Running for office as the primary caregiver of two small children isn't easy—and Liuba Grechen Shirley isn't pretending otherwise.
In a new campaign ad released on Wednesday, the first in her bid to unseat longtime Republican incumbent Peter King in New York's 2nd congressional district, Grechen Shirley puts her two toddlers at the forefront. The ad opens on her son, Nicholas, playing in the living room as Grechen Shirley delivers her campaign pitch in a voiceover. "I am the mom of two small children, I'm the daughter of a public school teacher who raised me on her own, and I'm the daughter of immigrants," Grechen Shirley says.
Grechen Shirley appears in the living room to scoop up her son, bringing him to the kitchen where her campaign staff is working. She takes a quick call and then turns to receive her daughter Mila, who runs up to hand her a drawing.
This is what it looks like to run for office in 2018 as a mother, Grechen Shirley says.
"Women candidates sometimes shy away from talking about motherhood, but it's a huge part of who I am," Grechen Shirley tells Broadly. "My children were my biggest hesitation about running for office, but in the end they were the biggest reason I decided to do it. I want to create a safer and more equitable country for them."
Grechen Shirley discovered pretty quickly after launching her campaign that her children would play a major part. Before her run for King's seat, Grechen Shirley was a full-time mom, a job she couldn't put on hold.
Earlier this year, Grechen Shirley petitioned the Federal Election Commission to use her campaign funds to pay for childcare, without which, she argued, she wouldn't be able to run for office—especially if she planned to unseat a 13-term incumbent.
"Our babysitter is just as important as my campaign manager or my finance director," Grechen Shirley told Newsweek in April. "She's just as integral, and she's paid as staff. I couldn't run my campaign without her."
After getting a boost from sitting congresswomen and Hillary Clinton, who penned letters of support to the FEC, the commission granted Grechen Shirley's request, paving the way for women candidates across the country to do the same. Since then, two members of the New York City Council have introduced legislation to enshrine the FEC's decision to allow candidates to use campaign funds for childcare in city law, and lawmakers in Massachusetts are considering similar legislation on the state level. In Texas, the state ethics commission will soon rule on Wichita County Commissioner candidate Catie Robinson's individual request, and a congressional candidate in Alabama, Democrat Jennifer Gray, won her case in June.
"The FEC ruling will change the landscape of candidates we see running," Grechen Shirley says in her campaign video. "It'll break down barriers and will allow the average everyday American running for office."
For Grechen Shirley, talking about motherhood creates an entry point to discuss the other issues she's campaigning on, like Medicare for All, women's health care and economic equality. Parents, she says, can be uniquely positioned to lead on these issues.
"So many people think, and I was one of them, that running for office with small kids isn’t possible," Grechen Shirley says on the phone. "But we need more women, moms, dads with young children, and people from working class backgrounds in Congress—people who know what it's like not to have access to paid family leave and affordable childcare. We should have a government that’s actually representative of our society."