So what do you do for a living?
This is the question I dread being asked the most. I used to answer, “I’m a stay-at-home mom,” (SAHM), to which the reactions have ranged from a slow confused nod, to a fleeting expression of distaste.
I stopped responding “stay-at-home mom,” and instead say, “I’m at home with my kids.”
The responses range from “Oh, that’s nice…” (patronizing yet understanding nothing)
To perplexed: “So…what do you do all day?”
To: “You’re so lucky! I wish I could sit at home instead of going to work every day!”
The emotions I feel are mixed— exasperation that they have no clue that it is work, to a kind of unhappiness and frustration, in that no matter how much I explain it, it really takes one to know one.
Let’s compare a typical day as a SAHM to how it might translate in an office setting:
You’re asleep in bed. It’s around 7 am, and your phone suddenly rings. When you pick it up, it’s one of the 2 bosses you directly report to, screaming that you should have been at work already. You leap out of bed–no time to shower or dress up–and dash to the office. On the way, Boss B calls and yells at you to stop by Starbucks and get her favorite croissant and latte. You pick up her order and the same thing for Boss A and arrive at the office.
Boss A is glaring angrily, while Boss B slowly empties paperwork from the file cabinet onto the floor. You shove their breakfast in their hands, hoping they will eat. Boss A shouts, “This isn’t what I wanted! I want what she has!” and throws the food on the floor, screaming obscenities. Boss B clings to her food, shouting ” You can’t have mine. IT’S MINE!”
You’re confused. They each have the same order. What gives? Boss A refuses to eat, but decides to sip on some bottled water at his desk. Boss B finishes her croissant and latte, but spills crumbs everywhere. She changes her shirt and gives you the dirty one, saying, “Dry clean this after work, will you?” and throws it onto your desk.
Once your bosses are situated, you sit at your desk. You forage in your drawers and find a half-eaten granola bar, wolfing it down.
You’ve barely swallowed, when Boss A calls out, “Where are the files for the Henderson account?”
You frantically search your desk drawers, only vaguely sure of where they might be. Waking up so suddenly and rushing in the morning is affecting your memory. You can’t find the file, so you proceed to print it from your computer.
THERE IS A CRASH! BEHIND YOU. BOSS B HAS KNOCKED OVER YOUR PICTURE FRAME AND BROKEN THE GLASS. YOU SUPPRESS AN INNER URGE TO SCREAM, SAYING ITS OK, EVEN THOUGH IT ISN’T. YOU STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING TO SWEEP UP THE GLASS, SO BOSS B WON’T CUT HERSELF.
There is a crash! behind you. Boss B has knocked over your picture frame and broken the glass. You suppress an inner urge to scream, saying its OK, even though it isn’t. You stop what you’re doing to sweep up the glass, so Boss B won’t cut herself.
She has happily moved on to opening your drawers and dropping paperclips onto the floor.
“Stop it!” you say firmly, and her eyes fill with tears.
“I was just playing with your stuff. You have such cool stuff!” she says and walks off. You feel awful.
“Where is the Henderson account?” Another scream from Boss A. Why is the printer taking so long?
“Where is the Henderson account?!”
As the printer spits out sheet after sheet, Boss B returns with a smile. “I just went to the bathroom!”
“OK.” You give a thin smile. “I just went to the bathroom!” she says again, waiting. You slowly clap and she smiles and walks away.
After giving Boss A the file, you run down to the cafeteria to grab some lunch for the three of you. Lunch goes similarly to breakfast, but this time both bosses manage to eat most of their meals. You still haven’t eaten but are glad theirs is over.
Boss A seems happy now after receiving his file and having lunch, and Boss B seems bored. You convince them to take a LONG coffee break and to return when they feel relaxed and refreshed. You plan to eat your lunch quickly and maybe check your mail or sleep for a few minutes while they’re gone.
No sooner do the bosses leave than your phone rings. It’s a friend you haven’t spoken to in months, because you’re always too busy to call her back. You take the call, deciding to end it quickly in order to have some alone time. Your friend is taking classes to complete her Masters.
“Hey!” she cries. “It’s been so long! Why didn’t you return my call?”
You are too exhausted to explain, and you know she won’t understand anyway. “I’ve been busy,” you answer.
“COME ON, YOU SIT IN FRONT OF A COMPUTER ALL DAY. I WISH I HAD A JOB LIKE THAT! WHAT DO YOU DO ALL DAY, SCROLL THROUGH PINTEREST? THAT’S WHAT I WOULD DO!”
“Come on, you sit in front of a computer all day. I wish I had a job like that! What do you do all day, scroll through Pinterest? That’s what I would do!”
“I have to go now,” you say. “My boss is coming.” You hang up.
You want to check your email, but feel yourself nodding off. After a couple of minutes, Boss A returns, saying he’s done with his coffee break. He is grumpy but refuses to go back. Boss B returns soon after, and both demand donuts from the break room. While they are munching away, you gather your things and slip quietly out. You are mentally and physically drained and just want to sit down somewhere without interruption.
You’ve wondered many times why you took this job in the first place, knowing the conditions when you started—you could never be fired or ever quit. While it’s true that every day isn’t this difficult, days like this are common. Your bosses are behaving better as time goes on—sure, you even have days where they are nice to you and each other—but, as you debate whether you should hire a personal assistant to help you down the road, ultimately you are the one responsible for keeping your bosses happy, a HUGE responsibility.
On the way to the dry cleaner, you pass by the bank, and remember that, oh yeah, you don’t receive a dime for the work you do either.
The term stay-at-home mom is outdated and misleading. Even work-from-home mom gets more respect, because work comes before the word home. Instead, let’s start using the term full-time mom.
If you are reading this and have never taken care of children, please do not judge the ones that do. Whether they chose this lifestyle or it chose them, keep in mind that you were young once, and if you had a working mother, somebody was taking care of you. Somebody had to. The same applies to all children.
How do you explain what you do all day to your friends who work outside the home?