our responsibilities both as employees, but also as breadwinners and mothers and fathers. It’s one those issues that we as a society still haven’t quite figured out yet,” she said. “And as the mother of two young girls, who are doing just fine by the way, it’s an issue that is particularly near and dear to my heart.”

Mrs. Obama noted that as First Lady, she is afforded more support than most but told the crowd that just a few years ago, she was part of that same family balancing act. She said she experienced “a whole lotta guilt” as she tried to figure out be both the employee and the mother that she wanted to be.

“For too long, we as a society have viewed policies that help balance work and family as somehow a special benefit, maybe to women, right? Who shoulder that, rather than an essential part of a workplace that can benefit everyone in the workplace,” she said. “To this day there is still the perception that workers who needs time off to care for sick parents or who want a more flexible schedule so they can go to the potluck, or go to the play or parent/teacher conference, are somehow less committed or less desirable.”

The First Lady said the country needs to change those perceptions, arguing that workers who are given flexibility are more productive.

“Things like paid family leave, and sick days and child care should be the norm,” she said., “The administration is working to practice what we preach and make the federal government a model of what we’re asking others to do.”

Mrs. Obama then left the podium for the Labor Dept's child development center, where she read “Green, Eggs and Ham” to a group of two dozen four and five year olds. Mrs. Obama declared it “the most excited read of Green Eggs and Ham ever" and the children applauded when she finished the Dr. Seuss classic.

The First Lady then asked the children to share some hugs. They obliged, bum-rushing her with hugs, except one little boy who was more interested in the snack table.

"Let's feed the natives," Mrs. Obama said and then started handing out the snacks.

There were healthy snacks prepared including sliced fruits (such as strawberries and nuts made to look like mice), "ants on a log" (sunflower butter and raisins on celery), bracelets made of Cheerios, and "pencil snacks" made of Bugels.

The First Lady chatted with three chefs who are studying at the Labor Dept’s culinary program, who explained how they carved the fruit into an edible arrangement.

"You should be doing this at home for your families," Mrs. Obama told the press.

On a chalkboard in pink chalk read: "Thank you for visiting us Mrs. Obama"

FLOTUS Fashion Watch: Mrs. Obama wore a black turtle neck, with a gray textured skirt, black tights and black boots.

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