'My kids will have to live with the decisions that I make': How parenthood affects moms in office

When Kara Lambert first ran for Mundelein trustee in 2019, a man cornered her in a local Walgreens and asked how she effectively could serve while also being a mom to her then-2-year-old son, Theo.

It's not the kind of question a father running for office likely would face.

"I was just floored," Lambert recalled. "I sort of laughed and said women work and raise children all the time."

Lambert won election that spring. In the years since, she's been a deeply involved board member - and she's had two more kids; the most recent arrived shortly before she won reelection last month.

Office-holding moms serve across the suburbs on village, school and county boards - just to name a few - as well as in the state legislature and the U.S. Capitol, where U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates serves.

An inspiration

Lambert was in her final trimester while campaigning for reelection this spring.

  Mundelein Trustee Kara Lambert's son Luca was born in March - and he went on the campaign trail with Lambert before she was reelected for her second term. Brian Hill/

Baby Luca was born in mid-March. Within a week, Lambert was on the campaign trail, knocking on doors and speaking with voters - and she brought Luca along.

Theo, now 6, helped out by hanging campaign literature on doorknobs.

When Lambert recited her oath of office last week, her husband, Russ, and their children - including almost-3-year-old Kiki - were in the audience.

Lambert said being a mom shapes her decisions in the boardroom.

"It's always in the back of your mind," Lambert said. "I think it's made me slow down and make decisions with not just today in mind but 10, 20, 25 years (from now) in mind. My kids will have to live with the decisions that I make."

Lambert often thinks about the man who questioned her ability to do the job because she was a mom.

"It sort of baffled me that that opinion still existed," she said.

But Lambert also recalls conversations she'd had with women who've called her an inspiration.

Making history

Tammy Duckworth became the first sitting U.S. senator to give birth when her second daughter, Maile, arrived in April 2018.

Her first, Abigail, was born four years earlier while Duckworth was representing Illinois' 8th District in the U.S. House.

Duckworth made history again a little more than a week after Maile's birth when, at her urging, the Senate changed a rule so babies younger than 1 year old could be on the chamber floor during votes.

After her daughter Maile was born in 2018, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth pushed for a Senate rule change so members' babies could be allowed on the floor during votes. Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite

The day after the policy change, Maile - sporting a pink hat - became the first baby on the Senate floor.

The rule change reportedly required some coaxing, including a promise that babies wouldn't disrupt Senate proceedings.

Some Republicans questioned why a senator would need to bring a baby onto the floor.

Duckworth, a Democrat, didn't relent.

"It was 2018, and I was nowhere near the first person to be a working mom," she said. "Women have been working through the demands of their jobs and their families ever since female trailblazers first joined the working world."

Duckworth has championed legislation aimed at improving the quality of life for parents and their kids. That's included supporting a national paid leave policy and successfully pushing for laws requiring airports to provide private lactation areas.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates and her daughters, Maile and Abigail. Courtesy of Sen. Tammy Duckworth

Duckworth continues to promote a proposal that would make it easier for women to travel by air with breast milk and pumping equipment, and feed babies while flying, too.

'I'm still a mom'

Just because her three daughters are in their 20s doesn't mean state Rep. Terra Costa Howard of Glen Ellyn doesn't feel the pull of motherhood - and some guilt when she has to miss a performance or sporting event because of her legislative duties.

That was the case a few years ago when she had to skip a choir concert featuring her youngest daughter, Molly, because of an event in Springfield.

Costa Howard managed to hear the performance with help from her husband, Nick, and a video communication app on their cellphones.

On the other hand, when Molly, now 20, needed a tonsillectomy about two years ago, Costa Howard stayed home to care for her.

"I'm still a mom. I'm still a parent, and it was my responsibility to be there," she said.

Costa Howard's political service began on the Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 board in 2005. Her two older children - Madeline, now 25, and Libby, now 23 - were in elementary school at the time.

Thirteen years later, Costa Howard was elected to the state House, representing the 48th District. She was reelected in 2020, and in 2022 she was elected to represent the 42nd District after boundary lines were redrawn.

State Rep. Terra Costa Howard's family includes Molly, Nick, Madeline and Libby. Courtesy of Terra Costa Howard

A self-described "staunch advocate" for maternal and reproductive health care, Costa Howard said she thinks about her daughters' futures - and the futures of their potential children - when she votes.

"(I want) to make sure they're protected and have a better life," she said.

One such vote was for legislation that improved access to family and medical leave for workers at public schools, community colleges and public universities. Costa Howard championed the legislation, which Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law in 2021.

"It really hit home," she said.

'A big influence'

State Rep. Anna Moeller of Elgin admits she wasn't much of a feminist before her daughters were born.

But the arrivals of Madeline, now 19, and Eleanor, now 17, changed that. In her eight years representing the 43rd House District, Moeller has fought to close the wage gap between men and women, tried to end other types of gender-related discrimination and championed reproductive rights.

State Rep. Anna Moeller of Elgin and her daughters, Eleanor and Madeline, appeared at the 2019 signing of the Reproductive Health Act, which made abortion a right for women. Courtesy of State Rep. Anna Moeller

Moeller also has taken up environmental issues, such as battling climate change and protecting natural resources, since becoming a parent.

"It's had a big influence on how I see the world," she said. "You're leaving a world to these kids that needs improvement."

Moeller served on the Elgin City Council before joining the state House. Her children were much younger then.

"It is challenging to juggle," she said. "But I also felt serving my community would be a good example to my daughters."

Moeller is grateful to be in a position where she can fight for their rights - and the rights of all children.

"They shouldn't have to accept the things that I accepted," she said.

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