There’s been a lot of talk during this election about mothers in the workplace. But what about mothers in the political workplace? How does motherhood affect both the process and policy? I interviewed five women who were or are in public office with children at home to find out.
Two women were former members of Congress, one a county district supervisor, one a state Assembly member, and one school board member. (Their names were left out at their request.) From the campaign trail to public office, they spoke about finding balance—between their families and their careers and their personal and their politics.
For all but one of the women interviewed, being a mother did not play a big role in their campaign platforms. It wasn’t a secret, but it was also not something they highlighted to win votes. “I never said ‘elect me because I am a mom,'” one woman told me. “Some of my campaign pictures show that I am a mom and some of my anecdotes reveal it as well. But for the most part, I said ‘do what is best for the community.'”
When running for school board, however, one woman made her motherhood central. “I played up being a mother and having three children,” she told me. “There was no one else like that running at that time… But I think male voters are more sympathetic to women running for school board than other positions.”
Whether or not they wanted voters to focus on their roles as moms, however, all of the women explained that being a mother propelled them into politics. Having children allowed them to make deeper community connections—and being parents made them want to make life better for their children.
“[Being a mother] played a huge role in my wanting to run,” one woman told me. “I saw a school board member impose her religious beliefs on my children at school. It was such an affront to me that I got passionate about public education. It was because of [my children] and public education that that passion got into me.”
All five of the women also said that they felt being a mother improved their work—from understanding the needs of children and families more acutely to providing a real-life perspective on policy decisions related to education. “I remember that someone wanted to change the age of children delivering newspapers in the morning from 14 to 11,” one woman said. “I said, ‘That’s risky, with my kids it would be.’ So I voted no because I was a mom. I was also supportive of preschool, early childhood development, early childcare, kindergarten, paid maternity leave [and] paid parental leave.”
Public service and finding that balance didn’t just benefit the women I spoke to, though. It also impacted their kids. “There are so many benefits to your children—better understanding of political process, seeing what they wouldn’t be able to see otherwise such as delivering meals to poor households,” commented one woman. “So there are huge benefits for them to be exposed to what you’re doing. You’re trying to make the community or state better.”
Each of the women interviewed had a big support system in place when they decided to run. They all mentioned leaning on partners, family members and even the parents of their children’s’ friends. They were also candid about the sacrifices they had to make throughout the process–from not attending all of their own events to deciding not to run for higher office.
Still, for most of them, the campaign process was the most difficult, and their schedules normalized a bit once elected—allowing them to ultimately find some balance. “It is emotionally draining,” one told me, “but there is nothing as crazy as running. Once elected, you pick and choose the events you want to be involved with. I am quite involved, but it is a juggling act.”
Finding balance, setting aside time for family and committing fully to public service were just some of the pieces of advice the women had for other mothers hoping to run. But their biggest piece of advice was to just do it.
“If a woman is passionate about an issue or wants to have a voice in a crazy political time—and wants to make sure things are done right—I believe that she should run for office. In the end, when [she] looks back, [she’ll] know it was the right decision.”