Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: I’m thrilled to be able to stay home and raise my three children full time, but as a former Washingtonian, I still dread being asked “What do you do?” and having to label myself a stay-at-home mother. Any suggestions about rebranding this title so these encounters don’t feel so awkward?
And yeah, yeah, I know my job is tougher and more important than many, and that I’m projecting my own feelings onto other people — it’s just a hang-up I’ve never been able to get past.
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– SAHM Shame
DEAR SAHM SHAME: Nope, rebranding would only expose your discomfort further, which presumably is the opposite of what you hope to accomplish.
Please think of stay-at-home parenting (or working full time, or working part time) as a modern retelling of “The Sneetches.” First it was the non-working crowd that was fancy, then it was the working crowd that was fancy, then it was the I-can-afford-to-stay-home crowd again, then it was the crowd of people in enough control of their careers to swing part-time arrangements. At this point, so many stars have been on and off bellies that, from where I sit, it’s pointless to try to determine who’s fancy anymore.
You’re a stay-at-home mom. You chose it. Now own it.
Why can’t she say, “I used to do XXX. Right now I’m fortunate to be able to take a break from the workforce to stay home with my children. Once they are in school, I hope to go back to (chosen field)”? That way she can own both her SAHMness and her previous occupation/education. Also can’t hurt in the networking department if/when she does eventually want to go back to work.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: If someone said that to me, I’d hear, “If I twist any more to justify myself, I might snap.”
It’s really OK to say one is home with kids. I think it would serve us all to see it neither as heroic nor shameful, but instead just “is.”
If someone wants to add the before and after career for networking purposes or just to stoke the conversation, then that’s fine — “I’m a teacher/lawyer/baker/shoe buyer, currently home with my kids.” But, really, stop focusing on other people’s opinions.
DEAR CAROLYN: I wrote to you about a man I was seeing for four years (http://wapo.st/1eRaEkB) who still had not gotten it together to finish up his separation/divorce. After I read your column, and some very judgmental comments from other readers, I had a conversation with him focused on just what you said.
He has said he was making the necessary changes, but due to children and financial issues it was taking longer than expected. In that regard, he did not want to leave a train wreck behind.
I can respect that, but I cannot wait forever — and I don’t think he sees the train wreck he is leaving with me. Thoughts?
– Four Years Later, Part 2
DEAR FOUR YEARS LATER, PART 2: It’s your train wreck, too. You, unlike his children — whom you omitted last time, along with the word “separation,” meaning he’s still with his wife! — helped create this. It’s on you, then, either to prevent a wreck or serve as your own first responder. Get out before the damage gets any worse.