So, What Do You Do?

Stay-at-home moms unite in our struggle for legitimacy!

I was at a birthday party today for a friend’s daughter who turned 5. Most of the kids there were from her school class. To make matters a little more complicated, my friend’s family was there, and I hadn’t seen them in about fifteen years.

Three times I was asked, “So, what do you do now? Do you work?” (The last time they saw me I was still a senior in high school.)

I was somewhat at a loss of what to say. Where do I even begin to explain what I’m up to these days without a ton of background and explanation?

Plus, I really, really wasn’t in the mood to talk about homeschooling. I knew that once homeschooling became the topic, that’s all I’d talk about. And, to be honest, it was a little more than refreshing to be around a group of people that have no idea that I’m Ms. Homeschool Edumacator.

Then, when the question of “what do you do?” came up, I didn’t know what to say without saying homeschooling. I mean, I do a ton of things. I do what I want. And I love it. But, it’s not a job. And, the few jobs I do have going on right now are just a small part of the big picture.

“I’m a freelance writer and I’m writing a book,” I replied. My response was met with three unenthusiastic “oh”s. So I quickly added. “And I’m just a mom. “Just”, with quotes. Ha ha.”

No laughter. No smiles. Nothing.

It was weird. I didn’t know where to go with it without drudging up all the stuff I do. Essentially, my life cannot be summed up with one small group of words. I need many, many words to explain what I do. I need to know someone for a while before the scope and completeness of my life is obvious. (And I tend to gravitate towards others who are similar in that respect.)

Because I hadn’t seen these people in a while, I wanted to sum it up in a quick one-two sentence. But I couldn’t.

On the one hand, I was put off-guard—something that doesn’t happen very often. But, after thinking about it for a while, I came to the conclusion that this is a GOOD thing. This means I’m living my life true to my beliefs. True to myself.

I have said here at JE that to live a full and powerful life, it’s important to do what we love, and to spend our time in a way that makes the moments count, and create awesome memories. That’s what I’m doing. And that’s why it’s so hard to sum up my life in a few words. My life is complex, wonderful and full.

So I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to say the next time I meet someone and they ask me “What do you do?” I’m going to answer, “I manipulate words for fun and profit.” When they ask, “Do you have a job?” I’ll say, “No. I don’t have time for a job.”

I just wish that when I’m put on the spot, I could come up with these genius strokes of words. But I guess, that’s why I’m an writer and not an impromptu actor or radio personality.

Who do I have to impress anyway when I’m answering these questions? The only person who I really need to impress is myself. If I answer in a way that makes me happy, and is true to who I am, that’s what matters. (Of course, So long as I don’t hurt anyone else in the process.)
Now, next time I’m in a weirdo situation, hopefully I’ll remember all this, instead of going on auto-pilot and blurting out whatever my brain can muster. Got any ideas on how to deal with that? Fellow zenners perhaps? Or fellow amateur psychologists? Anyone BTDT?

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11 Responses to “So, What Do You Do?”

  1. Shawna Says:

    BTDT LOL After I began staying at home and after I wrote my book, I too did not know how to answer such questions. It felt strange to say writer, because, well…it was merely one book; and saying SAHM just seemed lame as there was really so much more that I did than stay at home.

    I eventually left my answer at writer simply to avoid too much chit chat or personal questions, unless I felt up too it. But I love your answer that you are too busy for work! That is GREAT!!!

  2. Dawn Says:

    Hi, my name is Dawn.
    I am a facilitator of human development and resources for the Gibson group.
    I often work in logistics and scheduling as well as preparing for in house educational opportunities for the members of the group.
    Many times I am called in to mediate during disputes between co workers.
    I work closely with the CEO of the Gibson group and my opinion is highly valued.
    My pay isn’t really commensurate for the long hours of service I put in, but that is balanced by the excellent benefits package I receive.

    Three cheers for moms everywhere!!!!!!

  3. arun Says:

    Unfortunately there is so much definition/ status / ego tied up in the seemingly innocent question of “what do you do?”

    When asked our midwife used to just answer “oh, Im Jan… Im busy being Jan” (Jan was her name). I often think i should just respond to such questions with “Im Arun… its full time work you know”.

  4. Sheri Says:

    Hi Tammy,

    Can so relate to this. I’ve been a SAHM for about 12 years and only started homeschooling this year. It has always been awkward for me to answer the question “what do you do”?

    It really is stupid that we even get asked at all. Forty or fifty years ago, it would have been assumed that if a woman had children then she was a Mom and that was that.

    Now it’s as though being a Mom isn’t enough, particularly if your children are school aged and in school. “You mean you don’t work?”

    Just because my children were in school all day doesn’t mean I didn’t work. I also found that it wasn’t enough for me to reply, “Well, I don’t work outside the home.”

