When Rep. Wally Herger went door to door for his first campaign, he and his wife weren’t 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 you’ve 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 isn’t 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.
“It’s not a family-friendly job, being in Congress,” Herger said.
Politics “soaks up all your time, like a sponge in water,” Webster agreed. “There’s 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 won’t always be a Member of Congress, they’re 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 he’s home.
“That’s my time with the boys — I make that time count and learn as much as I can from them,” the Pennsylvania Republican said. He’s constantly heading to baseball fields, rock concerts and Scout meetings to get in enough time with all of his children.
For Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), a father of six, there’s a simple equation to balancing lawmaking with his large family: always go home. He returned home from the California Legislature every day when his children were young. Now, they all live within easy driving distance of his home in the district, so he and his wife can stay close to the grandchildren.
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