Beto O’Rourke came in for widespread criticism in March when he said that his wife Amy was raising their three children, “sometimes with my help,” while he ran for president.
He later apologized, but the comment exposed a deeper reality: While male candidates can often count on a partner to take the lead on child care while they campaign, women rarely can do the same.
That may be part of the reason fewer women run for office than men, or why they may wait until their children are grown before running. Of the more than 20 Democratic candidates running for president in 2020, Vox counted nine men with children below high school age, and just one woman, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
When mothers do seek high-profile jobs, whether in government or in the private sector, they’re often asked how they balance work and family. As NBC 10 reporter Alison King put it in an April interview with presidential candidate Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), “If you were a woman, the first question I would be asking you is, how are you going to juggle having an infant at home and a presidential campaign?”
But asking only women that question perpetuates the idea that child care is women’s responsibility, something for them to figure out without the men in their lives. So Vox decided instead to ask all the male 2020 Democratic candidates with young children at home to describe their child care arrangements — who was caring for their kids, we asked, when they were off campaigning?
Of the nine male candidates Vox surveyed, one — Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) — has not yet answered Vox’s question about child care. The others have gotten back to us to describe their arrangements in some way. Their responses are below.
Many said their wives are primarily responsible for their kids while they are campaigning, though several said other family members pitch in from time to time. One said he sometimes swaps babysitting duties with a fellow congressman. Overall, their comments help make the often-invisible visible: Whether they’re running for president or working a 9-to-5 job, parents of all genders need some form of child care in order to do their jobs.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)
- Three daughters: one in college, one in high school, one in middle school
When Bennet is in Washington or on the campaign trail, his wife Susan “takes primary responsibility for the girls,” a campaign spokesperson told Vox in an email. “When he is home, they share duties. And the girls often join them on the trail. Just this past weekend, Susan and the two youngest girls joined Michael on his trip to Iowa. Past Bennet campaigns have always been family affairs, with Susan and the girls frequently joining Michael on the road.”
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock
- Three children, ages 17, 14, and 12
“With relatively young kids at home,” Bullock said in a statement to Vox, “my wife Lisa and I have lived the experience of families all across the country. When our kids were younger and with both of us in the workforce, we paid dearly for quality child care. We know first hand that a quality day care program can cost more than college tuition. During the elementary years, we relied on after school programs offered by our local school district. And, even now, it is a daily effort to shuttle kids between activities and after school activities. Lisa and I are lucky to be raising our kids in our hometown, surrounded by close friends and family that have been there for us from the beginning.”
Former US Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro
- Two children, ages around 4 and 10
“While Secretary Castro is on the road traveling, his wife Erica, who is an elementary school educator, looks after their two kids, Carina and Cristián,” Sawyer Hackett, deputy national press secretary for the Castro campaign, told Vox in an email. “Erica and Julián also have the help of their two mothers, and are extremely grateful for their help in caring for their young children. Secretary Castro keeps up a vigorous travel schedule, but makes a concerted effort to be home with his family several days each week, and shares parenting responsibilities with Erica when he’s home.”
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke
- Three children, ages around 8, 10, and 12
“Beto continues to speak openly about the reasons he and Amy decided to run this campaign in the first place, the sacrifices it entails for their family, and how being separated is the hardest part about doing this,” campaign communications director Chris Evans wrote in an email.
“At the same time, he has also acknowledged that when he’s on the road, Amy has the lion’s share of the child care responsibilities while also working in El Paso. Additionally, Beto and Amy are fortunate to have several family members in the community who are able to give support and help out.”
Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA)
- One child, about 7 months
“I got a text earlier today that said, if you were a woman, the first question I would be asking you is, how are you going to juggle having an infant at home and a presidential campaign?” said NBC 10 reporter Alison King in the interview.
“You should ask me that question, just as a man,” Moulton replied. “I miss my daughter every single day. It was a hard decision to get into this race. But I want my daughter to grow up in a better world.”
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH)
- Three children, ages 5, 15, and 16
“My wife Andrea is a first grade teacher,” Ryan told Vox in a statement. “While I’m in Washington and on the campaign trail, she is the glue that holds our family together, and she does it all while working full time. Mason and Bella, 16 and 15 yrs old, are pretty self sufficient at this point, especially since Mason earned his drivers license and can handle a lot of the carpooling and errands. Brady goes to pre-school down the hall from Andrea’s classroom. So she is with him all day and night. When I’m at home, I try to make up for lost time as best I can. And try to handle some of the responsibilities.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA)
- Two children, ages about 2 years and 6 months
Swalwell told Vox in an email that his wife, Brittany, is “amazing.”
“She’s a national sales director for Ritz-Carlton, a career that allows her to work from home most of the time, but it’s still a herculean task to work with two young kids around. Her aunt lends us a hand at times as well, and sometimes we work out swaps with friends — my dear friend and campaign chairman, Rep. Ruben Gallego, have babysat each other’s kids from time to time.”
- Two young children
“While I am on the campaign trail, my wife Evelyn watches after our two young children, one of whom is autistic, at home full time,” Yang said in an email to Vox. “We have help from my mother and mother-in-law as well as various sitters and other family members.
“Occasionally, my family is able to join me on the campaign trail which is always welcome and makes campaigning more enjoyable, but Evelyn really is the rock of our family and without her, everything would fall apart. We must do more to support and recognize the work being done in our homes and communities each day. My wife inspires me to work harder both at home and on the trail.”
Update 5/28: This story has been updated with comments from the campaigns of former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, which were received after press time.