January 2010

Just a Mom

Author: Mary Frances

I secretly struggle with how to answer the question, “And what do you do?” I think it really began when my first child was one years old. My husband and I had recently relocated to Florida for his job. We had moved to this really cute, historic town which had sidewalks throughout the neighborhood and parks on nearly every corner. We lived about three blocks from the Shops of Avondale which had darling boutiques and delicious restaurants. A friend from Georgia was visiting and we decided to put our son in the stroller and walk to the Shops, as it was known, and get dinner. We were sitting there enjoying a meal and catching up with our old friend when I spotted another old friend that I knew from college. It was great to run into him. I introduced him to my husband and our Georgia buddy. There we were sitting at this table with a toddler in a highchair and catching up. He asked us what brought us to Florida and therefore the employment talk began. “What do you do?”, he asked my husband. Then he looked at our friend and asked, “What do you do?”. Then he never asked me what I did for a living.

After dinner on our walk back home I told the guys that I was a bit offended that he didn’t ask me what I did for a living. He knew that I had higher education; he knew that I had career aspirations; he knew me when I was studying to become something. And yet he saw me with a baby and he never asked what I did for a living. Then the statement was made to me by my husband of “Well, you ARE a mom. What were you planning to tell him? Why are you offended that he didn’t ask you what you did for a living?” I think I was speechless for a while. My husband didn’t say anything wrong but still I felt erased. Had he forgotten that I had worked really hard for 3 of the world’s largest companies and that I used to be the bread winner? I told them both that I was not sure how I would have answered the question but the point was that it was rude to not ask. It was presumptuous and that I hoped that if they were ever in the same situation as he, that they would always ask the lady what she did for a living even if she had a baby in her presence.

Okay, I look back on the situation many years later and I think maybe I was a bit sensitive. Maybe I was struggling with my own identity of what I had sacrificed for my family and I felt invisible. I wanted to be recognized for my contributions. Turns out I am not alone. Stay at home moms need recognition. For years we clean bottoms, clean clothes, clean house, wipe runny noses, wipe away tears (their and our own) and crave a pat on the back. Even though I recognize the fact that I was excessively sensitive it left an imprint on me. And I still wonder 9 years later how do I answer the question “What do you do?”. I have heard other women say, “I’m just a mom” and I know I have answered the same way. Every time I hear myself or someone else say it I feel like we have just been demoted. I feel erased, insignificant and not really worthy. Perhaps it is the word JUST. I don’t really know what it is but if you have answered this question or heard someone describe you or another as “Just a mom” then you do know what I am talking about.

How do I answer the question what do you do for a living without shrinking the significance of it and without exaggerating the significance of motherhood? I read an email once about a women who was asked on her drivers license application to write her occupation. She answered something like, CEO of Human Research and Development. It was a cute email about how moms run the house, pay the bills, feed the family, and raise small people into significant contributors to the world. However, my point is that she didn’t want to answer the question of occupation with Homemaker, Housewife, Stay at Home Mom because it makes her feel like her contribution is not enough. It also sometimes comes across as if she is privileged. She might be considered well off, pampered, spoiled or even dumb. The email proved to me that I was not alone in not knowing how to justify what I do for a living without feeling like I have to justify it.

When my son was about 4 he said, “Daddy is a doctor and Mommy is a babysitter.” I was devastated. First, I corrected him and said, “No. Daddy is not a doctor but he is in healthcare and yes, he works with doctors and helps people.” Yet how do you explain to an almost 4 year old that Mom is more than a babysitter but she does not know how to describe what she does without feeling like it is not enough? So, I left it alone.

I need to express that I love being a Stay at Home Mom, a Homemaker, a Housewife. This morning when my husband woke up the first thing he said to me was, “We have really great kids and a wonderful family and it is all your doing.” That is what I woke up to this morning. When I replied, “Well, you have had a hand in it too.” He corrected me and said, “I know it is you who has done this.” So, I guess that in the wee hours of the morning, in the dark of my room, and to wake to that kind of praise was the best pat on the back or recognition I could have received.

I have never doubted my decision to be at home while my kids are young but yet at times I have felt unfulfilled and invisible. My mom would tell me that my generation is too sensitive and politically correct and I should not care about a question or answer so much. I know she would be right in her thinking. But that does not make me wrong in my thinking either. I spoke to a working mom the other day about this and she said, “I hate asking the question, What do you do?” because it can be awkward. This was more proof to me that answering Just a Mom or Housewife or Homemaker carries a stigma in at least my generation. I have not found a comfortable way to answer the question for myself; however, this mornings recognition from my husband left a huge imprint on me. It meant more than he would ever know because he has no idea that I struggle with my value in his eyes. It matters to me that those I am supporting (not financially) value my contribution.

So, husbands to quote Mary Kay Ash, the mega cosmetics mogul, “Husbands pat your wife daily not on her rear end but on her upper back.” It may not make the answer of Just a Mom or Housewife or Homemaker any easier for her to respond to the question of occupation but it does lift her up. And whether she is JUST A MOM or a WORKING MOM, every one knows if Mom is happy so is the family.

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