CONGRESSIONAL WITHOUT AID. The WaPo has a large feature today on members of Congress who are moms. The piece focuses a lot on the guilt of being a working mother and how difficult it is to commute a long distance far away from a family, with quotes like:

"It feels like someone's ripping my heart out," [Debbie Wasserman Schultz] said. "No matter how good your spouse is, kids want their mom when they're sick."

There's been little reporting on work/family balance issues faced by members of Congress, perhaps because up to recently, members of Congress were either men or women with grown children.

"Men have this fixture called a wife that's going to take care of the children," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for the American Woman and Politics at Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute of Politics. "We hear very often from women who are running or elected that they wish they had a wife, someone to deal with the children, have fresh food in the house, pick up the dry cleaning."

So where are the husbands? I read the entire article, looking for husbands who had given up their careers to stay home to support the kids, but alas. In fact, there wasn't a single quote from the husbands of these women or even an indicator they were doing more to pitch in and help with the family. But the article did indicate that even if a husband was available to take charge of the family and a congresswoman did a good job, she might lose reelection anyway:

"For male candidates, people think having young children is a total plus -- people think, 'Oh, this is great, he's going to be concerned about family issues, he'll be more future-oriented,' " [Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster,] said. "A male with young kids, everyone likes it -- men, women, seniors." For women, it's a different story.

"If the kids are grown, then it can be a real positive," Lake said. "But if it's younger kids, people ask, 'Who's taking care of the children?' " [...]

It's women voters who are hardest on women candidates with young children, Lake said. "Perhaps it's their own sense of conflict or they know firsthand how difficult it is," she said. "Or maybe it's jealousy. The idea of 'If I can't do this, you can't do it.' Or 'You're putting yourself over your family and that's not a value I share.' "

It seems that women can't choose to focus on their career in public office totally or they risk being ousted by voters for being a bad mom. In many ways, the story of these congressional mothers isn't any different than the lives of regular working women. They're still the ones pulling the majority of the family responsibility, even though they have demanding and prestigious jobs. Instead of women having to do it all exceptionally well, when will partners start making the sacrifices that women have been making for their husbands for years? Those kinds of stories are few and far between.

--Kay Steiger

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