I didn’t sleep much the night before I filed to run for office. Not because I was nervous — although I suppose I might’ve been if I’d had time to think about it. But the truth is, I didn’t have much time to think about anything other than how to get my child to go to bed.
My son was at the tail end of his four-month sleep regression, and I was waking up every 90 minutes during the night to feed him. That night, around 3 a.m., he decided that his toes were more interesting than sleeping. So for the next few hours, he chewed happily on his feet as I guzzled down multiple cups of coffee.
I took my son with me when, later that day, I filed the official paperwork to run for Metro Council in Louisville, Ky. Toting around a 5-month-old added to the day’s chaos, but it was important to me that he was there. Part of that desire was based on a recognition that running for office is a big deal, and I wanted my son to be there. But another part of it was that I wanted society to see it: that it was possible for me to be the mother of a young child and step into the public arena.
It’s something we don’t see often enough, mothers of young children putting their names on the ballot. Although we have more women running for office than ever before, it’s still unusual — even noteworthy — to see a woman with young kids join the mix. There have only been 10 women in the history of Congress to give birth while in office. It wasn’t until 2018 that we had a U.S. senator have a baby while serving.
The same trend holds true at a local level. Kentucky — where I live — elected a record 26 women to its state legislature in 2018. Yet only a couple of them have kids under the age of 5. The same discrepancy is present in Louisville. Although a little more than a third of council members are women, not a single one of those women has kids younger than school age. Things are moving in the right direction — and there are more young mothers serving in office across the United States than ever before — but we still have a long way to go.
Part of the disparity comes from the gendered way we parent: Even now, studies suggest that women do about 65 percent of childcare labor, which may make it harder for mothers to feel like they have the time to run. And our built-in political stereotypes probably also play a role. Even today, we assume that voters will be wary of a young mother on the campaign trail — that they will ask questions like, “Who is taking care of the kids?” and “Will she be able to do it all?” Male politicians don’t face these questions as frequently.
The lack of young mothers in elected office has consequences. Moms of young kids face unique challenges. After becoming a mother, I spent more time in our city parks and cared more about how we used our public green spaces. I pushed my stroller along the sidewalks (or lack thereof) and was more aware of broken curbs and unrepaired potholes. I couldn’t figure out why our city buildings have only one public nursing room for the life of me. Without young moms in elected office, this perspective is missing.
We also miss out on the unique skill set young moms can bring to the table: the ability to multitask, gracefully juggle obligations and work well under time constraints. One recent study found that women with children are more efficient in the workplace than are other groups. I know I’ve become more organized since becoming a mom because I’ve had to. Forgetting to send my son’s bottle to daycare, for example, could totally upend both of our days. I use a lot of checklists, both at home and for my campaign.
A lack of young moms in elected office also means that we have fewer women at higher levels of elected leadership. Women who wait until their kids are older to put their name on the ballot get a later start than their male counterparts. Studies suggest that we have fewer female CEOs because women’s careers are negatively impacted by prioritizing family duties when their kids are young. The same explanation likely holds true for why we have fewer female senators.
Electing more women with young kids may mean that we need to change our political institutions and expectations to accommodate women who are trying to balance family and public life. But that’s not a bad thing. Our communities are full of working parents, struggling to juggle these same demands. It’s important that they are represented by people who understand the challenges they face.
I’m under no illusions that running for office with a baby will be easy. I’ve worn him in a baby carrier to campaign meetings and done conference calls with him on my shoulder. I expect that, once the weather is nice, he will join me to knock on neighborhood doors. But I’m committed to doing it regardless of the challenges. I want to make my community better — for my child and for other children — and taking on this race is the best way I know how to do that.
If nothing else, I hope that seeing me and my son navigate this campaign will inspire another young mother and her child to follow us down this path.