    Most of my job as a SAHM requires me to be “outside”. Groceries, errands, trips to the park, gardening etc…

    I think honestly that the issues we have with answering this simple and seemingly innocuous question stems from unjustified guilt. At least for me.

    Most of, okay ALL of my friends, including my sister, HAVE to work outside the home. Their personal circumstances require them to take paying jobs outside the home in order to make ends meet.

    Subsequently, I feel almost ashamed when asked what I do because I know that most people don’t have the choice to stay home.

    I do the same things they do as a parent…the only difference is that I don’t have a paying job on top of that.

    What gets me really is my reluctance to complain no matter how bad my day was. Sometimes I really want to just bitch and moan but the blank stares from my friends when I do tells me, they don’t get it.

    How hard can it be to be home all day and have nothing to do but take of your home and kids?

    I love Arun’s idea, “I’m Sheri and that in itself is a full time job.”

  5. Carol Says:

    It’s how you say your title, not the title itself that counts. It’s been my experience that folks are impressed with my job title (Mom, Homeschooler, etc.) when I say it with pride and confidence. It doesn’t hurt to have a ‘mom’ business card handy for such occasions either!

  6. Summer Says:

    I’m a jack of all trades. I do some writing, cooking, teaching, and arts. it gives me enough free time to actively pursue any hobbies that spark my interest without worrying about how it will affect our homelife. 🙂

  7. onlysometimesclever Says:

    I’m so with you.

    I have the solution for you: Have more kids!! 😀 I’m kidding. Sort of. When I was a SAHM to “just” one, or even “just” two, I got those weird looks that said, “What? Nothing more prestigious? You’re spending your brains doing what?? Making no money?? And what do you do all day??”

    Now, I say, “I’m a stay-at-home homeschooling mom of four.” That usually meets with widened eyes and, “Wow, you must be busy.”

    Like you, my life is so full, and I’m so pleased that I get to do what I’m doing. It’s very fulfilling, and it’s what I *want* to do, and it’s darn hard work. And, I think it’s so much more worthwhile than many of the other jobs out there, even though the pay is less.

    When I was pregnant with my third, a neighbor expressed surprise. “Wow. We’d like to have kids one day, when we can afford it.” This couple were DINKs in a 2500 sf, 4 bedroom house, with a *huge* RV, 2 quads, 2 jet skis, and drove really nice cars on lease, changing them so often I could hardly keep track of what they were driving. It was right then, at that moment, that I felt immediately relieved of the burden I’d felt of not being a “productive” member of society. I felt absolute relief that I was NOT in a job just working for “stuff,” feeling like I could never afford kids. I, at that moment, felt like the luckiest woman in the world.

    Maybe you’ll have a moment like that, Tammy (or maybe you already have, and you need to remind yourself!!), to relieve yourself of that search for legitimacy, and *know* that what you’re doing is truly, absolutely worthwhile.

    What DOES bug me is that, as SAHMs, our legitimacy is questioned by our society. SAHMs everywhere should be lauded, not made to feel as if they have to excuse or justify their existence.

  8. SAHMs unite for legitimacy!! « Only Sometimes Clever Says:

    […] Parenting, Motherhood, Homeschooling, The Kids — onlysometimesclever @ 4:17 pm I LOVE this post by […]

  9. Lill Says:

    I have wacky moods where I answer that question by saying I’m a freelance lingerie model. I say this with a straight face and if you saw a photo of me, you’d realize how unlikely this is. So far though, no one has questioned me on it. They just change the subject. Once, I told a very conservative woman that I couldn’t work because I was too busy being my husband’s love slave. When people ask me what I am, rather than what I do, I tell them that what I am is happy and start questioning them about their lives. That always works, because most people want to talk about themselves anyway.

    Shine On,
    Lill

  10. Helen Says:

    I can relate to this post so much. I’ve been in this position so many times over the past 19 months and have had people been quite rude to me and insistently question why I’m “not working”. I lost my job because I had a baby and I used to confess this then I realised people were looking down on me even further. What I particularly hate is the statement: “You’re back at work now, of course.” Then I have to stutter and explain – shock, horror, idle old me – no, I’m not. When this is the busiest I’ve been in my entire life! Now I just try to say as little as possible, I’ll say: “No, I’m not back in paid work and don’t intend to go back in the near future.” If the person wants to look down on me then fine. I just hate feeling as if I need to explain or excuse my decisions.

    My husband has had people looking down on him because of his job and now, when someone asks him the “what do you do?” question with a dodgy attitude, he says: “I stick the stickers on apples and oranges in the supermarket”. Maybe that’s one to try next time!

  11. I never learn Says:

    So, if being a mom is a full-time job, does your husband have 2 full-time jobs? Or is being a dad just a hobby?

    And what about women who can’t afford to stay home? Should they not have children, or just feel ashamed about sending their kids to school?


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