What do you do?
It’s a question I get asked a lot lately. Maybe since my youngest child is in Second Grade, the people around me are wondering what I’m doing with my days, what, exactly I am. It seems I have reached the point where Stay at Home Mother isn’t always a socially acceptable answer anymore. I suppose once your kids can cut their own meat and text you from their friend’s house, the full-time Mothering Thing may have run its course.
So often, I find myself having the same conversations with other suburban mothers – at birthday parties, the bus stop, soccer fields. We all have the same things on our minds: Do you work? Are you going back to work? Do you feel pressured to work? We ask these questions cautiously so as not to spark a small battle in the larger Mommy War. But, more often than not, we are on the same page, torn between wanting to greet the afternoon school bus and find fulfilling outside work. We are grateful to have the choice and mindful enough to not let either role fully define us.
We are told, from an early age, that we must be accountable for our time, in some pre-defined productive way. Folding laundry, playing Uno and Monopoly, volunteering in the classroom, and shuttling kids to and from after school activities, are not always received with respectful nods. ‘Yes, but WHAT are you’, they ask again at the cocktail party, demanding a job title, a former career track even.
Is it a societal thing, to define ourselves by occupation? When I worked outside the home, in my windowless office, I still dreaded that small talk banter of ‘What are you? What do you DO?’. I would cringe, take a deep breath, and explain what exactly I was. I didn’t feel energized or glamorous as I plunged awkwardly into the definition of a Corporate Compensation Manager. There was so much more I wanted to say. I was more than a job title then. And I am more than a mother now.
Last weekend I overheard a group of middle-aged friends discussing their careers and what and who they wanted to be. It was a lively conservation, but one man’s comment particularly stuck out: ‘It’s like, you start a career in your 20s and the next thing you know you are 45 and stuck, doing something that you never wanted to do in the first place’.
We grow, we change, we shift tracks. A job title, whether it is Parent or Compensation Manager, Artist or House Keeper, shouldn’t (and can’t) be our whole identity.
Perhaps the question we ask of each other should be rephrased. The next time we find ourselves mingling in a crowd of small-talkers, wine glass in hand, maybe, instead of asking ‘What are you’, we should ask, instead: ‘Who are you’. The answer would be more interesting, don’t you think?
I am a mother, wife, friend, yogi, writer, reader, vegetarian, dog walker, thinker, seeker, accidental suburbanite, recovering corporate girl. I am a whole and complete person.
Who are you?