Rep. Katie Porter on raising 3 kids as a single mom and learning to reframe the concept of a 'work-life balance'

The politician and author on motherhood and connecting with working parents.

Rep. Katie Porter talks motherhood, politics and looking at a
Rep. Katie Porter talks motherhood, politics and looking at a "work-life balance" in a new way. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

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Rep. Katie Porter may be the U.S. representative for California's 47th congressional district and also a 2024 candidate for the U.S. Senate, but one of the questions she’s most commonly asked involves her role as a single mother of three. From the moment she first hit the campaign trail, Porter says she has been asked, “What will happen to your kids if you win?”

“I was always puzzled by this,” says the three-term congresswoman. “They're not going to evaporate or break their arms on election night. I think what they were trying to ask is, ‘How will you do this job, with all of its challenges, successfully while you continue to be a parent to your three kids?’ And I would think, ‘Well, why are you not asking my opponents this?’”

But then, Porter — mom to Luke, 17, Paul, 14, and Betsy, 11 — noticed who exactly was inquiring about how she’d approach this particular balancing act. “It wasn’t older men or young guys,” she recalls. “It was other moms. And I started to hear the question differently. I started to hear it not as, ‘We don't want you to do this,’ but rather as, ‘I am a mom, and I am struggling to get my kids to school and still finish my work and do it all in a country, in an economy, in a society that doesn't really do right by working parents. If I'm struggling, and I work 20 miles down the road, how will you do it and work 3,000 miles away?’”

That’s when she realized it was important to be in Washington, D.C. and represent the millions of working and single parents in the U.S. “I started to realize that it was important that I be modeling some of the realities of parenting,” says Porter.

Known for “bringing the receipts,” Porter aimed to deliver reality checks about what it looks like to serve in Congress as a single parent in her new memoir, I Swear: Politics Is Messier Than My Minivan.

Most political books try to lift up the politician and make it seem all mysterious and amazing,” she explains. “[In] my book, I'm really frank and personal about what it's like to try to serve in Congress, particularly as a single mom of three kids. What I'm trying to illustrate is not just the juggling and the difficulties that I face but to actually connect back to how hard it is for working parents generally. When people say to me, ‘If you're giving a speech on the House floor, you're not able to pick up a phone call from your kids,’ well, neither is the woman who's a welder — she can't weld and hold the phone at the same time. People said, ‘You're away from your kids sometimes.’ So were the folks who work as pilots, flight attendants, folks in the U.S. military.”

And all of these parents are struggling to juggle their careers with parenting and navigating challenges like finding and affording child care that suits their specific schedule, points out Porter.

They might also have to talk to their kids about what their careers mean to them. Porter admits that her kids initially “weren’t sure” about their mom running for Congress. “I think, for them, it came out of left field,” she notes. “And I think they're still not sure. They still have mixed feelings. I'm running for the U.S. Senate, and there are days that they're like, ‘We hope you win.’ And there are days that [they’re] like, ‘If you lose, can we get a dog?’”

Her kids also happen to be “valuable constituents,” says Porter. “Hearing and seeing what they're worried about for the future is really valuable to me as a representative,” she explains, sharing that Paul recently asked, “If I don't live in California, will you still come visit me?” “I said, ‘Of course I will, but why don’t you want to live in California? You love California.’ And he said, ‘I just don't know if I'll be able to afford to buy a house here.’ We have very high housing costs, and it's a real struggle.”

Whether they’re talking about economic concerns or sharing the workload around the house, heart-to-hearts are a must in Porter’s house. “After my first year in Congress, at the end of 2019, we basically had a sit-down, and I said, ‘Guys, I'm exhausted, and I'm feeling like I'm letting you down,’” recalls the congresswoman. “And we created chores. We call Paul LB [which stands for] laundry boy, and he does all the laundry. He doesn't fold, but he gets it moving into the washer and the dryer, and we wash everything on warm. We simplified the process. Luke unloads the dishwasher and puts the trash out. So, if I'm in Congress on Thursday night, I don’t have to worry about whether we're going to have a bunch of stinky trash piling up.”

In turn, the kids have learned how to do things Porter believes they’ll be glad to know how to do as they grow up. “I taught my oldest how to fill a prescription, so when he goes to college, he is not going to be worried about doing that,” she explains. “Seeing [my kids] be able to solve problems and be independent is incredibly rewarding and important.”

Still, Porter has found that raising a tween and two teens has given way to one major point of contention: fighting over the bathroom. ”The three kids share a bathroom,” she explains. “Bathroom fighting has become like a whole big thing: Who's taking too long, and who has too many products, and whose towel was this?” But when she tried to replace the cartoon monkey theme she chose for them when they were younger with something “more teenage-themed,” the kids banded together against her. “There was a big outcry, and I was told that the monkey bathroom is iconic,” laughs the politician. “So, there I am with them, fighting over a monkey cartoon bathroom. They’re pretty normal kids, I would say.”

But no matter what challenge she’s facing, Porter finds solace in “the most valuable advice” she’s received as a parent. “Somebody said, ‘You don’t have to be good at doing every aspect of being an employee and being a parent at every moment in time,’” she notes. “It’s OK to say that today, I did nothing but deal with work and sent the kids a text and made sure they were alive, and that was what I could do today. But last Sunday, I made three meals and froze them and went to water polo games and helped people clean up their rooms and dealt with their permission slips.”

Porter admits that when she was first working and parenting, she hated the expression “work-life balance.” “I would be like, ‘How can you feel balance when a kid just pooped all over your work outfit? Like, where's the balance in that?’” But she has learned to reframe the concept.

“It's balanced like riding a bike,” explains the proud mom of three. “You just try to keep pedaling, right, but you lean a little bit. You hit a bump. There are a lot of times you have to get off and have a water break, but you get back on. That is different, more active. That kind of balance gives you a lot more freedom to be forgiving of yourself for staying on the journey, rather than this kind of static, perfect 50/50 balance, which I have rarely been able to find. And if I have, I certainly haven't been able to hold on to it.”

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