Mommy Mayor: Rebuilding the Village So Women Can Lead

On Saturday, I attended the graduation for Emerge, which trains Democratic women how to have a greater presence in politics and how to run for office. This is the second class for the New Jersey program. I was there because I believe in the program but also because a good friend of mine was graduating and I wanted to be there to cheer her on.

It was a Saturday after a long and hectic week, so time with my girls was first on the agenda, which meant we headed over together knowing my friend’s daughter would be there too. The day was lovely. There was a lot of talk about how we need to encourage more women to run and how we need to give them the tools to do so. Speeches focused on obstacles to running for office, how to fundraise and the (sadly) lopsided representation women have at all levels of government.

I heard most of it from the back of the room while I played with my girls and few other children I had collected from the graduates. Luckily, it was me, one of the great supportive husbands and five children. And I was happy to do it because I know how stressful it can be to be up on stage and worrying that my child will be too loud, too energetic, too much. And I know how grateful I am when someone does the same.

As I sat there, pausing to make sure the children got to hear their mothers’ speak, I thought how great it was that we were are rebuilding the village in ways that let us lead the village. Because, as we take on these challenges — as women find more ways to shape their communities and our world — we need to help each other and encourage our children to be part of this larger community.

We need to find that community responsibility again because, when we do, everyone is better off. It’s the same sentiment that allows a mothers to keep their eyes on all the children in the playground so that a mother can swing her infant while their toddler plays five feet away, safe in the knowledge that another mother will boost the toddler up the ladder or clap as she slides down the slide. It is how children learn empathy, that they have a responsibility to help others, to be kind regardless of who is watching.
Now, we need to take it a step further if we want more woman to participate. Those of us who are already there need to show them that it is possible and that we will support them.

Having my children with me at events is about spending time with them, about showing them all the good that can be done by public service but, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It requires help — and lots of it — and sometimes that help is simply watching one of them while I run to the bathroom, keeping them occupied for 3 minutes while I make remarks, or simply letting them interrupt our conversation. And, 85% of the time, I bring help with me. The rest of the time, I’m winging it.

Sometimes, our children will cooperate — they will be the polite, quiet children we hope for,. And sometimes we misjudge. That bubbly happy infant trips and turns into a sobbing clingy mess at the drop of a hat. And that’s when the village is so important. We should all strive to build up that village to offer a smile and a hand to those who need it because we will need it at some point.

If we want more women to lead, we need to help make it possible by welcoming their children, (and understanding that balance means overlap), by offering to grab a glass of water, by talking to their children and by seeing that when one rises we all rise.

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Cathleen Lewis
Cathleen, the Mayor of Lawrence Township & a full-time Public Affairs professional, counts her best job as being Mommy to Abigail (3 years) and Bridget (6 months ). A New Yorker originally, but Boston raised, Cathleen enjoys the challenge of raising the girls in a mixed household with her Yankee-fan husband Paul. She hopes to make up for the confusion by encouraging the family’s love of Rutgers football. She dreams of sharing her love of beaches, margaritas, music and adventure but is happy to squeeze in a family walk with the dog and a back yard BBQ these days. Formerly an avid reader and writer before work, life and children; Cathleen hopes she hasn’t lost her ability to capture thoughts through the written word but often can’t remember where the grocery list is.

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