Do you work? And how!!

A memory...

My husband and I find our assigned places at the wedding reception. I tuck my newborn's car seat out of the way of foot traffic and turn to a woman next to me. She is well-dressed with a flat tummy, movie star hair and recently manicured nails. She eyes me up and down with a pseudo-friendly smile and says, "So... What do you do?"

I simultaneously want to laugh at her, pray for her, answer her question with a list as long as the Nile, and run to the ladies room to find out why she keeps staring at my hair in that way...
. . .
Reading Cam's thoughts on the "What do you do?" question got me thinking today. It's actually been quite a while since I've heard that particular question. The likely cause of absence is that it's generally quite clear to most people what I do. I am very rarely without at least one of my children and most often with several or all of them. Anyone who has even one child can guess pretty well what I do when I'm walking around with six.

The first response that pops into my mind to the question "What do you do?" is "What DON'T I do?" peppered with a good deal of interior laughter.

I haven't had to respond to that question in quite a while. However, there are a couple others that I find myself fielding with relatively frequency.

*How do you do it?

This really is a great question because it implicitly acknowledges that I actually am doing something, which is a tremendous advancement from those "you're wasting your brain on babies" comments from the earlier days.

My answer has changed a bit over the last few years. At first, I didn't know what on earth I could possibly say. My interior dialogue went something like this: "How do I do what? I mean I do it because I want to and have to... if we're talking about the same thing here. Most of the time I don't do it half as well as I think I aught... so it's kind of you to imply through your question that I'm successfully achieving something... but I change diapers awfully well. I missed that bill payment last week. That was a bummer. But Cookie is reading like a champ and Crash only needed 4 band-aids this week..." And my expression probably just conveyed total stupidity.

My answer today is plainly: "By the grace of God." Because it's the absolute truth.

*Do you work?

This is similar to the "What do you do?" question because people still want to know if I'm using my brain outside the home. They can see what I do... and want to know if I do anything else that's more interesting to talk about.

Like the first question, it used to trip me up. I'd formulate extremely elaborate, defensive answers in an attempt to justify my lifework to them and generally just end up looking rather unintelligent... and, well... defensive.

My answer now to the question of "do you work?" varies...

And how! 
You better believe I do! 
Harder than I ever have in my life!

I do know what they mean by the question. But why should I answer a poorly formulated question with an answer that will never reflect well on this good and beautiful lifestyle?

Words do matter. It's important to frame questions properly in order to get an accurate answer and also to respect the person being questioned. Stay-at-home/homeschooling moms need to carefully consider the words we use in our answers as well. It's important that we not use them frivolously or excessively in defense of our lifestyle. We know when a question is sincere and when it is just curiosity and when it is intended to devalue or shame. I've floundered with answers many times in my life and it's generally when I'm focused on myself and my own ego. The answers are easier when we choose to answer literally and defer to God when possible. Perhaps I should wear a sign that reads as follows:

By the grace of God, I work hard from home to raise and teach my children. Details available upon request.

Generally, these questions are an opportunity to witness. I think a good rule of thumb for me is to use the motto that Lena and I came up with for 2011. It's primarily for use directly with our vocation as wives and mothers, since most of our days are spent with family, but can be applied to annoying questioners as well...

Be Charitable.
Be Useful.
Be Gentle.
Be Joyful.
Forget about yourself.
(Jesus and Mary)

Posted on January 20, 2011 and filed under "homeschooling", "stay at home mom".