Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Question I Dread as a Stay-At-Home Mom

"What do you do?"...The proverbial conversation starter that leaves me flummoxed every time.
text saying "what do you do?"

 “Um…I’m just at home, taking care of my daughter, Claire,” I said almost apologetically to a woman at a party recently...

Dead silence

So I filled the air with: “I used to be a teacher..What do you do?”

Why did I feel so taken off my center by a complete stranger's question? Why the “just” part? Why did I need to reference my former life at all? Why did I shift the focus off of me?

It’s not as if I don’t think I have anything to say about being a mom. Hell, I’m writing a blog about it!

Part of my unease had to do with the “do” bit. I don’t do mothering. I am a mother.

Plus, no one wants to hear what I do everyday. That’s one of the wild things about parenthood. The daily doingness of it can be banal and mindless. Yet, I do these things for this sublime creature, and will gladly do them over and over again. I don’t want to talk about them over and over again, though.

Nor does everyone at a party want to listen. I'm paranoid that people are going to hear "mom", and think I’m going to trap them into self-absorbed talk about children at any moment. Indeed, a guy at the party did get stuck in just such a conversation. Another woman at the party started talking about how long to breastfeed on each breast. This guy just happened to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Now, me, I was interested in this topic. I'm all about the breast. I'm also mesmerized by every little thing my daughter and other little ones do. My husband too. He actually contributed valuable insight to this conversation. But this single guy in his 30’s? I doubt he was that interested. Talking about babies is an acquired taste.

Likewise, the single woman who I rendered speechless with my latest career as a SAHM. I do understand her, completely and utterly. I used to be her, living in New York City. Manhattan is supposed to be exciting, an exotic place of adventure and surprise. Each night is supposed to hold endless possibility. When I was her, I didn’t want to hear about things like nighttime feedings either. Discussions about the night needed to be about the next party not the party in the diaper.

So there it is – I am now the woman who ruins the mystique of Manhattan for single people.

Really, I am so happy to be Claire’s mom. I don’t miss the career I left behind. Clearly, I have what's referred to as a "first-world problem" here. Still, that type of changing of the guard stings a bit.

Just you wait until Claire's old enough to find Manhattan an exotic place of adventure and surprise. I'm sure I'll be tons of fun then…

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  1. You have got to read this article I just shared on fb- it's perfect for this post!! Let me go find it, hold on!

    Here it is- you will LOVE it!!

  2. "Plus, no one wants to hear what I do everyday. ... I don’t want to talk about them over and over again, though."

    This has got to be one of the truest paragraphs ever written about parenting. When I was still finding my feet in this stay-at-home-parent game, my wife would ask me why I didn't want to go talk to the other parents. And *this* was why. The doing is exhausting enough. Talking about the doing -- ugh.

  3. I'm staying home with my little one right now so I can raise her myself to the Manhattan Socialite of my DREAMS! Sorry, I'm indulging myself w/a response I'd never give (but would love to, just to see the reaction...of course it would be send with huge enthusiasm). :)

    I gave up a career w/verydecentbux to stay home. I still feel guilty. Not guilty for my decision, but guilty for how others view my decision, like it's less than wonderful.

    My son's in K now, so hubby wants me to go back (different state now, an hour and a half drive each way). I want to stay home or move back to Florida (where it's warm and I don't have to spend so much time on a commute). Mostly, I want to stay home. I like volunteering at every school party, picking my son up, and being here every second for the kids. It's not in the cards, I know, but that would be my preference, if I had a real choice. :)

  4. I'm not a mom but I hate getting that question because I'm a stay at home wife.

  5. This happens to me all the time. Whenever I tell someone I'm a SAHM, there's an awkward silence - presumably because I'm being given time to explain how I could have made this decision!

  6. It's interesting how this has transitioned for me now that I have gone back to work. It's crazy having to constantly feel like you are justifying one way to be a stay at home mom, or now, a working mom. It's RIDICULOUS!
    It's a battle either way.

    Hugs to you mama.

    1. Lanaya made an interesting point here! I don't remember anyone ever, not even once, questioning me when I worked full-time and had kids...but as a stay-at-home mom judgment is always close under the surface (or glaringly on top of it). I can't help but wonder now, if in certain contexts moms are judging moms for working!! So silly (either way), isn't it???

  7. "I'm all about the breast." LOL! I imagine this would be a tough question, because so much of who we are is wrapped up in what we DO, and you're right, a lot of the doing of mothering is not terribly glamorous. Have you read All Joy and No Fun? She writes about this difference between the lived experience of parenthood, and the remembered experience of it…. I suppose it's not directly related to what you wrote, but it made me think of it.

    And I do think it can go both ways for moms… when I tell people that I work, they almost always ask where my kids are during the day, and they are in a daycare center and then I feel like I have to justify how many awards the center has won and how expensive it is to not feel like a selfish mother who works and neglects her children. Ahhh, motherhood….

