MOTHERLY, HEATHER MARCOUX
This week was the first of 2019, but it was also the first in a new era for America. Women made history in 2018’s midterm elections, and they made history this week as they were sworn into Congress.
The 116th class of Congress looks different than any that came before. It includes more women than ever before, and more moms than ever before.
These women are entering a congressional culture that, in the words of Katie Porter of California’s 45th Congressional District—a single mother of three—wasn’t built for members like them. They’re walking into a workplace that, until 2011, didn’t have a women’s washroom near the House floor. It literally wasn’t built for them.
But these women—these mothers—will change the culture they are working in, and change the culture the rest of us live in by bringing a perspective that has been lacking.
These lawmakers have personal experience with some of the most pressing issues American families face, like inadequate or non-existent parental leave, rising childcare costs and long daycare waitlists. More and more American parents are working non-standard hours, but few childcare options exist outside the standard workday.
Having more moms in Congress is good for American families, and these women are ready to make change for the next generation. They even brought the next generation with them to witness their swearing in.
Rashida Tlaib of Michigan’s 13th Congressional District brought her boys with her, noting that they help her “stay focused on what matters most” (even when they are dabbing in the House).
Abigail Spanberger, the rep for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, brought her daughters for the historic day.
So did Lori Trahan of Massachusetts’ 3rd Congressional District.
These moms (along with fellow congressional freshmen like Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District and Cindy Axne of Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District) are joining mothers like Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) who have been balancing congressional duties and motherhood for years.
It isn’t easy, Wasserman Schultz told Politico, but it can (and should) be done. “Your family is always your No. 1 priority. And you can structure your schedule, I tell members, around your life to make it work. It just requires a lot of organization and a lot of family cooperation,” she explains.
For some of the freshman moms in the House, it’s also going to require some serious childcare arranging. As a single mom, Katie Porter is still figuring out what her childcare situation in California will look like now that she’s in Congress, and she (like many American moms) is used to paying too much for it.
“The cost of childcare for my daughter Betsy was $16,080 last year— more than an entire year of in-state tuition at @UCIrvine. That’s ridiculous,” she tweeted back in July.
“We must address the high costs of childcare in this country,” she said at the time. She is now in a position to help do so, because this week, on her 45th birthday, she was sworn in as California’s 45th district’s Representative.
Porter’s kids are 12, 10, and 7, so a newly opened House day care facility won’t help for her family, but it does signal that her fellow lawmakers have some understanding of what an issue affordable childcare is for families. Spearheaded by Porter’s fellow Californian, Republican Kevin McCarthy, the day care is now accepting babies and toddlers of House employees, according to NPR, and will add more than 120 preschooler spots in 2020, an effort to retain staff who face lengthy wait lists for child care.
NPR reports only two members of Congress (both dads) currently have kids enrolled in the newly opened (and taxpayer funded) day care facility. But like the majority of day cares, this one also already has a long waiting list, as it’s not just Congress members, but all kinds of House employees who are on it.
Being a Congress person doesn’t guarantee you a spot.
Jaime Lynn Herrera Beutler, mom of one and the Republican representative from Washington’s 3rd congressional district, understands what being waitlisted for day care is like. “I had to keep looking like everyone else does. You get on a list, you hope it works, and if it doesn’t work you’ve got to make something happen,” she told NPR.
American parents are constantly hustling to “make something happen” for their children. They’re saving their sick days and using generous colleagues’ donations of paid time off to maximize their time at home after a birth or adoption, they’re paying huge amounts for childcare (if they can even get it) and reducing their work hours when they can’t find it.
It’s time for lawmakers to “make something happen” for American families, and we have hope that the 116th class of Congress might just be the ones to do it.