Monday, February 21, 2011

So What Do You Do?

Oh how I dread the question, "so what do you do?" Of course when people ask this, they are not referring to your hobbies, volunteer work or the religion you practice. What you do and who you are in our society is usually defined by how you make money, and Americans for the most part don't like to hear that you're not making money.

I'm a straight shooter, so when I first became a stay at home mom, I answered this question confidently with "I'm a stay at home mom"-seems like the obvious answer. Apparently this sentence translates to "I have an IQ of 25", and people assume I must not have anything interesting to say and the conversation dies out before it even gets started. The defensiveness I felt led me to explain "I was a math teacher but I'm taking a few years off right now". Then I would be upset that I even felt defensive about it, and unless the person I was speaking with was another stay at home mom, I usually left the conversation feeling frustrated.

Then I started thinking, a doctor who is not practicing is still a doctor. A lawyer who is not working is still a lawyer. So I must still be a teacher. Now when I get the dreaded question, I've been saying "I'm a math teacher" and if the questioner asks where I teach, I politely explain that I've taken a few years off to be at home with my children. This answer tends to get a more positive response, as well as controls my urge to whip out a calculus problem to prove my brain is still fully intact and I didn't magically lose that college degree when my son was born.

Another stay at home mom, Sandra, quoted in the book The Stay At Home Survival Guide by Melissa Stanton put it like this: "I always give it to them straight and say I'm a homemaker. I tend not to say I'm a lawyer or a cellist unless it comes up. I watch their reactions. It's no loss to me to not spend time with a person who's so stupid as to actually think that because someone cares for the most important asset society has, she has nothing to offer the conversation." Yes a little more blunt than necessary, but true.

On the flip side, I know plenty of employed mothers who feel the need to defend why they are working, especially in the vicinity of stay at home moms, and so I try to go out of my way to show my support and encouragement for them as well. While staying at home with my kids does not make me any less intelligent, working outside of the home does not make another mom any less of a mother for her kids and her family.

Interestingly, I've noticed it's almost always women judging other women based on career choices. I guess we'll know gender equality is finally here when a woman can make any choice she desires for her life without criticism and judgement-especially from other women...


  1. Thank you for your post! I tend to be the mom that beats herself up because she has to work, sometimes even on school's scheduled days off like today.

  2. I loved this post! How right you are! I often feel "pitied" when asked that question at the business dinners I attend with my husband. I often respond by saying that I'm a stay at home mom and a blogger. I also like to add that I love my job! This usually makes the exchange more comfortable.

  3. See, I like going for shock value and I'll typically say "I do lunches and golf... and occasionally, when I'm feeling ambitious, I do some charity work."

    Which is my code for "I run my own business... and it's none of your business."

    "house wife" just doesn't sound interesting enough. And anything you tell them that they are not expecting is going to throw them off guard (in a good way).

  4. I always say proudly that I am blessed to be able to take care of my son as this is one of the most important things I can do in my life.. I do miss my previous work .. but it is not as important as why I do now..