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Expert Q&A: What Being a Member of Congress Means for a Family

The following is an excerpt from the second of three reports of the Life in Congress series. Read the full text of this Expert Q&A with Patricia Kempthorne in, "Life in Congress: The Member Perspective."

Patricia Kempthorne has spent decades advocating for family, children, and workplace issues. She is founder of The Twiga Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting family consciousness in the home, the workplace, and the community. Mrs. Kempthorne is married to Dirk Kempthorne, a former mayor, senator, governor, and cabinet secretary, and has a unique perspective on the challenges facing public officials and their families.

At what point does job satisfaction trump overwork and the challenges faced by someone elected to serve as a member of the United States Congress?  

As our founders stated, “we pledge our lives, fortune and sacred honor” in service to the United States of America. Reality is that as a member of congress you don’t just have a job you have a “calling” and everyone will be calling. You have made assurances to your constituents, your party and your family that you will not forget who got you there, who you represent and how much their support means. It is a 24/7/365 position. The long hours are not long enough but you do the best you can and you are the only one who can set the parameters for how you will juggle your elected position, family and personal needs. It certainly isn’t easy and some are better at it than others. These challenges are not that much different than a CEO, business owner, sales executive, farmer or any dedicated employee. To be successful you must work hard, accept long hours and tackle situations that you didn’t create and are not able to control. The difference is a member of congress will be judged publicly in the media on all activities 365 days a year and held to an unheard of standard of excellence and accountability. You do it because you believe in the tenets of the republic, it is an honor to serve and you have the opportunity to make a difference for your family, your community and your country.

From your perspective how did your spouse’s job affect the family?

Our children were quite young when my husband was elected to his first public office. We anticipated that at four and six years of age they would not be particularly impacted by their father’s job and that the advantage may be that if his public service continued it would be natural for them to see their dad in the public arena. For the next twenty-four years we had the opportunity to participate in the political process at community, state and national levels. Our children are now in their 30’s and over the years we learned many things about just how impacted they were. In many ways we are making up for lost time spending more time together as adults and we are all enjoying our lives out of the public eye. For most of their lives they shared their father with everyone else. Though they did this proudly sometimes they simply wanted it to go away.

Once at our annual state fair, they were pre-teens and we were walking down the fairway. There were many handshakes and well-wishers and people wanting to talk. Our daughter finally stomped her foot asked her dad to deny he was the mayor and just talk to her. Though it was a positive experience overall; she was tired of sharing.  When he was in the Senate, a few years later, I saw his car pull into the school parking lot to join me for our son’s football game.  It just as quickly pulled out and he called and said that a vote was just been called and he had to head back to DC. That was the right thing to do. It was necessary but it was frustrating because your heart and your head are not in sync. As a family and as individuals we had to work at finding our comfort levels with his public service. It is important for the elected official to clarify expectations with their staff to ensure that family and health are first. That is, first to the best of everyone’s ability to navigate the responsibilities and expectations for a seamless public work-life experience. Hindsight has brought much appreciation for the individuals that supported our public service whether they be staff members, constituents or friends. Of course, I think my husband’s life-work was and is a gift to all of us and to those he served.

To read Patricia Kempthorne's piece on the work-life of Members of Congress on Huffington Post click here.



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