It’s no secret that when you become a mom, you go through a bit of an identity crisis. It can be hard to remember who you were when it feels like who you are now is someone who spends all of her time cleaning up mystery stains. Is that poop or chocolate? Apple juice or pee? I used to be on a first name basis with the mayor and win journalism awards. Cottage cheese or vomit?
Which is why these days I always dread the moment when someone asks me “so, what do you do?”
And they always ask it. Always. Because we are Americans and as Americans we need to immediately know what you do with your life so we can then determine how harshly to judge you.
God bless the U.S.A.
I didn’t always hate this quirk of American society. I proudly declared “journalist” for a long time. I worked hard to become a journalist. I loved being a journalist. It was a badge I wore with honor.
But the waters muddied a bit when my husband and I moved to Boston. Unable to get a full-time job in my field, I started working from home, writing a regular column for a handful of different newspapers and websites. I’d also occasionally take on a freelance writing project. So, I told people I was a “freelance writer.” But since that wasn’t as clear-cut as “journalist,” I’d have to describe what that entailed and watch as people’s eyes slowly glassed over because they were just being polite and oh, is that Susan over there? I should go say hello. Nice talking to you, Amy, was it?
And then we had kids and the waters got downright murky. Because now my main job was keeping those two suicidal lunatics alive while trying to squeeze in some writing time on the weekends.
“But I’m still a writer!” I’d practically scream at people, less they be confused as to my real identity. Sure, “technically” I stayed home and “raised” my children, but that didn’t make me, you know, a “mom.” It’s more like a hobby, really. I’m wearing these yoga pants ironically!
It took me awhile, but I finally realized why this stressed me out so much. The current language we have for women without a clear-cut “job” is awful. Take the word “housewife.” I hate that word. I didn’t marry my house. I mean, that thing is filthy. Even if it proposed, I’d politely decline and then hand it a broom and whisper “I think you know why.” (And “homemaker” is even worse. Especially if you have kids. Because when you have kids, you aren’t “making” a “home” so much as you are trying to prevent said kids from burning it down to the ground).
I also loathe the term “stay-at-home mom.” I don’t stay at home. No mom does. We’re constantly lugging those adorable damn kids everywhere. And yet, no one refers to us as Playground-Library-Gas Station-Coffeeshop-Liquor Store moms.
Alas, these are the terms we are stuck with if we are the ones primarily taking care of the domestic side of life (and fellas, I haven’t forgotten about you; “househusband” and “stay-at-home dad,” even when used tongue-in-cheek, is equally inaccurate and ridiculous).
Can you imagine if we referred to everyone by their most common location and their role in the family? Oh hey, let me introduce you to my other half, Ryan. He’s an office husband.
Or, hey, nice to see you, Sheryl, I’d like you to meet my bar grandpa.
This is Lila, my stay-at-the-yoga-studio sister-in-law.
My crackhouse cousin had a rough upbringing, what with being raised by my prison uncle and my motel aunt.
Why yes, I have two teenagers, a couch son and a Burger King parking lot daughter.
You get the picture.
Why do we still use these terms? Even “working mom” is a bit of a misnomer. No one calls my husband a “working dad.” He’s a graphic designer. Who happens to have kids.
And I wouldn’t even care about how inaccurate the current words are that we use to describe women who deal in the domestic arts, except for the fact that they have a faint whiff of negativity surrounding them. Housewives are considered vapid or desperate or gold diggers. Stay-at-home moms are boring or unambitious or lazy. Homemakers are busy wearing gingham dresses and churning butter in the corner of the kitchen.
So, it’s time we start changing these outdated and, quite frankly, unfair titles. I haven’t come up with the new terms just yet (what with spending all my time sniffing mystery stains and all) but maybe something like “I parent full-time” or “I’m a professional mom” or “I’m my toddler’s juice bitch.”
Or maybe all of us ladies can take a page from the Tyrion Lannister playbook and when people ask us what we do, we coolly respond “I drink, and I know things.”
Because that one is 100 percent accurate.
I completely relate. And, in addition to the ridiculous names for the work we do, there’s always an edge of guilt and insecurity when we admit to doing it. I don’t “just” take care of my house and children. I care for my aging father, volunteer, serve on a board, but who wants to hear about all of these things without a salary attached? Maybe next time someone asks what I do, I should just say “a lot.”