Not long ago, I was asked by a virtual stranger (in the context of being a stay-at-home mum), what I liked to do when I wasn’t ‘sitting around the house all day’. Annoyingly, my reaction was to laugh awkwardly (I have always been one of those people who thinks of smart or funny retorts long after uncomfortable conversations), and although I doubt any malicious intent was hidden in the young man’s question, I have to admit the remark did sting.
You see, since becoming a stay-at-home mum several years ago, I have found questions about what I ‘do’ a bit problematic to say the least, and I’ve come to dread being asked about my occupation at banking appointments, health care visits, and during those annoying sales calls. Being a stay-at-home mum or childcare provider doesn’t always seem to cut it in terms of estimating a person’s value, and even when I worked from home as a childminder for a few years, I met the odd person who asked me if I ‘worked’ as well as being a mum and looking after other people’s kids.
The situation gets worse when your offspring are up and off to school, and people can seem a bit bemused when asking about what you’re ‘doing these days’ and when you’re planning on ‘getting back into the workplace’. I’ve been called a ‘lady of leisure’ and referred to as ‘retired’, as I ramble on about how I support my self-employed husband with his admin, chair my kids’ school PTA, do my blogging and writing projects and generally run around after my children and the dog while my husband travels regularly and works long hours. Amongst all this rambling there is no defined job title, just a jumbled mashup of tasks and the realisation that I’m trying to convince my listener that no, I’m definitely not lazy.
But really, why do I feel I have to? The truth is, I know very few people, stay-at-home mums or not, who don’t want to contribute something, be valuable and make a difference in their own and other people’s lives. Society might tell us we need a fancy job title to be respected, but in reality I’d prefer to make my judgements of a person based on what they are rather than what they say they do. I recently watched an interview with Barack Obama in which he discussed the guidance he offered his children on how to live their lives. His message to his daughters was simple: try to be useful, and be kind. If you can be these two things, then I think the rest will follow. And while there isn’t usually a box for going around being useful and kind on occupation choice lists; just knowing that you are trying to be both is heading in the right direction.
I found myself at another appointment recently where I got the dreaded ‘occupation’ question from a slightly older lady. Funnily enough, my jumbled mashup didn’t appear on her list of standard choices and so once again I told her I fitted into the ‘stay-at-home mum’ or ‘homemaker’ category. This lady, who seemed like someone who was both useful and kind in everything she did, smiled at me and said ‘oh, I think that’s just wonderful’.
And do you know what? She was absolutely right.