Joanne Bamberger: On Mother's Day, think about the idea of a woman in the White House
Bamberger: There's a good chance the first female president will be a mother of young kids
She says women who are young moms are more common in the current political generation
Bamberger: A woman who struggles with work-life balance firsthand relates better to voters
Editor’s Note: Joanne Bamberger is the author of “Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America” (Bright Sky Press). She is the 2012 election editor/correspondent at iVillage.com and author of the political blog PunditMom.
The first woman elected to the White House will answer to many names – Madam President, ma’am, and, most likely, Mom. That’s something I like to think about on Mother’s Day.
Given the demographics and family status of many of the women in politics today, there’s a pretty good chance that the first female who gets to sit behind the historic Resolute Desk in the Oval Office will be a mother of young children.
Think that’s crazy? It’s not and here’s why.
The current female up-and-comers entered the world of politics earlier than their predecessors and are, like so many women today, waiting to have or adopt children until their 30s and 40s. As a result, the year 2016 will likely present a perfect storm of timing and circumstances for a president to be sworn in who looks like Geena Davis’ character Mackenzie Allen of the short-lived TV series, “Commander in Chief.”
I don’t have a crystal ball, but I have my fingers crossed that many political mothers who are in the queue, so to speak, have their eyes on more than just keeping the jobs they have now. They’re not waiting until their children are out of the house to make their next political moves.
When former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was first elected to Congress, she was 47 years old and four of her five children were already out of the house and in college with the fifth one in high school. That was the model for women interested in national political office: Wait to run until the kids were grown.
That is, until former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin opened the door to the idea of a young mom who could run for the White House. Even for voters who weren’t fans of Palin’s political views, she became the new face of women in the arena – someone knee deep in the details of child-rearing, as well as policymaking and vote counting – a vision that resonated because most mothers in America are working mothers juggling their own careers and families.
There is a growing list of female contenders whose work-life balance stories will resonate with female voters who are also trying to find the right mix of working hours to support their families and time at home with the kids.
One name to remember is Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democratic senator from New York. She is 45 and not only is she firmly ensconced in her political career, she’s also the mother of two sons, ages 9 and 5. Gillibrand is on at least one short list (if Hillary Clinton keeps her word about not running for president again) of potential Democratic candidates for the White House in 2016. With the launch of her recent bipartisan Off the Sidelines project to encourage more women to run for office, as well as her online book club, it certainly looks like she’s laying the social media groundwork for something in four years.
As for Republican women, they’ve got 42-year-old Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a representative from Washington. Don’t know her name? You’d probably recognize her face, because she is usually one of the few standing behind Speaker of the House John Boehner at all those news conferences. McMorris is the mother of a 1½-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son, and wields plenty of political power and influence as the highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress. She has a major voice in what issues make it to a vote.
These are just two of the high-profile political mothers who can just as easily and naturally manage the Washington power game as they can their children’s homework, play dates and soccer schedules.
Political women who embrace electoral leadership while parenting young children are becoming much more common. Others include Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who is also the head of the Democratic National Committee, Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.
The new generation of political women can bring to office a set of life experiences that will inform national policy issues in a new way. We would be able to have discussions about paid family leave, paid sick time and paid maternity leave and have it viewed through the lens of a commander in chief who would have real-time experience with what it means to leave work to pick up a sick child.
There are plenty of moms to choose from for increasing powerful national leadership roles. So many female voters choreograph their own work-life balance dance. A woman who knows that struggle firsthand might just be the kind of candidate who will be elected to the Oval Office.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Joanne Bamberger.