The Cost & The Opportunity: My Decision to Run for Office With Three Small Children

by Sam Melden

(*Originally appeared in the June Edition of Toledo Area Parent. See more here.)

Running for political office is a big decision. It is a big commitment, and quite an undertaking. So when I announced my run for Toledo City Council, it wasn’t my decision alone. My wife and I had several, meaningful and intentional conversation about what the commitment was going to be like, and how much of a challenge it would be for our family. There would have to be boundaries, limits and hard lines in the sand. Because, even if running for office is a huge commitment, it pales in comparison to raising children. So my wife and I had to talk.

Conversation concerning cost and opportunity

What is the cost? What is the opportunity? How do you decide to pursue something that is going to take so much of your valuable time? Our kids are only small once, which is what makes any time we spend away from them quite costly. It’s a sacrifice.

While that’s true, isn’t is also true that everything worth doing requires sacrifice? It requires collaboration, more hands and more energy coming together. When people I know start a company of some kind, from a restaurant to a private law practice, if they work 85 hours a week,often it receives a much more gracious response than I have heard about running for office. Most people ask me “Why would you want to do that?” Or, less subtly, “Are you crazy?” Now, it would take another column to break down all of the baggage that is being dropped off with those words, but for now I want to talk about a few ways to pursue large commitment while staying true to our primary commitment as parents.When pursuing something with such a large cost there are a couple ideas or even mantras that I try to hold close:

Be Where You Are

If I am working late, I work late. If I’m home with the kids, I’m home with the kids. We live in a world that demands multi-tasking. And yet, as parents we know that our kids aren’t looking for an evening of watching us reply to emails or sitting behind a laptop screen at the dinner table. Our kids need us with them when we are with them. Presence is about the only thing we really have to give our children, so when we are with them we can’t afford to let ourselves be there only in bodily form. Put the phone down, leave it in your car if you have to. Sit on the floor with them. Or just find them in the house when you get home and walk into their environment and join in. Nothing shocks us out of our adult, productivity rhythms like an impromptu tea party or jumping into a kids book.

Bring Them Along

This could mean a few things. First, if you are juggling a busy schedule there are probably opportunities to bring your kids along for the ride. However, throwing them in the car on your way to an event or a meeting is different than really bringing them along. To bring your kids with you requires that we talk with them before, during and after the event. Give them some understanding of what you are going to do. Let them soak it in. And then ask good questions when it’s over. I have been so pleased at how my older girls have responded after they have processing different events we’ve attended. They take in different pieces, and let their tiny little steel-trap memories play it back over the next few days and weeks. All of this adds up and equals a true team-effort.

There is one last thing I should say about our process for deciding to take on such a large task while staying true to our primary task as parents. We both understood two things: it is lopsided, and it is temporary. My wife gets to stay home with our girls, and we are thankful for that. But this decision means even more of a burden on her time and energy. However, the second piece is crucial as well: it is temporary. There will be an election date, and after that, once I’m elected the rhythm will change again.

The rhythm is always changing. But in the midst of the changes if I can be present to my children, and bring them along and share pieces of my life with them at any and every age… I think I will look back with pride on what turned out to be a family endeavor. What an opportunity we have to discover such a blessing.