Friday, January 31, 2014

Clearly a wife. Vaguely a professional.


What happens when people don't see you as you see yourself? Should you be offended?

Recently, the hubs and I were at a community event. I was in attendance as spousal support. Arm candy, if you will. <I'm laughing as I type that.>

Spousal support = verbal filter fully engaged. Don't be an idiot. Tuck in the crazy.

We were chatting with a local business leader and his wife whom we had not met previously. It was a lovely conversation. Were enjoying getting to know this couple, sharing little funny tidbits and bantering back and forth. It was fun. Hubs explained his job at the hospital and we chatted a bit about the gentleman's company. The subject of family came up and I said we had four kids. He asked their ages and I obliged.

And then he said, "So, you're at home, then." < Referring to my job, then.

Do you know that feeling when the air is sucked out of the room? When the sudden lack of oxygen creates a vacuum so powerful that it sucks every morsel of life from the space? Well, I don't exactly know what that feels like, but I imagine it felt like the space around us immediately after this seemingly innocent statement.

Hubs had a silent but visceral reaction beside me: Oh, crap. Well, there went that. 

My mental processing was more gradual. It went something like this:

"So, you're at home, then."
  • My natural sarcasm: Um, like right now? No, I'm standing here in front of you.  
  • Offended professional: So, because I have four kids and a husband you assume I must not have a career outside the home?
  • Offended teacher: Was that a question or a statement? 
  • Offended mother: You're assuming I'm a stay-at-home-mom, then, because I have four kids and a busy husband? Because, that's the only option for a successful family? 
  • Offended academic: In one fail swoop 22 years of formal schooling and two decades of work experience was just disregarded as nonessential. 
Since my crazy was tucked in and my verbal filter was fully engaged, this actually happened:

<pause>

No, I'm a college professor. I have a Ph.D. and have taught in higher education for the past 12 years. I teach principles of management, organizational behavior, ethics and human resource management. I also write, publish and consult.

He was surprised, but impressed. We continued our enjoyable conversation and expanded the topics a bit. Later, I reflected on this situation. What actually bothered me?

I'm intense. I process. I analyze. I question. I reflect in order to understand myself and my reactions.

If I reversed the gender role, would I feel the same?  If we were at a community function where the hubs was functioning as spousal support and the topic of our four children came up in conversation with a business leader as posed to my husband, would the follow up statement be: So, you're a stay-at-home-dad, then. Come on, that wouldn't happen.

Was I bothered at the assumption that successful parenting of 4 kids = no career?
Was I offended at the statement versus question issue, which made it an assumption?
Was I irritated at being thought of first as merely a wife instead of a professional?
Did my identity solely rest in my career and not my family?

I truly believe moms who work solely inside the home are undervalued, overworked and misrepresented. It's a noble, difficult profession, in which I could not successfully function.

Three cheers for day care! 

The only person in this family who is a stay-at-home anything is the dog.
She has fully embraced her career as a do(g)mestic goddess.
Some of my friends cried at the bus stop the day their youngest went to Kindergarten. I did a little happy dance. Even more of my friends dread the day their youngest goes to college. My husband and I are counting the days. We're this close to making one of those paper chains you made as a kid to count the days until Christmas. Maddy is only 8, so it would be a really, really long chain and I just don't have that kind of time.

As my blog-spiration Jen Hatmaker deftly described, I'm that Worst End of Summer Mom all the time. I know this about myself and I'm ok with it.

The assumption versus question thing was an accident, I think. Maybe voice tone gone awry, so toss that. My identity does not solely rest in my career. It also does not rest in being a fake biker, but that's another blog post for warmer weather.

No, I think it was that I was clearly a wife and not-so-clearly a professional. I was there in a supportive role, not in front of a classroom or conference podium. And I liked it. It was fine. I'm proud of the hubs and all he's achieved. Isn't being his wife enough, at least in public? At one event? Do I need a sticker on my forehead with my resume detailed for the general public to see before they engage me in conversation?

Because, let's face it, I may not have my crazy tucked in at all times.

It wasn't this person's fault. He's a nice guy with a nice wife. Can't I give him a break and let it go?

I don't know. Maybe. I'm working on it.

What would you do?

8 comments:

  1. I'm very defensive, especially initially, and I can bet that I would've popped off with a sarcastic, biting remark and the "niceness" of the situation would've been gone. However, I think your response was spot-on!

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  2. Ok wow. I have to jump in on this one. Assumptions are always risky (even if proven right). I’d like to give that person the benefit of the doubt and just “assume” he was trying to make conversation.

    There have been countless times I’ve had the opposite assumptive statement/question. For 18 years I WAS “at home,then.” In such social settings, everyone was swapping their credentials and the question would eventually be posed to me, “What do you do?” Crap, I hated this part. Lets see, did I say I’m a domestic engineer, childcare professional, educational specialist?? I’d chicken out and say, “I’m at home with my three children.” Sympathetic stares. “Oh.” Then I’d have to fess up and say, “We homeschool.” Now I’d done it. Either one of two things happened, the inevitable onslaught of questions about socialization and sports or everyone suddenly changed the subject. At this point I felt about two inches tall and wished I had just stayed at home - with my children.

