On Take Your Kids to Work Day, it's worth remembering that it literally took an act of Congress to make the U.S. Capitol just a tiny bit more family friendly. And it only happened less than two weeks ago.
You probably saw recently: regardless of your politics, it was a beautiful moment. U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth made her way to the Senate floor for the first time holding her baby daughter, Maile Pearl Bowlsbey.
Just short time after it happened, it's hard to believe that small, normal act would have broken the Senate rules until earlier this month--when Duckworth pushed for and got a unanimous agreement to change the restrictions.
Duckworth's victory comes just as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced he won't run for reelection. Although there's a lot of reason to think the current political climate explains his decision, he cited his desire to be closer to home while his kids are growing up.
In the wake of these two events, the daughter of two former members of Congress, who said she's considered running for office herself, wrote recently about just how incompatible public service can be with raising a family. (Congress: The most family-unfriendly workplace in America.)
It's too bad, because we need the best people being willing to make the sacrifice and serve. But if you really want to serve your family, it's really hard to see how that can be compatible with serving in elected office. Here are some of the reasons Laura Capps pointed out.
A member of Congress makes $174,000 per year, which puts him or her above the median in almost every congressional district in the U.S. Nobody is going to cry for politicians making that kind of money. However, the pay is wildly deceiving, first and foremost because serving in Congress requires maintaining two households: one in your district, and one in the District.
Many successful people who might otherwise want to serve, frankly, couldn't take the pay cut. This is how we wind up with a Congress composed either of independently wealthy people, or representatives crashing together in dilapidated college-style apartments, or even living in their offices.
2. Job Security
In some districts, gerrymandered to within an inch of their lives, it's almost impossible not to get reelected. But in swing districts, it's a constant struggle. This is probably how it should be as a democracy, but it's really tough on a family.
We mock politicians who say they quit to "spend more time with the family," but for most members of Congress, except those representing districts that are very close to D.C. (in parts of Maryland and Virginia, for example), serving in office means missing out.
When he was in the Senate, former Vice President Joe Biden used to commute back and forth to D.C. each day on Amtrak. ("I came to realize that a child can hold an important thought, something they want to say to their mom and dad, maybe 12 or 14 hours, and then it's gone," he once said. "And when it's gone, it's gone.")
"The travel is brutal, and the schedule keeps member of Congress away from family a majority of days during each week for most of the year," writes Capps. "For those with young families, that means forever forgoing many of fleeting joys of being present as your child learns to talk, read, swim, build Legos and paper airplanes; the chance to attend not just soccer games but also practices; and hilarious bedtime conversations about the speed of cheetahs, budding friendships at school and poignantly innocent moral questions."
Lack of technology
Many of these issues could potentially be alleviated if Congress would implement some basic technology that most private businesses use every day. My company has offices in New York and Los Angeles, plus crucial individual team members working in at least a dozen other cities, and yet we manage to hold meetings and get work done together constantly. Is there a real, legitimate reason why Congress couldn't allow absentee voting on bills? Or hold virtual sessions of Congress with members attending via secure videoconference?
There's no reason Congress can't adopt innovative new policies that utilize technology the way other sectors have," Capps writes.
Simply put, Congress runs on partisianship, but also seniority. And the members setting policy and making decision are 80 percent men, with an average age of 57.8 in the House and 61.8 in the Senate. They came up in the system, and Congress is the ultimate manifestation of the Innovator's Dilemma. Those who are currently serving benefit from the rules as they are now. Why would they change them?
"As inconvenient -- but wonderful and brave -- as Duckworth's choice is likely to be, she will face real challenges," Capps says. "Congress, is notoriously slow to modernize its internal practices: It has yet to have an official family leave policy and it wasn't until 2011 that female members had their own restroom off the floor of the House."