Closing The Gap

FTC commissioner's message to working parents after testifying while breastfeeding: 'The stress is real'

Federal Trade Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter participates in a privacy roundtable at CES 2020 at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 7, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
David Becker | Getty Images News | Getty Images

On August 5, Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter of the Federal Trade Commission received widespread praise on social media for testifying before the Senate, via video call, while breastfeeding her newborn baby. 

CNBC's Washington deputy bureau chief Mary Catherine Wellons captured the moment that was live streamed on the Senate's website and shared it on Twitter, with Commissioner Slaughter responding saying that the reality for working parents today is that "our responsibilities don't organize themselves around our work schedules, especially during the pandemic."

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Slaughter, who was testifying about the FTC's role in supporting kids, working adults and health-care patients during this time, was met with kind reactions from reporters and political leaders, including Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) who complimented her daughter's "beautiful head of hair" and said how "well-behaved" she was. 

Since early March, many parents have been tasked with the overwhelming responsibility of juggling both work life and home life all in the same place as schools, day-care centers and offices remain closed for extended periods of time due to the coronavirus.

Slaughter, a mom of four, has served as a Federal Trade commissioner since May 2018 and tells CNBC Make It that like many working parents, she is feeling the stress of today's pandemic and has often been left with no choice but to tend to her kids' needs while also doing work.

"When the Senate Commerce Committee asked us if we were available for a hearing, I candidly tried to figure out what my options were and they were either tell them that I was unavailable because I was taking leave with my baby or try to find a way to have my husband or someone else care for the baby during the hearing," she says. "But with a newborn that's really hard, and it would've meant that I would have had to be pumping or dealing with hearing a crying baby in another room. That didn't seem like an ideal option and it also didn't seem like a real option."

Slaughter, who is the first sitting commissioner to have a baby while in office, says she's mindful of the message she sends to other parents in her department about taking time off for family. That's why, she says, when she had her baby a little over two months ago, she was adamant about taking maternity leave though it had never been done before. 

"My office did some research and we couldn't find an example of another sitting commissioner who had a baby while she was in office so there wasn't a lot of precedent to go off of," she says, while explaining that she's still on maternity leave now and only took a short break for the Senate hearing. "I think it's really important for women in leadership positions to set a tone and send a message that it's acceptable and appropriate and important for you to be able to take time with your baby and your family and care for your responsibilities. I think it's important for women to be able to do it and I think it's important for men to be able to do it."

As a Senate-confirmed appointee who is sitting in a public role, Slaughter says she hopes that her decision to transparently show her life as a working mom will send a message to other working parents that "if you're struggling, I'm right there with you."

"And, I have all the resources imaginable," she says. "Candidly, I had a period this spring where I thought maybe I should quit my job because I have all these kids at home. I'm not doing a good job taking care of them. I don't feel like I'm doing a good job at my job while I'm trying to do both. And, there are a lot of tears on everybody's part and that feels terrible. It feels terrible. And the stress is real."

Moving forward, Slaughter says she hopes that working parents receive more support from the government and their employers by having greater access to affordable child care, access to long-term workplace flexibility and access to paid parental leave.

"I think our country has a long way to go to help support working families," she says. "And setting an example is part of that for me."

CNBC Make It is NOW STREAMING on Peacock. Find our original programming in the Channels section.

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