My Jew­ish father always said that you should aspire to change another’s life in a pos­i­tive way. The con­cept is known as tikkun olam, which rough­ly trans­lates as, in some way, repair the world.” That idea was instilled in me from an ear­ly age, and I was deter­mined to apply the con­cept to my family.

That fam­i­ly of mine start­ed off in 1970 when I became the first sin­gle woman in the Unit­ed States to adopt a for­eign child. My first adop­tion was a sev­en-year-old child from Korea. The sec­ond was a lit­tle girl from Vietnam.

There was so much inter­est around the top­ic that in 1976 I authored a book, They Came to Stay. It was an unex­pect­ed hit and was cred­it­ed with rais­ing aware­ness for adop­tion, not only inter­na­tion­al­ly but domes­ti­cal­ly as well.

Although I was a busy TV reporter, I was also hav­ing to cope with being the sin­gle par­ent of chil­dren from diverse cul­tures. One of my pri­or­i­ties was to share with them the impor­tance of embrac­ing their her­itage and reli­gious beliefs and respect­ing peo­ple of all faiths and backgrounds.

In 1979 I mar­ried a Jew­ish mem­ber of Con­gress and my fam­i­ly grew expo­nen­tial­ly as my hus­band had four daugh­ters from a pre­vi­ous mar­riage. We then had two bio­log­i­cal chil­dren and short­ly there­after made room for an immi­grant fam­i­ly of five from Viet­nam. They lived with us for twen­ty-five years.

My hus­band had learned ear­ly on the impor­tance of respect­ing the faiths of oth­ers while pre­serv­ing his own Jew­ish her­itage; his father an Ortho­dox Jew who owned a gro­cery store locat­ed in a pre­dom­i­nant­ly Chris­t­ian neigh­bor­hood. He was known for feed­ing the home­less and tak­ing care of oth­ers who were less for­tu­nate, which also taught him the impor­tance of chang­ing another’s life in a pos­i­tive way.

With so many fam­i­ly mem­bers from a myr­i­ad of dif­fer­ent back­grounds and beliefs now liv­ing under the same roof, we com­mit­ted to observ­ing hol­i­days in accor­dance with many cul­tures and reli­gions. Although my hus­band and I were both Jew­ish and cel­e­brat­ed Yom Kip­pur, Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah, and Passover, we added in Christ­mas, East­er, and Lunar New Year. The chil­dren went to Sun­day schools, both Catholic and Jew­ish, and there were many ecu­meni­cal wed­dings. It was an organ­ic way to make every­one feel includ­ed while also expos­ing the fam­i­ly to oth­er belief systems.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t con­fu­sion along the way. Vu, now an anes­the­si­ol­o­gist, and the youngest mem­ber of the Viet­namese fam­i­ly, was con­flict­ed because his devout Catholic moth­er fre­quent­ly expressed her hopes of his becom­ing a priest. One day, after one of her entreaties, he con­fid­ed to me, I don’t want to become a priest. All my friends are hav­ing bar mitz­vahs. I want to have one too!” That was the end of his path to a Roman Col­lar. He was already well versed in say­ing the HaMotzi.

My expe­ri­ence as the moth­er of eleven diverse chil­dren as well as my role as fam­i­ly peace­mak­er pre­pared me to tran­si­tion from the con­flicts of one house to those of the House of Representatives.

My eleven chil­dren are now grown, and I have twen­ty-one grand­chil­dren. The lit­tle ones say the most hilar­i­ous and unex­pect­ed things. Spend­ing time with them always reminds me of the fun, laugh­ter, ideas, and val­ues that three gen­er­a­tions of my fam­i­ly now have in com­mon. This is what led me to write my lat­est book, And How Are the Chil­dren? Time­less Lessons from the Front­lines of Moth­er­hood. Pick­ing up where the orig­i­nal book left off, it explores my life as a par­ent in a blend­ed mul­ti­cul­tur­al fam­i­ly, my pas­sion for empow­er­ing women around the world, and my work in the polit­i­cal universe.

It was nev­er my inten­tion to run for polit­i­cal office. My pro­fes­sion­al ambi­tions had been ful­filled as a cor­re­spon­dent for NBC and its affil­i­ates. I had a demand­ing job, a sprawl­ing home with an ever-chang­ing num­ber of occu­pants, and a hus­band who had held polit­i­cal office and was also active in local and nation­al pol­i­tics. In my mind, one politi­cian in the fam­i­ly was more than enough.

How­ev­er, in 1991 I began to hear a steady buzz that I throw my hat in the ring. Per­haps it was because I had a famil­iar name from so many years on the air, com­bined with the fact that I spent a lot of time in Wash­ing­ton and was mar­ried to a politi­cian so I knew the ropes. At first I ignored the sug­ges­tion, but the drum­beat grew loud­er. It was always the same ques­tion, Would you con­sid­er run­ning in the pri­ma­ry for the seat as the demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date for the House?”

