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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.

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.

Schilling has similar priorities. After missing a trip home one weekend, the Illinois Republican turned down an interview with Christiane Amanpour the following week to travel home. When his staffers asked what they should tell the news show host about his refusal, his reply was simple: “Tell them I haven’t been home for two weeks and I really miss my family!” 

Going home on weekends wasn’t enough for Herger, who moved his entire family to D.C. when he was elected, after receiving advice from former Rep. Norman Shumway (R-Calif.), who has five kids. 

“I saw them much more being here than I would being back in the district,” Herger said. “It’s not a family-friendly job, no matter how you do it, but we felt we would see the family far more if they were here.”

Webster and Akin chose to home-school their children to accommodate their many different schedules. Webster’s kids would take their lessons on the road while their father traveled around the district. 

“I don’t think I would have known my kids near as well if they had been in regular school,” he said.

Akin agreed. 

“It allowed us, when I did have free time, to really utilize it,” he said. “You weren’t trying to match the normal school schedule with a political schedule that’s really kind of erratic. When I was home, we would do something fun and also educational.” 

No matter the living or schooling situation, all of the Members agreed they could not have survived the tumultuous balance without their spouses. 

“I can’t say enough of my wife — my dear, saintly wife,” Herger said. “I say that with total truth — I mean, she was like a single mother because I was away so much. ... You couldn’t do it unless you had a very supportive family.” 

Despite the challenges of balancing schedules and commitments, the job of raising sizable families isn’t as tough as it sounds, some said. Older kids tend to help raise the younger ones, and large families offer support and relief from the rush of lawmaking. 

“Our daughters especially, those two are really like second moms,” Schilling said of his daughters Isabel and Rachel. “That’s the thing folks forget about with large families: As the other kids grow older, they can really kind of help out.” 

For Rep. Michele Bachmann, a 55-year-old mother of five who has been a foster mom to 23 children, the kids are part of the campaign. Bachmann’s daughters have joined her in Iowa and for political speeches, and she mentions the foster program frequently while she’s on the trail.

Children help out in more ways than by campaigning or changing diapers. They’re never short on advice or counsel, Garamendi said. Herger has a similarly opinionated family.

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