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Lawmakers Learn to Juggle Family, Office Duty

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Rep. Buck McKeon displays a picture of his family, including children and grandchildren, in his office in the Rayburn House Office Building.

When Rep. Wally Herger went door to door for his first campaign, he and his wife werent pulling the traditional wagon full of literature around the neighborhood. Theirs was filled with small children. 

The California Republican now has nine children, all of whom are an asset on the campaign trail, he said. Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-Ill.) had 10 child campaigners all of whom donated to his campaign without any prompting. Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) remembered similar help from his six kids at parades and events. His children would walk around wearing signs that read Vote for my Daddy.

Part of the benefits of having a large family is that youve got slave labor when it comes to manning phones and things, said Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who also has six children.

Despite the help large families can provide a campaign, fewer than 20 Members of Congress have six or more children. Those who do agreed that balancing such a complicated home life with the demands of politics isnt easy. Catching late flights, racking up long-distance phone bills and missing votes for graduations or recitals for votes are the norm for Members with big families back home.

Its not a family-friendly job, being in Congress, Herger said. 

Politics soaks up all your time, like a sponge in water, Webster agreed. Theres a certain amount of time you have to devote to it and a certain amount of time you have to spend on family. You have to make them a priority. 

You end up, as a parent, having only one day a week that the family gets to even see you at the dinner table, Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) said.

Congressional leaders recognize this as a hardship for all families. At orientation, they tell Members to remember that although they wont always be a Member of Congress, theyre always going to be a father or mother, Schilling said. 

Members with larger broods have found different ways of coping with the difficult balance. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, a father of six, drives his three boys to school every morning that hes home. 

Thats my time with the boys I make that time count and learn as much as I can from them, the Pennsylvania Republican said. Hes constantly heading to baseball fields, rock concerts and Scout meetings to get in enough time with all of his children.

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