The Viral Dads of Congress Know Family Policy isn’t Just Women’s Work
A change — specifically, a changing table — might be coming to the House of Representatives. Yes, it took 234 years for male lawmakers to pursue accommodations for their own babies. At least the shambolic start of the 118th Congress, during which some members brought their little ones to the House floor only to discover the House isn’t exactly family-friendly, might turn out to accomplish something.
But upgrades for congressional parents should just be the start for this Congress’s family policy. Reps. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) and Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) know they went viral for doing parenting tasks women routinely perform without thanks. Next up: pitching in on the legislative tasks that have traditionally been relegated to women, such as fighting for paid family leave and more accessible child care.
The men of Congress might be a couple of centuries late to the idea of parenting as a shared enterprise. Indeed, it wasn’t until 2018 that children were allowed on the Senate floor, a rule that enforced a strict separation between family and governing. But a belated arrival is better than none at all.
To hear men such as Gomez and Castro talk about the logistical challenges and wrenching choices involved in parenting while pursuing a high-powered career is a relief. If those dilemmas can no longer simply be outsourced to women — or if a new generation of fathers doesn’t want to hand off that work — then the engaged constituency for family-friendly policy suddenly doubles.
Take the supply of child care. Gomez wore his 4-month-old son, Hodge, around the Capitol not just because he wanted to, but also because the deputy mayor of Los Angeles — his wife — had to fly back to her job. And once their jet-lagged baby was back home, Gomez’s mother, who was supposed to take over his care, got a stomach bug.
“I just realized, maybe it’s just my being naive, being my first kid, it’s like we have to have primary child care,” he told me. “Then you have to have two or three different emergency backups, and we didn’t have that in place. So we’re kind of scrambling.”
Congressional dads also confronted accessibility issues during the extended speakership fight. Castro said navigating his youngest daughter, Anna Valentina, around the House floor in a stroller showed him just how awkward the space is, both for parents and wheelchair users. Every new parent has a realization like this one, but even a cliche can be galvanizing.
Perhaps it’s for that reason that family policy is the rare policy arena capable of producing surprising alliances — and a shared sense of reality — in Congress.