The political parent trap • Michigan Advance

Being a working mom is a lot of work. For moms in the Michigan Legislature, this typically means balancing long commutes, unpredictable late-night sessions, and weekend meetings with constituents along with nursing, helping kids with their homework, urging them to T-ball practice and more. .

Thus, even with more women running for office than ever before, there remains a significant “mom gap” in the legislature. To put a fine point on it,… Michigan Advance mentioned This week in the last 100 years since then The first woman was elected to the legislature, only 27 of the female legislators were mothers of school-age children during their service. This is the same number of male legislators who are parents of school-age children now.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a surprise when mothers still make up the majority of primary caregivers — something underscored during the pandemic when thousands of parents were suddenly working at home. However, in most households it was mothers who ended up taking care of the kids as they scrambled to get their work done and get it done via Zoom calls without their toddlers screaming or swaying in the frame.

‘Mom gap’: Few mothers served in the Michigan Legislature while raising children

When I first started covering the Michigan Capitol two decades ago, the club was decidedly male-dominated, and the average age was probably in the 40s (if I’m being generous). After the Great Recession hit and layoffs decimated the press corps, you could count the number of female members on one hand (and I was a single mother for a while).

Things have changed a lot these days, with women, mostly in their 20s, dominating our ranks. But there is still a huge gap between mothers in the media. I completely understand why.

Being a reporter isn’t a nine-to-five job, and covering political events can be… a lot. There are a lot of people without children who leave journalism because they say that it is too difficult to achieve a good work-life balance. When you have little humans who need you to survive, sometimes that becomes impossible.

My career in journalism was almost over before it began, after I became pregnant with my first child shortly after getting my first real job at a newspaper in Iowa. As I went around covering state budget cuts and school events, while my husband and I excitedly painted the nursery and stocked up on newborn clothes, I didn’t realize that some editor had decided that I shouldn’t be loyal to my career. (So ​​much for having it all).

For the next two years, she tried to impress them by volunteering for any task. But sometimes, I had to take my daughter with me when my child care failed, like when I was covering former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s campaign during the 2004 Iowa caucuses. (Although he seemed fascinated with my child, he didn’t answer.) Really for my question about his health care plan).

The next two newspapers I worked for, I learned my lesson and didn’t even put pictures of my baby on my desk. I can’t say for sure that it helped me get better jobs. But I don’t think it hurts.

By the time I started covering the Michigan Capitol full-time, I was a single mother and had no family in the state. I would write three or four stories a day, plus do freelance work so I could put something toward my daughter’s college fund, so my day was never over when she finished her after-school program. It meant working at home late nights and weekends, which my boss didn’t like and my co-workers resented (although I worked harder just to prove myself).

And then there was a lot of mom guilt, having to rush to my kid’s winter party because the legislature was late or realizing I forgot the plates for her birthday party at school and trying not to get stuck in the car.

Meanwhile, the only politician I covered who was navigating single parenthood was then-Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, and her kids are the same age as mine. We would sometimes have frank conversations about the struggle after the hearing or committee hearings.

The political parent trap • Michigan Advance
Editor Susan J. Demas sometimes has to bring her children while covering events, such as President Barack Obama at the University of Michigan | Susan J. Dimas

But many still view motherhood as political weakness. One of my former colleagues dismissed Whitmer as a lightweight Tell me He knew she would “never go anywhere in politics when she got pregnant after being elected” (which it seemed like very familiar). I have not contacted him again since she became the 49th Governor of Michigan and was listed as a 2028 presidential candidate.

And who can forget when Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrom was one too grilled A decade ago, she considered running for statewide office when she had two children, ages 3 and 5. “But don’t the kids want mom at home?” It was a real question she was asked. (You’ll be very surprised to learn that the reporter was male.)

The satirical site WonKit summed up this episode with one of the world’s greatest headlines: “A Michigan woman may run for office even if she has children. Why would that be?”

I’d like to think that things have changed enough that women today don’t have to put up with such blatant sexism, but I think we all know that’s not true. I will say that women are more open now about what to expect when you’re pregnant while running for office or chasing a toddler.

Being open about the challenges of motherhood helps other women in politics feel less alone. And working on solutions, such as affordable child care and improved postpartum health care, can help parents across the state.

Many strong women in Michigan and states across the country were willing to share their stories with us at States newsroom For the Mother’s Day series “Mother’s Pregnancy”.

There are a lot of people without children who leave journalism because they say that it is too difficult to achieve a good work-life balance. When you have little humans who need you to survive, sometimes that becomes impossible.

“My kids come before work even. It may not be good for everyone to hear,” said Rep. Rachel Smit (R-Martin). Tell the Progressing. “If my priorities in my personal life and as a wife and mother aren’t aligned, I don’t feel like I can be the best at my job either.”

I respect the hell out of that.

When I purchased Inside Michigan Politics in 2013, I was finally able to work primarily from home and could be there for my kids the way I wanted. I was there to take my daughter and her new stepson to school and pick them up afterward. I’ve never had to miss a soccer match or soccer match. By the time I was recruited to start Michigan Advance Over five years ago, my kids were in high school, but they still (somehow) wanted me around, so flexibility means everything.

Of course, not everyone is so fortunate, which is one reason why mothers of young children remain a minority in both the Michigan Legislature and in the Capitol press corps.

I know we can do better.

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