We Need Mothers in Elected Office Now More than Ever

Amanda Hunter | May 6, 2021

This Sunday the country will celebrate Mother’s Day, an annual reminder to recognize the moms and mom figures in our lives. This year in particular, a day of appreciation for mothers can’t come soon enough.

According to our latest Gender on the Ballot poll, the pandemic has been particularly hard on mothers, often pulling them in competing directions. For working moms, the major challenge of the last year appears to have been balancing childcare and education while schools and daycares were closed. Specifically, 63% of moms who have worked from home due to Covid-19 said that it has been harder than ever to balance caring for their children with their other responsibilities. And nearly as many of the moms we polled, 54%, say that managing virtual schooling for their kids has required so much extra work that it has compromised their ability to do work for their employers.

The impossible balance of work with childcare isn’t the only issue for moms. Over half of women with children in our survey (57%) said that the pandemic made caring for their children a lonelier and more isolating experience. Among moms who are 18 – 34 years old, that number rises to 69%. In addition to possible isolation and loneliness, 55% of moms said that Covid-19 made caring for their kids more stressful because they haven’t been able to ask the usual people (family, for example) for help. Among women of color, that indication of additional stress rises to 63% of moms, and it’s 65% among the younger cohort (18 – 34-year-old moms). Perhaps not surprisingly, 40% of mothers say that their relationships with close family and friends have become strained/distant during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, much of the political world’s attention lately has been focused on President Biden’s American Families Plan, a $1.8 trillion investment proposal that aims to address some of the issues most impacting mothers: education, child care, and family leave. As I’ve written before, having elected officials with diverse lived experiences results in new, important perspectives in policy-making. Especially as women are starting to emerge from the difficulties of the last year, and this major plan proceeds to Congressional debate, the need for mothers’ perspectives in our halls of power is even more critical. As Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers said in 2019 about being a mom in Congress, “All of the issues, all of the legislation and the questions, I see it through the perspective of being a parent, having kids, thinking about what their future is going to be.”

One way to ensure that we have mothers in office is to address the structural barriers that exist when they run for office. For one, we know that perceptions of traditional gender roles persist despite societal changes. Our research shows that those perceptions result in voters holding mothers to an outdated, higher standard when it comes to managing their families, and worrying that moms won’t effectively balance their work and family lives. The good news is that this challenge is not insurmountable—our research also found that women candidates for office can respond to outdated voter perceptions effectively by directly answering questions about family life with confidence. Especially as women running for office increasingly find ways to be authentic, 360-degree candidates, I am hopeful that we will see more mothers in leadership positions where they can draw on their unique experiences to legislate.

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