    When I did go back to work (and back to school) a strange thing happened. I was treated differently in these social situations. I was now a part of the “real world.” I enjoyed the fellowship, to be honest. But something started bothering me after a while. I realized that so many of these conversations were about WHAT people do, their titles, etc. While that’s all good and fine, those are hard earned, that’s not WHO we are. I’m the same person I was when I was at home as I was at school as I am at work. Who I am is a divine blend of my life experiences (including my education and employment), talents and dreams. In other words, I’m the person God made me to be and I need to be secure in that, college degree or not.

    I know this is going to sound idealistic, but how about at the next social gathering, instead of asking (or assuming) WHAT someone does, we ask something more about WHO they are? I know that might require some creativity, but I think we can manage.

    Sorry for the lengthy reply. You’re blog is an encouragement to me in more ways than you know!

    Beth

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  3. Perfect response on your part! I feel more of the opposite...where the majority of the mom's in our community stay at home and who go to the gym and are very active at school. I am reminded of this often when I look at the schedules for fitness classes and children's activities which are mostly during the day or before 6pm. I feel out of the group or bad for not being home with my child.

    However, as I write this, I'm realizing it's more that I am jealous that I can't do everything, be involved in it all, than it is that I am being judged by others. Realistically I don't want to be a stay-at-home mom (tried that, hated it). But I would love to be there more often.

    Love the post...made me think!

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  4. After I read this early this morning I have thought about this post so much! As 'just' a SAHM for the last 9 years I can so relate to what Beth said regarding social gatherings or conversations with other women. I have been looked down upon for my choice to 'just' be a wife and Mom. I have had 'friends' think less of me for my choice to be a SAHM and not 'pull my weight' financially for our family. I have also had women express 'jealousy' over my being able to stay home as well, although not as many! Truth is that I have wanted to be 'just' a wife and SAHM for as long as I can remember. Even as a teenager! I had no desire for a 'career' of sorts, ever. Honestly I have often felt like something was 'wrong' with me because I don't have that desire or never have. Yes, I worked from the time I was old enough to until the time that our first child was born. I enjoyed all of my jobs but I honestly don't miss any of them. I have a B.A. in English with a minor in Psychology that I have never 'used'! I have had other women automatically 'assume' that I will go back to work when all of our kids are in school full time. Then they look at me like I'm from another planet when I tell them that I pray that I will never have to go back into the 'real world' and work outside the home. Being a SAHM has been one of the hardest 'jobs' that I have done and it's also the loneliest and most isolating in some ways. Most of my friends work outside the home. So there is usually no or few options for adult conversation/interaction during the day! Also, if I go anywhere, my kids go with me. That's not always looked upon with understanding either so many times I just opt not to go. However, I wouldn't trade my 'job' for anything. This is who I am! God created each of us uniquely who we are with different talents, passions, life experiences, and personalities and that's alright! I love being a SAHM. Other women love having a career. Do I think less of those that have a career? No! Absolutely not. I pray that others don't think less of me for my choice in 'career' either. In reality, it's all good! Right? Whatever choice we make, we all make some sort of sacrifice. I just wish we could extend grace and encouragement for 'who' we are regardless of what we 'do'. Neither option is 'right or wrong', it's just different! As a society we need to quit being so quick to 'assume' things about others. This blog post talks a little bit about this whole dynamic, from a SAHM's point of view. I can relate to it: http://www.scissortailsilk.com/2013/09/25/you-are-not-my-competition/. Thanks for your post Jana! I enjoy reading them and they always give me 'food for thought'!

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  5. I love the SAHM viewpoints expressed here. My mom always wanted to stay at home, but was forced to work (at least) part time while my sister and I were growing up. My paternal grandma lived with us and got to fulfill that role. Looking back and from my mom's viewpoint... I'd be ticked off if I were her. She's 64 and is still trying to be a SAHM! Maybe in retirement. Then again, she wants to go back to college when she retires, WHICH WOULD BE SO COOL! I have to agree that when I'm home with the kids in the summer -all summer- it's pretty isolating and lonely. I've learned to take people where they're at, even if I don't understand it. This is one such subject. It's so hard to be a SAHM. Seriously. So. Hard. I applaud all of them.

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  6. This subject really hits close to home for me. Since before Nick was born, I have wanted to stay home with my babies. I had great daycares for them, but it broke my heart to leave them there. I wanted to put them down for their naps and be there when they woke up and cook the meals and have all the fun. I counted the hours that my kids were at daycare and how many hours they were with me. I almost refused to do anything without them on the weekends, which wasn't great for my marriage, but I had already lost so much time with them I couldn't give up more. I needed to work financially, but continued to hope & pray that somehow it would happen for us. It didn't, and once I found myself a single mom, I knew that it would be impossible. I still grieve over it.

    If I were in this situation you described, I would have had the opposite reaction...it would have stung. I would have been embarrassed that I wasn't home with my kids, where I felt I should have been.

    But here I am, my kids made it and so did I. I always thought that once they were in school the guilt would leave, but actually it's quite the opposite. I think they need me as much or even more now in these teen years. But I am choosing to be content where I am at, and believe it's where God wants me. I am doing valuable work and see it as a ministry, which I am also able to bless my family with financially. It's a trade off, but it doesn't do me any good to keep wishing for a different situation. I need to trust God. As far as what others think of my career, I am doing something I love and that's all that matters to me!

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  7. CRAP! I was using Vince's laptop and signed in as him...he did NOT write the above comment, that would be weird. It was mua!

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  8. Mommy, your blog is famous! Aspecialy in my heart. (Sigh) And I love Maddycat blog post. Emily

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