Photo: Shannon Finney (Getty Images)

When we heard that Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, secretly guest-edited the September issue of British Vogue, we were impressed. But even more impressive? Scoring our forever first lady Michelle Obama for the Forces for Change issue’s final page Q&A, giving new meaning to the phrase “grand finale.”

“I knew we needed to both open and close strong,” the duchess wrote. “So how could I bring this issue to its logical conclusion?...My first thought was that it needed to be someone kind, inspirational, motivating, funny, with gravitas and as much depth as levity,” Markle continued. “My second thought: it needed to be Michelle Obama.”

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Since royalty recognizes royalty, when Markle asked Mrs. Obama to participate in her “secret project” while the two lunched on chicken tacos, the former first lady-turned bestselling author readily complied, agreeing to answer a handful of questions posed by the duchess.

“What was sent back to me, however, left me somewhat speechless,” Markle shared. A few ‘simple questions’ (which she could have answered with a sentence or two) were returned to me as a thoughtful, reflective and beautifully curated narrative...That authenticity came out of her innate goodwill to support another woman, to give more than what’s asked for, to be generous, to be kind—all of these attributes make her the ultimate force for change.”

And as might be expected of a conversation between a new mother and the woman Vogue calls America’s one-time “mother-in-chief,” talk naturally turned to motherhood and its many lessons.

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“Being a mother has been a masterclass in letting go,” Obama shares. “As mothers, we just don’t want anything or anyone to hurt our babies. But life has other plans. Bruised knees, bumpy roads and broken hearts are part of the deal.”

Speaking specifically of now-college-aged first daughters Malia and Sasha, who literally grew up before the nation’s eyes *sniff*, Obama got even more candid.

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“What’s both humbled and heartened me is seeing the resiliency of my daughters,” she shared. “In some ways, Malia and Sasha couldn’t be more different. One speaks freely and often, one opens up on her own terms. One shares her innermost feelings, the other is content to let you figure it out. Neither approach is better or worse, because they’ve both grown into smart, compassionate and independent young women, fully capable of paving their own paths.

“Motherhood has taught me that, most of the time, my job is to give them the space to explore and develop into the people they want to be...not to bulldoze a path for them in an effort to eliminate all possible adversity,” she added. “But instead, I need to be a safe and consistent place for them to land when they inevitably fail; and to show them, again and again, how to get up on their own.”

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And understanding that failure is inevitable, Obama doesn’t expect her girls (now women) to “just check the boxes you think you’re supposed to check.”

“I tell them that I hope they’ll keep trying on new experiences until they find what feels right. And what felt right yesterday might not necessarily feel right today, That’s OK—it’s good, even,” she said. “As a younger woman, I spent too much time worrying that I wasn’t achieving enough, or I was straying too far from what I thought was the prescribed path. What I hope my daughters will realize a little earlier is that there is no prescribed path, that it’s OK to swerve, and that the confidence they need to recognize that will come with time.”

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And what knowledge does Obama think her own straightlaced, 15-year-old self would share?

“I imagine that she’d be proud of how far I’ve come—but she wouldn’t let me off the hook, either,” she responded. “She’d remind me there are still too many girls on the South Side of Chicago who are being shushed, cast aside or told they’re dreaming too big. She’d tell me to keep fighting for them.”

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And in true mother-in-chief form, Obama shared some advice with new mom Markle:

“When Malia and Sasha were newborns, Barack and I could lose hours just watching them sleep,” she recalled. “[T]here is something so magical about having a baby in the house. Time expands and contracts; each moment holds its own little eternity...Savor it all.”