When I joined the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004, I immediately became part of an uber-exclusive club. Not just the 435 Members of Congress club, but the much smaller group of members who balanced their law-making chores with being parents to young kids. It was actually surprising to see how few members had small children. It struck me that Congress would actually be a better, more productive place if more of my colleagues came to work with the perspective of a parent.
When I was in my early 20s, I made public service a career choice because I wanted to make people’s lives better and make the world better. It sounds corny but it is true. Then while I was in office, I had three kids. Being a parent totally changed me. It gave me focus. It improved my negotiation skills, because if you want your six-year-old to listen to you, you better be a master negotiator. I am not exaggerating when I tell people negotiating with your child is great practice for trying to negotiate with U.S. Representatives on the other side of the aisle. With kids you must be realistic with your expectations. You learn when to cajole, when to compromise and when to stand firm. Parents understand there is no special formula for perfection. They know you have to work at it every day, and it is going to be the hardest thing they ever do.
Being a parent gave me a new outlook when it came to understanding the impacts of decisions made in city halls and state capitals across the country, and it certainly affects how I see the legislation that is considered in Washington, D.C. It made it impossible to forget that when it comes to creating policy, a short term political win is not the goal. It is about how that law will affect the next generation. What frustrates me so much about the gridlock in Washington is that when today’s leaders put off major decisions for our most challenging problems, it is our kids who inherit the damaging consequences.
The reason I wrote my book, “For the Next Generation”, was to share to share my point of view, encourage more parents to get educated about how today’s issues affect our kids tomorrow and, hopefully, inspire people to take action. And if I encourage more moms to run for office, then writing the book will have achieved at least some of my goals. I think having more moms on the Hill and in public office would make a huge difference in our agenda-setting and how work is done in our nation’s capital.
For example, there is no doubt in my mind that the federal government shutdown would have been completely different if we had more women in Congress and moms in Leadership. Of course Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is at the table, but she is just one woman negotiating in a whole room of men. Point blank, we need more women in that room. Moms are often the peacemakers in the family. They understand that the goal is to get to yes, not to dig in. And if more moms were in Congress I cannot imagine they would allow the federal government to shut down over an ideological position that we should be taking affordable access to health care AWAY from Americans.
There are so many incredibly important issues that deserve our attention, but, sadly, there are extreme partisans in Congress who are more interested in scoring cheap political points than fixing the real problems that ail this country. Education, immigration, guns - even how to fix the economy – are at a total standstill in Congress right now, despite the shutdown’s end, and that is a tragedy. Now that the government has finally reopened, our most vulnerable citizens, children, need elected officials to actually get to work!
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz represents Florida’s 23rd district and serves as Chair of the Democratic National Committee. She is also the author of “For the Next Generation,” a book that has sounded the alarm bell about the impact that Washington gridlock will have on the next generation of Americans.
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