The Year of the Politician Mom
Soccer moms, security moms, single moms—election rhetoric puts mothers into marketable boxes. They are a highly desirable demographic with the power to decide elections, if the parties and candidates can identify their needs. For most mothers, the highest priority is the well-being of children and family, regardless of the changing political or economic landscape. This awareness and concern for the next generation drives decisions about spending and saving, education and housing, and voting. Increasingly, it also propels women onto the ballot.
Earlier this year, Political Parity released “Shifting Gears,” an analysis of how women build political careers. Our research identified multiple obstacles for women on the road to higher office, as well as several important factors that motivate women’s public service. Despite privacy concerns and work/family challenges, many women view motherhood as a motivator to run for office. As one congressional candidate explained, after her son was born she realized:
“there was no set of traces I could make as an individual parent that was going to be sufficient to give my son the kind of life I wanted him to have if we didn’t change the direction of the country.”
This sentiment has deep roots. Back in 1992, the first “Year of the Woman,” Patty Murray arrived in the US Senate as “just a mom in tennis shoes.” Though it was meant as an attack, Murray turned this moniker into an asset and demonstrated that her experience with preschool programs helped her understand the needs of many families. Others have since followed Murray’s example; Blanche Lincoln lamented the price of back-to-school shoes during a budget debate, and Sarah Palin personified her political and personal priorities, toting all four of her children on the campaign trail.
For these women, and many others in state and federal leadership, their commitment to creating long-term impact comes with day-to-day sacrifices—time away from children, additional responsibilities assumed by spouses and family, public scrutiny of their priorities. Today, fewer than ten congresswomen have children under 12, but as they thrive politically and prove that their work is driven, not deterred, by their young families, the road for political moms widens. Katherine Clark, the most recent woman elected to the House (in a December special election), has three young sons. In 2007, her second term in office, House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rogers became the first woman in more than a decade to give birth while in office; several colleagues have subsequently had children.
As moms with young children become a more regular part of the congressional landscape, others look to join their ranks. In the current election cycle, being a mother is a popular attribute for congressional challengers: nearly a dozen female candidates, including Staci Appel, Mia Love, and Michelle Nunn, have young children. Many of these women, who represent diverse policy positions on both sides of the aisle, prominently identify motherhood as one of their qualifications. With critical decisions to make about our country’s future, mothers are stepping in to lead the debate. Their natural tendency to look beyond themselves will guide us toward more thoughtful, responsible policymaking.