What Do You Do?


This is a question that paralyzes me.

I am asked this question in a variety of situations: when meeting new people, when my husband walks in the door from work, when filling out a form at the doctor’s office. I am never comfortable with this question. I always fear the reaction of the asker when I reveal the answer. Maybe it is my fear of inadequacy, maybe it is my fear of people’s perception of me, maybe it is my fear of being able to accurately articulate the answer due to sleep deprivation. Or, if I am being honest, maybe it’s a bit of all of the above.

Prior to having children, I always thought that I would be a successful career driven woman. I have an MBA that I worked hard to earn and a desire to achieve. I knew that I wanted to work outside of the home and that having children would not change that. I was dead set on having a career first. So much so that I told my husband how it was going to be. And then… I became pregnant with my first child. Enter the hormones. The thought of leaving my baby with someone else terrified me. I really only trusted my own family members and none of them lived close enough to be able to help with childcare while I was at work. My husband and I had a decision to make and it was not taken lightly. We knew that it would add a lot of stress to our marriage and family life to have only one income. We knew it would be a sacrifice for both of us as I would be giving up my career and my husband would be solely responsible for our financial support. We knew it meant living on a budget with limited to no funds for “fun.” We weighed the pros and cons and the decision that I vowed I would never make was suddenly my new reality. I became a SAHM (stay at home mom).

So, what was so terrible about that, right? I mean, my Mom and my husband’s Mom both stayed home and I felt proud to join their sisterhood and write the word homemaker in the occupation field of a doctor’s office form. I knew I was fortunate to be in this position and that I would have the opportunity to be present in every moment of my growing child’s life. That notion is not lost on me, believe me. I have many friends and family members who work outside of the home and are also raising children. I am in awe of these women. The balance must be difficult and at times they are forced to make choices between their job or their children. Some of them need the income, while others really love what they do. Each situation is unique as is each family. So, why then, does society lead us to believe that the job of a SAHM is valued less than a job outside of the home? Any SAHM will tell you that this job is, by far, the hardest job they have ever had. 

This job will challenge you to your core. It changes minute to minute and it absolutely exhausts your body and your emotional state.

It is 24/7, 365 with no lunch break, no paycheck, and no predictability.

When my husband comes home from work and says, “What did you do today,” I usually greet him with a blank stare as I scan my memory for something tangible, something that justifies me staying at home instead of earning an income. The fact is, it’s hard to actually explain what it is I did because I likely have nothing to show for my day except a can of beans and some yogurt that I purchased on a grocery store run, but forgot the milk and cereal because I was distracted by the kids. I mean, does he really want to hear that I just spent 13 hours in waking existence and didn’t really accomplish anything?

You see, there is no pat on the back or merit bonus for taking a shower, putting laundry in the washing machine, cleaning up a potty accident for the millionth time, working through another toddler tantrum, refereeing a sibling argument, cooking and cleaning up after three meals or trying to make an important phone call but not being able to complete it due to the children needing you (story of my life).

When I meet new people for the first time, one of the ice breaking questions is, “So, what do you do?” My answer, “Oh, I stay home with my kids,” is often met with either an open mouth because people don’t know what to say next or an “oh,” and an awkward pause. I quickly search their face for some type of acknowledgment that my choice is worthwhile and then wind up talking really fast about my past career so as to gain their approval back. I know exactly what they are thinking. Why would anyone in their right mind trade a paycheck, routine, and predictability for utter chaos? The answer is, well, it’s complicated. Believe me, I have wanted to quit this job so many times. But, like any job I have ever had, my co-workers tend to be the reason I stick it out. In my SAHM job my co-workers (my kids) make me laugh. They have shown me how to live in the moment. They have taught me the importance of flexibility and how to rely on God. They force me to exercise creativity and hone my negotiation skills. And, borrowing from Marie Kondo, they spark joy. I truly, madly, deeply love them. I can’t picture my life without them and so, I stick it out.

I can only blame the hormones.