American first couple Barack and Michelle Obama are trying to keep some balance between their hugely demanding jobs and family life. They have also promised a family-friendly workplace for their staff. How well are they doing?

Quite well with their own family, according to the New York Times. He gets to dine with them at night, attends schools presentations and joins impromptu plunges in the White House pool with his girls. But not so well with their employees, it seems. Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, has found the White House “brutal on family life”, despite the good intentions of his boss.

To support working parents, the Obamas distributed laptops to aides with families — before those without children — so they could work from home. They invited the children of some advisers to a White House screening of the film “Madagascar” and a Take Your Kids to Work Day hosted by the first lady. They have created some flexible work schedules and encourage their aides to take their children to work when child care arrangements fall through, as well as to swim in the White House pool or play outside.

“Part of the reason that we built the swing set out there was to say, you know, on weekends or after school, bring the kids here, set them loose, because, you know, we want to make sure that you’re staying in contact with your family,” Mr. Obama said in an interview on “NBC Nightly News.” “That, ultimately, I think, makes people work better.”

Emanuel, who has three children, took up the swimming pool offer recently — with a 5am dip with his two daughters, aged 9 and 11. It was the only time he could squeeze it in. White House advisers have very prestigious jobs, but they often work 60 to 70 hours a week for the privilege. Some manage school trips and soccer matches, but others bear the scars of missed birthdays and bedtimes, cancelled dinners and playdates. Two aides with young children have already left the White House for administration jobs with better hours.

Obama’s chief economist managed her first visit to her son’s school at 10pm on a Friday, when he pointed out his classroom in the dark. The budget chief, a divorced father of two, relies on his parents to care for them while he works weekends. Jill Biden’s communications director (the vice-president’s wife actually needs one?) “kisses her 11-month-old son outside the White House gates when her baby sitter strolls by on sunny afternoons.”

Mr. Emanuel said he knew the Obama-mania was waning in his household when he told his son recently that they would again be savoring father-son bonding time at the White House on a Saturday.

The 12-year-old did not jump for joy. He set conditions.

“I’ll go,” his son said, “but I don’t want to sit through another Iranian meeting.”

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet