So, What Do You Do…?

by Lori Dwyer on February 16, 2012 · 21 comments

“So, what do you do?”

How often do you get asked that question…? Every time you meet someone? Me too. It’s not definitively a bad thing– it’s a social nicety, an opener to further conversation, one of the qualifiers we use to box people… age, gender, weight, job, and so forth. (Tell me you don’t, and I say– liar. Maybe you don’t even ask that question, but I’ll bet you still put people into categories and boxes, line them up so you understand them a bit better. It’s human nature. Everyone does it. You might be aware of it, and not let it influence your decisions or actions, and that’s awesome. But you still do it.)

I never mind being asked the question. But I’ll confess that it bristles me to have to answer “I look after my kids”. Not because I have a problem with it… it’s just the reaction I tend to get. And I know that’s not unique to me either.

It’s the roll of the eyes, if people are rude enough. If the person you’re talking to is polite– and not a parent themselves- you’re likely to get the literal cold shoulder– a polite smile, then that slight shift in body language that indicates you have been ‘boxed’– a parent, full time. At best, nothing in common and nothing interesting to say.

I’ve gotten so used to it in four and a bit years that it barely registers anymore. The only thing that’s bought it to my attention again is the way I seem to be an exception now- because my children’s father is dead, it’s OK to be at home with them full time. It’s excusable.

I’ve always justified myself, I can’t help it. It used to be with a weak “I used to work at so and so….”. Now, in the After, it’s more akin to “I am all my children have got. After what they’ve lost, what they’ve been through… It’s so much better for them, to have me at home. They deserve to be my full time project, for the next few years at least.”

How freaking stupid. I hate myself a little bit every time I say something like that, and I’ve fallen into a habit of doing it more often. It’s Pavlovian and I feel powerless against it– the positive reinforcement kicks into those subconscious social skills (which I seem to run on a lot these days) and I repeat that explanation, that justification, over and over.

Because, shamefully, people seem to have more respect for what I do– being a full time mother to my children– now that I’m a sole parent than they did when I was part of a couple.

It’s not that what I say isn’t genuine. Its truth– I do feel, having only one parent, it’s only fair that if I can stay at home with them, I do. And they are my full time hobby and occupation. I blog on the side, but most of my time and energy goes to my children. But that’s ridiculous, and I know it– most parents spend all their available time and energy on their children, whether they’re at home or not. Aren’t our children always a full time occupation? It’s just that little ones are so much more so labor intensive.

It’s the way people’s reactions have shifted that bothers me. I wish I were imagining it, but I’m so sure I’m not. People have more respect for me, as a stay at home mum, now that there’s a ‘legitimate’ reason behind it– my children’s father is dead. Not ‘just’ because I want to, or I’m able to, or I think it’s the best thing for them and me, or because they’re only this tiny once. None of those reasons ever seemed good enough.

As I said… it’s ridiculous. I do the same job now that I did in the Before… but the respect I get is far more palpable in the After.

What’s with that?


And on a totally different note- this stuff is awesome.

Trilogy Helping Hand Wash smells divine- lavender, geranium, rose and frankincense- and profits raised go to the Child’s iFoundation, which is helping to end the tragedy of baby abandonment in Uganda.

I think I’ll just leave you with that one. Baby abandonment.

At $19.95 for one glorious smelling pump pack, that’s money extremely well spent.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Being Me February 21, 2012 at 10:05 am

I can identify with this, Lori. That Pavlov response… it won't always stay with you. And it may morph into something equally as positive (what's wrong with that??) but maybe not so justifying in its subconscious intent. I used to find myself saying "I decided, after what happened to us and how long it took to get just one child here, that I would commit myself to raising her until she reached school age." Well, I did it and dayam… I almost irreversibly altered my mental health by sticking to my guns about it! Because I am stubbornly well-intended. Even when there is great risk to my wellbeing. Not a particularly comfortable or fun pozzy to be in. But hey. I'm sure you're no stranger to the silent scream inside your head.

Hope you're doing ok. I'm sorry I haven't checked in for so long xx


pheonix February 21, 2012 at 8:33 am

Do you have some tips to talk to SAH mums or dads if they tell you they are a Stay At Home parent? I genuinely like talking to parent, but as I don't have kids, I tend to get a bit stuck and get a bit nervous and try real hard not to talk to much about myself if asked what I do, as I feel embarressed that I haven't asked enough about that persons life. I guess I could ask about where they live, I don't really remember small talk as I have a bad memory for names i.e. songs, celebrities, movies etc.


Mrs K February 20, 2012 at 7:30 am

Oh yeah, totally relate. I wrote a post about how I was asked at an appointment if I worked


Baggage February 18, 2012 at 8:19 am

Great timing on this post. I am getting ready to have to leave my job to take care of my six year old who has to have brain surgery and chemotherapy. Like you, I think that she needs me, her mom, to be there more than we need money, or I need to do something outside the house. You are a great mom, Lori.


ourchildrensearth February 18, 2012 at 2:09 am

I so understand that question. Then the justification comes, I used to do this and was really important at my job. I think you have beautiful kids and so do I, so we ROCK at our jobs!


exumbrerum February 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Just saw this today on FB…

A man came home from work and found his 3 children outside, still in their pyjamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn around garden, The door of his wife's car was open, as was the front door to the house and no sign of the dog, walking in the door, he found …an even bigger mess. A lamp had been knocked over, the throw rug was against one wall, In the front room the TV was on loudly with the cartoon channel, the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing. In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, the fridge door was open wide, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door. He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife. He was worried she might be ill, or that something serious had happened. He was met with a small trickle of water as it made its way out the bathroom door. As he peered inside he found wet towels, scummy soap and more toys strewn over the floor. Miles of toilet paper lay in a heap and toothpaste had been smeared over the mirror and walls. As he rushed to the bedroom, he found his wife still curled up in the bed in her pyjamas, reading a novel… She looked up at him, smiled and asked how his day went. He looked at her bewildered and asked, 'What happened here today?' She again smiled and answered, 'You know every day when you come home from work and you ask me what in the world do I do all day?.. ''Yes," was his incredulous reply.. She answered,. 'Well, today I didn't do it. :)


Eccles February 17, 2012 at 4:54 pm

I did go back to work, but after my kids started school. My kids hated me not being able to pick them up & having to stay with grandparents while I worked. So, I stayed home. I tried part-time work, but that started to invade my "kid" time. So, I stayed home. I tried part-time work again, but my kids were learning to drive & needed someone to supervise. Needless to say, I stayed home. I am now retired. My kids drive themselves. We all have wonderful memories of spending time together. I was once asked "What do you do?". My reply, "I'm a residential manager". (I refuse to be a domestic anything). His response "Who do you work for?". He was in real estate. Ha ha – caught out. Turned out his wife had not worked a day of their marriage. I didn't have to feel bad at all. Did he judge me, of course! Did I judge his wife? I was too pissed off at him. As mums, we're damned if we stay home, we're damned if we work. Heads I win, tails you lose. We all have to do what works for our own families. So Lori, next time you're asked what you do, I'd go with Kim, (just leave out the word "domestic"). "I'm a world famous residential blogger. Haven't you heard of me?". Sounds pretty good to me lol.
Love your two kidlets – they are gonna be heart breakers.
Take care, enjoy the time NOW!! (X)


Cassondra February 17, 2012 at 3:44 am

I can't actually imaging abandoning babies. After my struggle with infertility, that's just about a foreign the me as the moon.

I like that what you're doing is actually the opposite of child abandonment, being there for them. I keep wondering what I'm going to do when my baby is born. Should I stay home with her from the start, or should I go back to work while we try for a second (to help pay for the fertility treatments) and THEN stay home with them? Should I try to find a job that I can do from home, or what? These are really tough questions, and I have come to respect anyone's answer to them.


Kim February 17, 2012 at 2:59 am

"I'm a full-time domestic engineer and part-time world famous blogger. You haven't heard of me?"

THAT'S how you answer that question!


Melissa February 17, 2012 at 12:03 am

And what gorgeous little munchkins they are too! Well done, you!


Melissa February 16, 2012 at 10:25 pm

I totally agree with the previous commenter who works full time – it doesn't matter what you say – the judgement rains down … I always feel like people are looking for a way to feel better than me – rather than finding away to connect with me.


Sharon A. February 16, 2012 at 5:40 pm

My fave one is, 'what do you DO all day?' or, 'don't you get bored?'


Just Another Fallen Angel February 16, 2012 at 3:27 pm

I've been a stay at home mother for almost 16 years. I had odd jobs here and there for a few months and once tried working out of the house for 2 years while still being a full time mother and all the joys that go with it.
I have to say I get the opposite reaction that you get in your "after" then I have in my "after". Even though I'm now my childrens only parent and I answer that question with "stay at home mother" I have a worse reaction…like I'm not providing what I need for my children.
Don't let anyone's opinion's or reactions to what you do affect you in any way. You do what is best for you and your children, no one else knows better then you. Take care and thanks for all the wonderful posts, I feel like I sometimes have a twin on the other side of the world with our lives.


Kel February 16, 2012 at 2:48 pm

You totally don't have to justify yourself – in the Before or the After – because being a parent is a priviledge. Full stop. You're sculpting people! I think that beats any boring arse job, including mine! lol If you're able to stay home with your littles, why wouldn't you? I'd much rather be at home with Miss 3 than going to work every day, but we gotta do what we gotta do in this world.
Screw the eye-rollers…how can you look at those 2 gorgeous littles and not want to be with them??


Anonymous February 16, 2012 at 12:34 pm

OMG best reply ever! Thank you!


Anonymous February 16, 2012 at 10:22 am

Amazing Lori, I experience the exact same thing to you and I work full time! I get… Why did you bother having children if you can't bring yourself to raise them or that working full time is a form of ‘Child abuse’… I feel as if working mothers cop a lot of flak because they don’t stay at home and care for the children…
This is a huge world we live in, why can’t we all do what works for each individual person and family without being made to feel guilty and persecuted for the decisions we have made. As long as you and your children are happy, what does it matter?


Vicky February 16, 2012 at 9:39 am

It sucks. On so many levels. I'm a single twice married stay at home mum… You should see the looks I get when I share that little pearler. No sooner have the words left my mouth and I can tell I have been nicely compartmentalised into 'that' stigma. Cest le vie … I just add to to the other stigmas attached to me… You know, the mental health ones… Actually that is probably a whole other compartment… Crazy single stay at home mum…

Having said all that, while lunching with my best friend yesterday, who is a full time working mum, she was discussing the angst and guilt that she feels for being a full time working mum…

Maybe if we ,as in the collective 'we' stopped giving ourselves and each other such a hard time about the choices we make, and instead supported and upheld each other we wouldn't feel like we have to justify anything.

The best words I have ever heard were from someone who after relaying the story of how she had set up a little bed in her bedroom for her 4yo daughter to sleep in, so that they could all get some sleep…her her husband and the baby…, when ther person she was telling her looked aghast and said I don't think that is a very good idea, she replied do you live in my house? No? So how does this affect you?


Drew Emmick February 16, 2012 at 9:25 am

I've never understood why anyone would judge or look down on someone that has dedicated a significant portion of each day and their lives to raise children. My ex-wife worked with and raised our children at home. And I know from personal experience, on the occasion she went out of town, how much concentrated effort and hard work that entails. Honestly, I always felt like I was the one getting off easy by working an office job.


Anonymous February 16, 2012 at 9:19 am

Being a stay at home mom is the best job in the world. If you aren't one, you believe you aren't important and other people can raise your children as well or better than you can. I have more respect for stay at home moms than working women.


In Real Life February 16, 2012 at 9:12 am

When I answer that question with, "I homeschool my kids." 99% of the time, I get an automatic horrified expression and the almost defensive response, "I could NEVER do that!' – it irks me!

Gorgeous photos of your children, Lori!


Shelley February 16, 2012 at 9:40 am

Yes THAT question. Its not the question so much but the responses i get that peeve me. I find its often other mothers that are the most judgemental on this topic. I had a fellow mum say to me not long ago "i really admire you for being able to stay home with your child, not many people can do that". Ive just recently become a single parent so really looking forward to the judgement!


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