How to Raise a Future President, from 10 Moms Who Did

These mothers were these leaders' first advisors.

Upbringing, no doubt, plays a huge role in shaping the type of person your child becomes. We looked at the moms of 10 U.S. presidents and what they did long before their little boys were on the ballot. From stay-at-home moms to working moms, laid-back moms to strict ones, these women prove there's more than one way to raise a powerful leader.

Ann Dunham, mom to Barack Obama

Barack Obama with his mom Ann Dunham

The 44th president had a unique relationship with his mother, and it might have to do with the fact that his mom had him when she was only 18. In the podcast The Axe Files, Obama tells David Axelrod, former chief strategist for Obama's presidential campaigns, that by the time he was 12 or 13 years old, she was interacting with him as almost a friend as well as a parent. "I didn't always necessarily handle that well. It's not sort of a recipe for ideal parenting. But what I did learn was that unconditional love makes up for an awful lot, and I got that from her." The number of times he had to move may have also shaped his future self. Obama grew up in Hawaii, but relocated to Indonesia when he was six to join his mother, who had remarried and worked as an anthropologist there. Four years later, he returned to Hawaii and was raised by his grandparents.

As to her mothering, Dunham pushed Obama to be serious, look at people with empathy and be confident. "For all the ups and downs of our lives, there was never a moment where I didn't feel as if I was special, that I was not just this spectacular gift to the world." Moreover, he describes his mom as eccentric and "somebody who was hungry for adventure and skeptical of convention." According to his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, Mom also had a sense of humor. "She made sure that laughter was the prevailing form of communication and that nothing ever became acrimonious and that everything was pretty and everything was sacred," Soetoro-Ng says.

Barbara Bush, mom to George W. Bush

George W. Bush with Barbara Bush

Barbara Bush had six children, including the former 43rd president (and a daughter who died young), but it's her son Jeb Bush, former Florida governor and GOP presidential candidate, who seemed to have a lot to say about her parenting style. As reported by Politico, in 2016, while on the road campaigning for the presidency, he told a crowd in Derry, NH, that his mom was fortunate that there wasn't a child-abuse hotline around then. It sounds like Barbara was quite the tough mom raising her kids in Midland, TX. Still, Jeb Bush assures that her strict parenting style had a good effect. "She was the one that taught us right and wrong, I can promise you that. And it’s worked out pretty good. All the mistakes that I’ve made are my own doing.”

Virginia Dell Kelley, mom to Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton with his mom and brother

Clinton and his mom are perhaps the perfect example of like mother, like son. According to the Washington Post's profile of Virginia Dell Kelley, the working mom and nurse anesthetist ended up raising her son, who would become the 42nd president, to be just like she was: gregarious, fun-loving, empathetic and a hugging enthusiast. He also learned how to overcome struggle from his mom. According to Hillary Clinton, both her husband and his mom are eternal optimists, and Clinton once said he inherited his stamina from his mother.

As for parenting style, Kelley was said to have encouraged little Bill to surround himself with friends in the house and "invested most of her hopes and ambitions in her son from the day he was born." When he was two, she left him with her parents in Hope, AK, so she could study anesthesiology in New Orleans, with the sole purpose of having a profession that might give her son a better life.

Kelley was also a proud mom and saw presidency in her son's future. The Washington Post's profile says, "By the time Clinton had established himself as a Hot Springs golden boy in high school, his mother had transformed the living room of their brick rambler on Scully Street into a veritable Bill Clinton shrine," with Boys Nation mementos and framed band contest medals with velvet backdrops as the dominant artwork in the room. By then, she was already telling her friends that her son would one day become president.

Dorothy Walker Bush, mom to George Herbert Walker Bush

George H. W. Bush with Dorothy Walker Bush

Although Dorothy Walker Bush had lived a life of privilege and her family was well-off, she wanted to impress upon her children the importance of social service and her hatred of exaggerating one's prominence or power. As reported by the New York Times, this mom was a "disciplinarian who took pains to see that her children were not spoiled, despite the family's good fortune." George H. W. Bush, the 41st president, said that his mother instilled in him a sense of competitiveness and loyalty and taught him not to take himself too seriously. The mom was also said to have raised her children in a very religious home.

Nancy Hanks Lincoln and Sarah Lincoln, mom and stepmom to Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln had two women who helped mold him into becoming the 16th president. According to, his birth mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, "instilled the virtues of honesty and compassion in her son and sowed the seeds of intellectual curiosity." Even though she didn't have any formal education, she emphasized the importance of learning and reading to little Abe. She died when he was just 9 years old after drinking milk that was tainted with poisonous white snake roots.