As you can imag­ine, a polit­i­cal cam­paign is an invest­ment for the entire fam­i­ly. Every­one is impact­ed and, it goes with­out say­ing, they will be thrust into the pub­lic eye. We held a fam­i­ly meet­ing and dis­cussed the pros and cons of the oppor­tu­ni­ty. The con­sen­sus from adults and chil­dren alike was that I should give it a shot.

This was def­i­nite­ly an uphill bat­tle because I was run­ning in a large­ly Repub­li­can dis­trict. For­tu­nate­ly, the cam­paign gen­er­at­ed a flur­ry of cov­er­age because my sto­ry seemed to have media appeal — first sin­gle per­son to adopt inter­na­tion­al­ly, a blend­ed fam­i­ly of eleven chil­dren, a hus­band involved in pol­i­tics, and a tele­vi­sion jour­nal­ist. That it hap­pened to be The Year of the Woman, didn’t hurt either and gave us an added advan­tage. frankly I was shocked when I won. In fact, I only brought a con­ces­sion speech with me on elec­tion night. I had always con­tend­ed you can’t win if you’re not pre­pared to lose.”

Sud­den­ly, I was thrust into the polit­i­cal whirl­wind of Capi­tol Hill. Div­ing head­long into the mael­strom I can only say how grate­ful I was that my expe­ri­ence as the moth­er of eleven diverse chil­dren as well as my role as fam­i­ly peace­mak­er pre­pared me to tran­si­tion from the con­flicts of one house to those of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Fam­i­ly medi­a­tion skills served me well in the polit­i­cal uni­verse where get­ting things done means work­ing with elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives from every faith and creed, and where divi­sive­ness and dis­agree­ments are the norm rather than the excep­tion. I felt right at home. I also real­ized I had been giv­en the enor­mous respon­si­bil­i­ty of con­tin­u­ing to ful­fill my father’s cre­do of tikkun olam, to repair the world and to help change lives, but now on a much grander scale. In the House I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make a dif­fer­ence and to work on the issues I cared so much about, such as cli­mate change, gun safe­ty, domes­tic vio­lence, and wom­ens’ equality.

In 1994 Democ­rats went down in flames. I accom­pa­nied them. I lost my reelec­tion bid and the defeat stung, but I quick­ly made peace with the pain and felt con­tent with all I had accom­plished leg­isla­tive­ly in a short peri­od of time. Soon there­after I head­ed the US del­e­ga­tion to the Unit­ed Nations’ Fourth World Con­fer­ence on Women in Bei­jing and sub­se­quent­ly found­ed Women’s Cam­paign Inter­na­tion­al (WCI), a non-prof­it, I still run which has been active­ly train­ing women of many faiths and back­grounds from more than fifty coun­tries to active­ly par­tic­i­pate in pub­lic advo­ca­cy and the polit­i­cal process.

One thing I have learned from all these expe­ri­ences, whether in my own home, the Hill, or in coun­tries around the globe is that, dif­fer­ent though we may be, there is far more that unites than divides us. I con­tin­ue to try to make a dif­fer­ence in peo­ples’ lives and it makes me proud that my chil­dren and grand­chil­dren con­tin­ue our fam­i­ly tra­di­tion to repair the world” in their own unique and impact­ful ways. For me, tikkun olam goes on.

Mar­jorie Mar­golies is a for­mer mem­ber of Con­gress from Penn­syl­va­nia, a jour­nal­ist, a wom­en’s rights advo­cate, and a serendip­i­tous moth­er many times over. She is per­haps best remem­bered for being the first unmar­ried Amer­i­can to adopt a for­eign child and for cast­ing the decid­ing vote in favor of Pres­i­dent Clin­ton’s 1993 bud­get, the Omnibus Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Act. Born in Philadel­phia, Mar­golies grad­u­at­ed from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia. She worked as a jour­nal­ist with NBC and its owned and oper­at­ed sta­tions for 25 years, win­ning five Emmy Awards. Run­ning as a Demo­c­rat, she was elect­ed to rep­re­sent the tra­di­tion­al­ly Repub­li­can 13th Dis­trict of Penn­syl­va­nia in Con­gress. She was also the deputy chair of the Unit­ed States del­e­ga­tion to the Unit­ed Nations Fourth World Con­fer­ence for Women in Bei­jing in 1995. As a result of that expe­ri­ence, she found­ed Wom­en’s Cam­paign Inter­na­tion­al (WCI), an orga­ni­za­tion that pro­vides empow­er­ment train­ing for women around the world. She is cur­rent­ly a fac­ul­ty mem­ber at the Annen­berg School of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia, and at last count, her fam­i­ly con­sist­ed of 11 chil­dren and 21 grandchildren.