Rules Former First Ladies Have To Follow

Being married to the most powerful man in the free world comes with its few perks. You get to decorate the White House with Christmas trees that look like they were dipped in the blood of your husband's political rivals. You get to make some awesome controversial decisions, like wearing a jacket that says, "I really don't care. Do U?" during a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border to see detained migrant children. And there's no rule that says you have to hold your husband's stupid tiny hand if you don't want to, even if he is the president of the United States of America.

But that doesn't mean that every day is a party in the White House. There's also a ton of stuff that first ladies can't do. For example, according to the White House archives, former First Lady Michelle Obama told Oprah that they weren't even allowed to open the windows while they lived there. And as CNN noted, the room may be paid for by the American taxpayer, but the board is on the first family's own dime.

This ain't no free ride. Everything from meals to haircuts to the designer dresses first ladies are expected to wear is on them. Bill and Hillary Clinton actually left the White House in debt. And even after their husbands leave office (what the normal ones do when their terms are done), first ladies still have to follow a ton of other rules for the rest of their lives.

Former first ladies would love to just take a joy ride, but they can't

We're all used to seeing the president and first lady being carted around in the back of sleek black sedans or SUVs. It makes sense that the Secret Service drives them around for security reasons. However, from the day they move into the White House, first ladies can pretty much say bye-bye to getting behind the wheel themselves for the rest of their lives. "No driving for me," Michelle Obama told People magazine in November 2018. "We still live in a bubble."

But she said she might have a clever workaround someday: "If we had a farm somewhere, maybe I could drive around it." At that time, security around the Obamas was still very tight due to the appearance of a bomb in Barack's mail the month before. Michelle also lamented the loss of her pre-first lady "anonymity that allows you to be in the world with normalcy." She is still able to go out to eat or to the gym or on vacation, but doing a bit of people-watching in the background of a cozy cafe is no longer possible "without it becoming a scene."

And if she was hoping to get out on the highway anytime soon, she could think again. According to the Daily Mail, Hillary Clinton told the National Automobile Dealers Association in 2014 that the Secret Service hadn't let her drive since 1996. "I've always enjoyed stories about cars and adventures and I have to confess that one of the regrets I have about my public life is that I can't drive anymore," she lamented. 

The outgoing first lady usually gives the incoming one a tour of her new digs

While it's not as strict a rule as the no-joyrides policy, it's a long-standing tradition for the first lady who is saying goodbye to the White House to give a private tour to the one moving in. However, it's not always the most amiable encounter. Covering the highlights in her 2016 book about first ladies for The Washington Post, Kate Andersen Brower wrote that some departing first ladies can be a bit spiteful during the tour. Mamie Eisenhower reportedly gave Jackie Kennedy a rather cool reception, and Nancy Reagan almost didn't even give a tour to incoming First Lady Barbara Bush.

The last few first ladies have at least been a bit more cordial to each other, keeping up a tradition within the tradition, which involves showing the new girl a window in the first lady's dressing room that gives a uniquely pleasant view. "Your mother-in-law stood right here and told me that from this window you can see straight down into the Rose Garden and also over to the Oval Office," Hillary Clinton told Laura Bush when she gave her the tour. Laura Bush showed off the view to Michelle Obama eight years later.

Tradition hasn't really been the Trump family's forte during his term as president, so only time will tell if Melania will keep up the custom and take Jill Biden around to show her what she's done with the place.