His stepmother Sarah, who was from Kentucky, came into the picture about a year later. Like Lincoln's father Thomas, she had also lost a spouse, and the two married after Thomas offered to pay her late husband's debts. She soon took her kids to Indiana to live with her new husband and his children in a small cabin. She's said to have brought a woman's touch to the cabin. According to Jeff Oppenheimer, author of That Nation Might Live, an historical novel based on his extensive research into the strong bond between Lincoln and his stepmother, “She very quickly turned things around. They were living on dirt floors. Sarah had Thomas put in a wooden floor, fix the roof and whitewash the house. Within weeks, it was a whole new household. They became human again.”

Rose F. Kennedy, mom to John F. Kennedy

Rose F. Kennedy

Rose Kennedy was a very hands-on parent who encouraged her nine children, including future 35th president John F. Kennedy, to practice what they learned. She once said, "Children should be stimulated by their parents to see, touch, know, understand and appreciate." According to, "she made the family a self-sustaining unit, with members allowed to go their own way while maintaining interest in the lives of the others."

She also enjoyed storytelling and retold stories from both history books—even bringing her kids on outings to visit the sites of historical locations such as Plymouth Rock and Bunker Hill—and the Bible. "I always told the children that if they were given faith when they were young, they should try to nurture it and guard it, because it's really a gift that older people value so much when sorrow comes," she once said.

She's said to have had a knack for keeping organized and recording information as well. A page from JFK Library's website says, "One of Mrs. Kennedy's main problems was keeping tabs on her large family. She kept careful records of all her children on index cards, and had an extensive filing system that she said helped her remember each one's physical condition. They listed weights, shoe sizes, dental treatments, eye examinations and illnesses each child had."

Sara Roosevelt, mom to Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Sara Roosevelt with Franklin Delano Roosevelt

If Sara Delano Roosevelt were alive today, she'd probably be considered a helicopter mom because of the way she raised the future 32nd president. After giving birth to Franklin Delano Roosevelt at age 28, she was told not to have any more children, and her husband, who was previously married, already had a son the same age she was. As you might expect, being the mom to an only child allowed the mom to put all her focus on raising little Franklin—and she definitely didn't miss the opportunity. According to the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project for George Washington University, she read to him, gave him baths and directed his activities herself rather than having her servants handle them. She put even more focus on her son after her husband died, moving to Boston temporarily just so she could be near him at Harvard. The controlling yet devoted mom was also extremely choosy about her son's partners. As reported by the New York Times, she gifted her son and his wife, Eleanor, a house next to hers and installed connecting doors on the second floor and fourth floor so she could visit whenever she wanted and control the house.

Bessie Lillian Gordy Carter, mom to Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter with Lillian Carter

Lillian Carter raised four children and ran a house pretty much all on her own, according to an excerpt from A Remarkable Mother, by 39th president Jimmy Carter. Her husband, meanwhile, was a strict disciplinarian.

A working mother, Lillian was a nurse who helped make ends meet. As reported by the New York Times, she didn't need to constantly be in the loop about her kids' whereabouts or activities. She once told Ms. Magazine in 1976, "I do believe in working women, and I feel so strongly that a child is better off not to have the mother every minute of the time."

She also raised her family to be religious, but not overly so. She told People, “We made a Christian home, read the Bible and had prayers, but Jimmy was no different from other children.”

Dorothy Ayer Gardner Ford, mom to Gerald Ford

Dorothy Ayer Gardner Ford

The parenting style of the mom of the 38th president combined love and discipline. According to a character essay by James Cannon published by Simon & Schuster, the Ford house rule number one was: "Tell the truth, work hard and come to dinner on time."

The mom to four sons, Dorothy Ford was a strong and resourceful woman who divorced her abusive first husband and Ford's biological father in 1913—a time when divorce was unheard of. She was also strict and worked hard to ensure Ford learned to control the temper he inherited from his father. Cannon writes, "When the boy raged in anger, she would try to reason with him or send him to his room to cool off. During one episode, she had young Jerry memorize Kipling's poem, 'If.' After that, she would have him recite it every time he lost his temper."

Mary Anne Trump, mom to Donald Trump

Mary Anne Trump and Donald Trump

Donald Trump's mother Mary Anne moved to the United States from Scotland, and according to immigration documents, always had the intention of remaining in the United States permanently in hopes of starting a better life, the Daily Mail reports. When she arrived in New York, she planned to work as a domestic and only had $50 to her name. By 1936, she married Trump's father Fred, who was already a successful businessman. We don't know much about Trump's mother's parenting style, save for a few things the 45th president has said about her. According to the New Yorker, in his book, The Art of the Comeback, Trump wrote, "Part of the problem I’ve had with women has been in having to compare them to my incredible mother, Mary Trump. My mother is smart as hell.” He's also said, "My mother had a sense of the grand. I can remember her watching the coronation of Queen Elizabeth and being so fascinated by it. My father had no interest in that kind of thing at all." So that's where his interest in opulence comes from!

Written by Maricar Santos for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published