I relaxed in the comfortable massage chair, my feet soaked in the hot water as my soul soaked in the rare opportunity to be pampered. The lady giving me my pedicure spoke fractured English which was difficult to understand. She made small talk as she worked.
We talked about the wedding I was going to, the places we had both lived, and our kids. At some point during this discussion I must have said some something about college and so she asked what I had studied. “Elementary Education”, I replied.
And of course, that led to the question that always manages to make me feel like a little kid standing in front of the school’s principal, having to defend myself. “Where do you work?” she asked. The stay-at-home mom’s most dreaded question.
Now, I suppose if I knew the direction this conversation was headed, I might have mentioned I run a quickly -growing website for moms and military spouses. Or I might have mentioned one of the various other part-time jobs I’ve had over the last few years, like when I scored written response portions on standardized tests or taught English as a Second Language (ESL) at the local community college.
But I didn’t mention any of those.
Instead, I made a mistake and said , “I stay home with my kids”.
And then I got the stare. The jaw dropped, big eyed, did-I-really-just-hear-that stare.
I’ve seen this look before. The first time I ever saw it was on the face of my OB doctor at my two weeks postpartum checkup. She asked when I was planned to go back to work and I said: “I’m not”.
After people recover from the shock that I am a (mostly) stay-at-home mom and manage to move past the wide-eyed stare, there are three ways they will typically respond:
Response #1- The “That’s Such a Pity” Response
This first group thinks it is an absolute tragedy. They ooze pity for me and can only imagine how terrible it must be. Or as my southern friends would say, “Bless her heart”.
They ask questions like “Don’t you get bored?” and “What do you do all day?”. They cannot believe anyone would choose to live this way. I’m pretty sure they erroneously imagine that stay-at-home moms never actually leave their houses.
This is the response my new mommy, hormonal self received from my OB doctor two weeks into my journey as a parent.
Response #2- The “We Must Be Rich” Response
This group thinks I live the life of a high roller and must be married to Mr. Money Bags. They say things like “Oh, well if you can afford it, that’s great.” Or “Oh, well your husband’s in the military so you can do that”.
Now I will be the first to admit, from a global perspective we are wealthy. Nearly all Americans are. We own multiple pairs of shoes and drive a car to get where we want to go.
However, from an American point of view, we are not rich. We are solidly middle class with the massive amount of student loan debt that comes along with it.
There have been plenty occasions where money was tight. God has always provided what we need, but there are certain things we want- things many of our friends and family have, things we choose to do without.
Financially, our lives would be much easier if we had two full-time incomes. However, my husband and I both agree, it is more important for me to invest my time into our children than it is to build our bank account.
Response #3- The “What a Waste” Response
These are the people like the well-intentioned lady doing my pedicure who find out I have a college degree I’m don’t use. They might not use the words “What a waste” but the way they shake their head says it all.
Yes, college was expensive (remember the student loans I mentioned earlier?), but I am not going to let a choice I made as an eighteen-year-old highschooler dictate everything about my life now.
Do I wish I had done things differently? Sometimes. But college gave me the life I have now. It is where I met my husband after all! And I have used my education degree for different part-jobs, I’m just not making a full-time income from it. Besides, college was a blast and a time of huge growth both personally and spiritually.
It wasn’t a waste.
So How Do I Respond When I Am Asked “The Dreaded Question”?
Well, when the nail technician adamantly made her point that I needed to go back to work as soon as my kids were in school I shrugged my shoulders and said “Maybe”.
Trust me, after her rant about how expensive kids were and how I shouldn’t waste the money I spent on college, this was not the time to mention I homeschool. Otherwise, I would have had to walk out of there with polish on only two toes. It would not have been a good look for the wedding.
In other situations, I will engage a bit more and explain the reasons for the choices we’ve made. This wasn’t the right person to do that with, though.
Instead, I changed the subject to something about her and vented my frustration to my mom in the car later. Sometimes it’s aggravating to have to defend your parenting choices, especially to complete strangers.
I’ve noticed over the years that I have to be conscientious of my own insecurities. If I’m not careful, they can creep in and cause me to put additional pressure on my kids. Sometimes I feel like since I made the choice to keep them home with me then they must be the most excelled students and well- behaved children because they are a direct reflection of me and my job as a parent.
They don’t need that pressure though and neither do I. They need a mom who loves them, who makes whatever decision she thinks is the best for them.
That’s what we’re all doing, isn’t it? Every hour of every day, we’re trying to do what we think is best for our kid. And each kid is different, so what’s best for each one of them looks different.
Each parent is different too, with different values and opinions about what “best” actually is. So, of course, our decisions about what’s best are as varied and diverse as we are.
So let’s stop attacking each other. Let’s stop putting other people down. Let’s stop defending ourselves to each other. Whether we work or stay home, send our kids to public school or homeschool, nurse or use formula, let our kids eat food off the floor, or whatever the latest issue is- just stop. Use the knowledge, wisdom, and convictions God has given you and make the best decision for your family.
You’re doing fine Mama. In fact, you’re doing great! Your kids are thankful to have you (even if they don’t always show it). Regardless of what other job you may or may not be doing: motherhood is the most important one you will ever have.
PS- My favorite response to this “dreaded question” is from someone else who stayed home with their kids or was raised by a mom that did. These people just get it! Do you stay home? What responses do you get? Share below!