Jennifer Herold expected to be the underdog when she decided to run as a Republican candidate for the Ohio House of Representatives. For one thing, the 30-year-old occupational therapist and mom of two young boys is up against incumbent Tom Patton, who has held court in the 24th district since 2008. And then, of course, there’s her age, the fact that she isn’t a career politician and, sadly, her gender — because despite how far we’ve come, only 29 percent of seats in the Ohio House are made up of women.
But Herold never expected her role as a caring and committed mom to her children, ages 3 and almost 2, to be used as a strike against her by her opponent. That’s exactly what happened when Patton was interviewed on America’s Work Force Radio, where he tossed around words that belong back in the ‘40s and did us all a favor by shining a spotlight on a very real bias against women that still exists.
“The gal that’s running against me is a 30-year-old, you know, mom, mother of two infants,” Patton said on-air. “And I don’t know if anybody explained to her we’ve got to spend three nights a week in Columbus. So, how does that work out for you? I waited until I was 48 and my kids were raised, and at least adults, before we took the opportunity to try.”
If you’re ready to shoot off an angry email at Patton, hold that thought — because Herold doesn’t feel bitter resentment toward him. In fact, she told SheKnows she considers him a “nice man” whom she “respects,” and is actually grateful that he has helped make this a national conversation worth having. Furthermore, there’s a piece to this that isn’t making headlines: Herold feels Patton’s words aren’t doing men any favors either.
“My first reaction was surprise and shock, because I couldn’t believe this was still a conversation that was being had in 2016,” Herold says, referring to the moment her husband, Robert Jerowski, played the radio segment for her. “My second gut reaction? I think my husband was almost more upset by it — are they saying my husband isn’t capable of staying at home? Dads are parents too — they’re not babysitters. It’s almost opposite discrimination.”
Herold says that, in her household, she and her husband try to be equal parents and split duties like cooking, cleaning and doing art projects with the kids. They both describe themselves as “political junkies” who know a great deal about a variety of important issues, so when the opportunity presented itself for Herold to run for the House seat, Jerowski stepped up and assured her it was her time to follow her passion and that he would handle more of their household duties — the same conversation that is taking place in millions of households across America, despite what Patton’s comments might make you think.
As a political candidate, Herold is focused on bringing a fresh, new perspective to issues such as health care, education and mental health. Her decision to run for the seat came about after she lobbied her local city for a new outdoor pool and kept getting blocked at the local level. She currently works with children at a school, where she provides occupational therapy, and says she has the flexibility to commit herself full-time to a political role and that she doesn’t feel doing so requires that she make the ultimate trade-off and never see her children. And can we stop for a minute and think about how backward it is to even have to ask her about her schedule? Would we pose the same question to her male opponent?
“There’s a commitment, and obviously it’s not just a three-day-a-week job, but that’s not to say I can’t be home, flexible or take the kids to an event,” Herold says.
Instead of viewing parenthood as a liability in the workplace or within politics, Herold says her hope is that the publicity she and Patton are receiving can be used for positive change by encouraging men and women to focus on how being a parent only enhances your ability to perform your job and pursue your passions.
“As a mom, when you are multitasking, folding laundry while on the phone and simultaneously entertaining your children, your mind just runs,” she says. “You can prioritize, delegate… You learn a lot of things that you might need. I know my strengths — in health care, education and areas I’m really passionate about — areas that could use a fresh perspective. Being a younger woman, a mom, I think you see every day the issues at hand. My child is in pre-K, and I’m very aware of Common Core and what’s coming up. I don’t think it’s looked upon as positively, being a mom and having that inner strength.”
In Patton’s defense, the majority leader did apologize to Herold for his remark, and something as small as an admittance of wrongdoing in this area is a teeny positive step forward. Whether or not she wins the election, Herold says she will use this experience to help draw attention to both the women and men in politics who are balancing their roles as parents and elected officials. She also wants to help influence other women with political aspirations to not feel confined to one role in their lives, but to feel comfortable embracing all the many facets of their lives, parenthood being a big one, as they embark on their careers.
“I hope people will vote based on issues and whether you’re qualified and that you are not disqualified based on being a mom,” Herold says. “It is a good topic to bring into the spotlight, campaign aside, and everyone I talked to said this is such a great national discussion, because it exists everywhere.”
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