What do you do?
For many mothers, this innocent question can be paralyzing. Why? Because most of the standard answers reflect outdated cultural assumptions and are saddled with stereotypes that don’t match our sense of who we are nor the realities of women with children today.
“stay at home mom”
Conjures up stereotypes of mothers who eat bon-bons and watch soap operas all day, when the reality is usually a 17 hour day spent on the demanding work of caring for children and family. Besides how much time does a “stay-at-home mom” today actually spend in her home and not in the car or at school or volunteering or somewhere else?
Suggests mom is always in “mom” mode and has no need for an other-than-mother part of herself. Plus “full-time mom” implies that employed mothers are somehow NOT mothers all the time. Try telling that to the mother on the job calling to check in on her sick child.
Coined when women started entering the workforce, “working mother” suggests that an employed mother is still an anomaly even though the majority of women with children are employed. Think about it, no one calls my husband a “working father.” Plus, “working mother” implies that mothers who are NOT employed aren’t “working.” Try telling that to someone who has spent the whole day with two toddlers.
So let’s experiment with this equation instead.
Mother (relationship to a child)
+ Work (relationship to employment and/or volunteer work and/or family work)
= What do you do?
“I’m a mother, and I’m employed as an office manager.”
“I’m a mother, and I spend most of my time caring for my family.”
“I’m a mother, and I run a home-based business and I volunteer time at
my children’s school.”
“I’m a mother, and my primary work is caring for my family and I have a background in information technology.”
One way to change our own mental maps and free ourselves up to remodel our lives is to change the words we use. So, next time someone asks “What do you do?” start your answer with “I’m a mother and…” and post your answer here.
More Remodeling Tools:
- For one week, when you say, hear or read “working mother” or “stay at home mom” can you replace it with simply “mother?” Or “mother who is employed?” Or “mother who works caring for family?”
- For more on the meaning of “work” – both paid and unpaid, the related stereotypes about mothers, and how those stereotypes are embedded in our everyday language, and why it matters to you – read Chapter 5: Baby Vacations or What Did I Do All Day? in my book This is Not How I Thought It Would Be: Remodeling Motherhood to Get the Lives We Want Today.