The False Fact About Michelle Obama's Mom Everyone Believes

Throughout Barack Obama's presidency, Michelle Obama's mom, Marian Robinson, lived in the White House to help her daughter. Robinson cared for Malia and Sasha Obama, who were 10 and 7 when their father won the 2008 elections. Because of her role, some reports claimed she was set to receive a lifetime pension from the government after Barack left office in January 2017. Despite being false, the assertions have stuck. Barack and Michelle have seemingly not dignified the fake reports with a response. That's unsurprising.

The Obama family has dealt with rumors since before setting foot in the White House. The conspiracy theories regarding Barack's citizenship, birthplace, and religion showed an ugly side of American politics even before the country was so ideologically fractured. But the conspiracies didn't end with the former president. All of his family members fell prey to fake news. Michelle's gender has been called into question so many times that many might actually believe she was assigned male at birth.

When conservative commentator Terrence K. Williams asked the question on X, previously known as Twitter, 50% of respondents said they believed "Michelle is a man." Barack and Michelle's daughters have also been targeted, with reports falsely claiming Malia and Sasha weren't biologically his. No one related to Barack was safe from fake news, not even his mother-in-law. Many of these rumors were so preposterous they were hard to prove. But the false fact about Robinson is so easily verifiable that it's striking it has persisted this long. 

Marian Robinson was never a federal worker

The false claim Marian Robinson was expected to receive $160,000 a year from the U.S. government seems to have originated in The Boston Tribune in October 2016, when Barack Obama was about to leave office. Despite the legit-sounding name, the website — now defunct — published satirical content, the AP reported in January 2017, when the fake news experienced another surge online. Other fishy outlets picked up the fake report, and the claims spread like wildfire on social media.

Internet users were outraged. "Here's a fun fact..... Michelle Obama's mother, who took care of the granddaughters for all 8 years was GETTING PAID! And NOW she is getting a pension of $13,000 a month for the rest of her life. (chew on that, how much is your social security?)" one X user wrote in August 2020, nearly four years after the false claim was initially made. Others ranked Robinson's supposed pension as Michelle's highest accomplishment as first lady. "So glad to be rid of her. She did nothing but get her Mother $150,000 Pension for babysitting," another user tweeted in 2018.

But the claim makes no sense. The original Boston Tribune report contended Robinson's payment was tied to the Civil Service Retirement Act, which applies to federal workers who started before 1987. Michelle's mother was neither a government employee nor was she anywhere close to the White House in the '80s. Since she wasn't employed, she also received no compensation for caring for Malia and Sasha. 

Marian Robinson was reluctant to move to D.C.

Living in the White House had never been on Marian Robinson's list of goals. Michelle Obama's mother liked her life in Chicago. But her daughter asked her to, and she wanted to help. Still, she made her reluctance known. "[She went] kicking and screaming," her son, Craig Robinson, told The New York Times in 2009. Deep down, Marian hoped she could help keep Malia and Sasha Obama safe. "I felt like this was going to be a very hard life for both of them," she said on "CBS This Morning" in 2018. "And I was worried about their safety."

Marian did all she could to stay out of Michelle and Barack Obama's way. Marian lived on a different floor and ate dinner with the Obamas only occasionally. "My mom has some really wise approaches to family. But there are times when we're like, 'Mom, come down here,'" Michelle told Oprah in 2009. But her presence in the White House proved invaluable for Michelle and the girls. "I wanted them to come home to family," she said on "CBS This Morning."

Despite her initial reluctance, Marian learned to enjoy D.C. She developed an appreciation for the Kennedy Center and the local dining scene, and the White House events proved to be great entertainment. "She has a very full social life, so much so that sometimes we have to plan our schedule around her schedule," Michelle told the NYT.