So, what do you do?
Oh, how I hate this question. Maybe because I’ve been struggling with the answer since I resigned from my job. Maybe? I haven’t figured out the right thing to say. I don’t want to lie to people, but most people don’t want to hear the truth which is, I’m on call for my son who has three life threatening diseases. That tends to drop a bomb on any casual conversation.
Though I have to say, even when I was working, I would feel the weight of judgement from whomever asked this question. Of course, I would answer with my job title all the while thinking about how that doesn’t even begin to describe what I “do”.
But my situation aside, how does anyone answer that question? Is it asked so that one can file another person into a neatly packaged box? To make the question-asker feel more comfortable about with whom they are speaking?
Let’s be real. This question is asked so that you can quickly analyze each other and make presumptions about the other person’s quality of life and social status. This question is the worst. And for women, I feel like however we answer this question, we are judged. If you answer with your job title, they wonder who is taking care of your children. If you answer that you are staying home to support your family, you get the “isn’t that nice?” response. We can’t win! Either way, presumptions are made about our life and our decisions. We aren’t smart enough, we aren’t organized enough, we aren’t caring enough…it’s never...enough.
I’m not sure I can make all of mankind understand how awful this question is, but how about my fellow moms?
As mothers, can we please stop asking this question to each other? Especially, with the verbal emphasis on the last “do”…what do you DO?
I look at the women in my life and know they juggle a multitude of tasks on a daily basis. But, sometimes, women feel the need to compete with each other and act as though they couldn’t possibly imagine what the other person does with their time. But, come on. Really? We are past judging each other for our work/life decisions…right? We know that all of us are just doing the best we can…right?
Think about this. Think about how you might answer “so, what do you do?”, with the straight up truth. How great would it be if the next time you are asked this awful question, you just rattled off everything:
Let’s see, I didn’t sleep much because I’m worried about XYZ, and I knew I had to get up early to feed the kitten and get the kids out the door for school or at least awake and somewhat presentable for virtual class. Then I talked to so-and-so because I know how worried she is about such-and-such. Then I had three meetings (either Zoom or in person, from a safe distance) about, fill in the blank here________: work stuff, volunteer stuff, doctor appointment stuff, child stuff, school stuff, house repair stuff. And, then realized that I forgot to defrost the chicken for dinner, so I need to figure that out. Do we have milk? Then I realized I left the wet clothes in the washing machine — need to wash those again. I should exercise and eat better, but for lunch I found a bag of chips so that will count as a vegetable, right? And I run up and down the stairs multiple times during the day, because I always forget what I need while I’m up there. That should count as exercise. And while juggling work/child/life stuff, I am also thinking about the other important people in my life (insert parents, family members, neighbors) and wondering how they are coping with COVID and pandemic life. Also, I know my partner is having a hard time juggling his life stuff, so I try to be supportive and a good listener. Sometimes, I sit quietly by myself for a few minutes but feel extreme guilt because growing up in the 80’s, if we were sitting quietly and taking time for ourselves we were considered selfish and I’m really not a selfish person. I just get tired sometimes… So, what do you do?
Can we all just accept that whether you are getting paid or not, as moms we juggle a lot every day? Throw in a curve ball, like a struggling loved one or this crazy global pandemic, and our life becomes even more complicated.
And the guilt for resting and self-care has to stop.
Look, I’m a Midwesterner, the granddaughter of immigrants and farmers, a latchkey kid who took care of siblings for my hardworking parents, proudly making money with a non-babysitting job by age 13. I have always worked in some capacity, either paid or unpaid, since I was very young. I’m also an Italian Catholic - guilt runs through my veins!
I knew I had my husband’s support to stop working. Those closest to me sighed in relief when I resigned because they knew I was at my breaking point, but it took therapy before I could convince myself it was the right decision. My therapist would say, “I’m giving you permission to rest” multiple, multiple times before I allowed myself to just…be.
To rest. To sit. To nap. To do things for myself without rushing on to the next errand, activity, or volunteer obligation.
I still struggle with taking time for myself and the guilt that accompanies it, but I’m working on it. And I’ve found some things that I enjoy doing for both my family and my community. And, for now, it fills me up.
So, whether you are: a working from home and getting paid mom, a working from home and not getting paid mom, a working in an office mom, a running a business mom, a pet mom, a working two jobs mom, a single mom, an empty-nester mom, a new mom, a newly retired mom, a baking/cooking/crafting mom, an order everything mom, a step-mom, a god-mom, an aunt, cousin or good friend who acts like a mom, a struggling mom, a volunteer for everything mom, a mom with adult kids and grandkids…we are all working for our families. ALL. OF. THE. TIME.
All of us are doing important work — for each other, for our families, for our communities. This is what we “do”. And most of the time, we love it. Some days are hard, and we struggle. But everything we do is for the betterment of our family. And sometimes we are able to juggle a million tasks at once, and sometimes we need to rest. This is what we “do”.
So, if you meet someone for the first time and are trying to make small talk with them, either a man or a woman, just ask how their day is going. Or, what brings them to the event that you are attending? Or, how do you know so-and-so? Then, the person can decide how to answer. This way, you may get to know more about each other’s lives, instead of pushing self-perceived notions onto one another. Isn’t that nicer? More meaningful? Just better?
And woman to woman, instead of asking what each other does on a daily basis, let’s share this:
I think you are doing an amazing job juggling all that you do. Even though our situations are different, I respect your decisions and am proud of you. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. You are important to me and to everyone who loves you.
I think this is what we should do.