What Do You Do?
It happens all the time when you are a stay-at-home mom. You chat in line at the coffee shop, or you visit a new church, or you are introduced at a cocktail party. You get through the exchange of names gracefully, and then comes the dreaded question:
“So! What do you do?”
We can pop shrimp in our mouths to obscure our answers, but when alone, we also ask ourselves, “What will I do when the kid leave home?”
So we develop hobbies and volunteer and take online courses so our resumes sound current. There is a huge upswing among stay-at-home moms in crafty-ness (and blogging about their crafty-ness), in knitting, in Little House on the Prairie-inspired baking and the sewing of pillowcase dresses. These are all good things that make parenting fun and fill mornings and hopefully keep our minds active.
But it’s also good to occasionally contemplate the effect of competing values on our contentment. If we are able to stay home, we are making a sacrificial choice in terms of income, but we’re also making a sacrificial choice in terms of worldly prestige. It’s just super unlikely, whatever continuing education courses I take, that I will be able to launch into a big-deal career the moment my youngest child leaves the nest. I like to think that the things I do now (aside from making zucchini bread and sock puppets) will enable me to find a gig I like and that makes an impact when the time comes. But I can’t do well the job I have now if I stress over the “What will I do” question in the meantime.
At the root of this conflict is the assumption that there is a lesser value to some jobs than others. So who defines worth?
Maybe it’s God. Maybe it’s just us. Maybe it’s our husbands, our families. Maybe it’s Pretty, Popular, Powerful People. Maybe it’s some materialist standard.
First, I should note that work-as-basis-of-identity is not a universal value. The German philosopher Josef Pieper wrote that the ancients wouldn’t even have understood our conception of work as being the sum of our person. Some of the ancient words for “work” would actually be translated more like “non-leisure.” Their paradigm was quite unlike ours.
But what does God say about what we do? Well, he says a great deal to women in particular, just as if he knew we’d struggle with this issue. The Proverbs 31 wife with her myriad homemaking accomplishments is “worth more than rubies.” When wives are again addressed in 1 Peter 3, it is the woman’s gentle spirit that is of “great worth in God’s sight.” God is telling us how to identify ourselves to his satisfaction, and if Proverbs is to believed, that of our families as well.
That leaves us to please only the pretty, popular, powerful crowd and materialism. It’s interesting that the 1 Peter passage ends with a warning. If we would be counted the daughters of the godly women of old, we must “not give way to fear (v. 6).” God knew that there would be external pressure to seek something different or something more than the portion we’ve been given right now.
He also tells us we don’t have to wonder what the world will think. We can rest assured that if we are in Christ, we will be reviled. So yay! That’s settled! Maybe too much enthusiasm for the derision of our peers, but it does put perspective on our striving.
So back to the cocktail party question, “What do you do?”
Nothing here gives me a smooth response. I can’t cry, “I don’t get out of my pajamas much, but I am a new creation!” Biblical accuracy is not the point of this query. If you’re like me, you may have secretly wanted to bolster your “I stay at home” with some reference to your unused degrees or other sellable qualities. I think if we redefine our goal, we can pick a better answer. We want to invite conversation, relationship. We want to be true to ourselves and the choices we’ve made in good conscience. We’d prefer not to look idiotic.
I try to think more of my delivery than my wording. “I’m at home with my kids. We’re starting a home schooling program in the fall,” is true. But if we add “just” to our “at home” or qualify it with an apologetic shrug and a “but”, we’re indicating that what we do is a lesser thing. If I am straightforward and engaged, even proud despite my lack of an impressive title, then I project how I feel about what I do, and how God feels about it, and not some assumption of what the world thinks of me and my just-mom-ness.