  8. It is hard. After 11 years as a SAHM, I still struggle to answer that question. Although I am comfortable with my choice, I do still sometimes lack a sense of accomplishment and purpose. I still feel "less than" those who have a career. If I did, some would probably criticize my choice to work and levee kids with a nanny or daycare. It's a now-win situation~

  9. Yeah, I get this too. Although I work now, it's part time and it's not the same as regaling people with my impressive title because I just don't even care...I care about being a mom to my son, and to fighting for rights for his needs, and and and. I mean, I miss old me sometimes, but not really. Although I used to hold SAHMs in contempt a bit, as a younger, unmarried, childless career woman. I thought they were pathetic. I was dumb. So are the people who judge us now.
    Nothing changes life more than becoming a mom. I love this, Rachel!!!

  10. I remember this well before I went back to work part-time. But even now. I say, I'm "just" working part-time. Or I'm "just" writing a little on the side. Etc. Meanwhile, sleep is elusive. And the myth of the perfect mother (who stays at home!) is exalted. Very confusing.

  11. Oh, like everyone else, I get it! And I am at a total loss now when I need to answer this question, because I'm neither. I am at home, but I'm looking for work I don't want to find, I'm starting a business but what I most passionately talk about is my blog, because of the same reasons you mention. It's about the kids and that's basically what I want to talk about but am similarly fearful of entrapping innocent passers by. Can so relate to the "just" part. It has to do with growing up in a certain culture. I can't remember the title of the book on Brilliant Book Club which Deb, Steph and Sarah reviewed. It had to do with competitiveness and being raised in a society that puts such an emphasis on academic excellence. It is overwhelmingly confusing to make the choice of altering the rules by which you're going to play, while there are still other players around that are sticking to the old protocol.

  12. Okay this is going to sound awful but recently on Linked in an acquaintance I know tried to "link". Her title was Household CEO. Guilty I chuckled and didn't link b/c to me Linked In isn't for that type of social experience.
    However she has a point. You are the CEO of your home. You don't take a day off, you think of the company every minute of the day, you use your former career as the foundation of this new venture in providing Claire the best experience possible (and patience, dear God are you patient). On top of it all people think you have this fabulous life filled with bon bons and naps, just like the CEO of Microsoft. But you know the truth is in the diaper not the nap.
    Part of what we woman did as a society was take the term homemaker and make it a bad thing. Making the home is the most important job out there and I fail at it often. Like today. And yesterday and tomorrow. But YOU do it my friend. And because you are a stay at homemaker you have the time, resources and (again) patience to make your home the best-run company out there.
    I think you need to eliminate the "just". Instead say, I am THE homemaker, which thankfully my former career of teacher gave me the experience to handle it. What do you do?

  13. I am probably an embarrassment to the SAHM culture, and maybe you won't like this.
    But I always say I'm a SAHM and a writer. It's great because I get the best of both worlds. I get to be with my son AND write.
    Now of course they don't realize that being a SAHM somehow means less time to write. But that's there problem.
    Because the fact is you (and I) are both of those things. You are an amazing writer has contributed so much, so don't forget that when you even think of using the word "just".
    (not that just being a SAHM is a problem :-) )

  14. when i was single, i was the same way. i'd roll my eyes at mommies and stay at home moms because they can get really engrossed in their children's lives. it's kinda like, "seriously, do you have a life outside of play dates and feedings? can't we talk current events?" so i totally get it. but now that i'm a mommy-to-be, i can spend hours talking to moms about all the questions i have!

  15. Oh, that maddening "just"- why do we do that? My friend was just asked that question by a single woman in her 20s and when she replied, "SAHM," the woman replied, "Well that doesn't sound very glamorous." Huh? What? Who says that? It really made my blood boil. Glamorous, indeed not. But is it worth it to try to explain the joy and value and worth of being a mother to someone who measures career satisfaction in terms of glamour? Probably not.

  16. I did not choose to be a stay at home mom. I had to because of medical reasons and I will be honest, I get embarrassed when people ask me what I'm doing. I feel like I'm unimportant. I really do. I know that I shouldn't because being a stay at home mom is a really hard job. I guess what I'm saying here is that I always think about what others think of me and in turn, I hate that question.

  17. This topic has been getting a lot of buzz lately. I always wonder how people with kids DON'T understand what people who stay at do. Like, don't you ever watch your kids for a few days in a row? Don't you have some vacation time or off days when you are responsible for caring for your children full time? Or don't you watch them when you get home? You do the same thing, except more of it....

  18. I'm:
    -raising the people who will pay your social security
    -badger wrastlin'
    -in survival training
    -raising future policy makers. Hope yer a Democrat, fool.
    -starting my own "in home" zoo

    Yeah, that's what I'm doing. ;)


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