As an at-home mom I’ve hated that moment when I meet someone new at a party, or some other social or professional gathering, and they ask me, “What do you do?” I’ve hesitantly answered, “I’m a stay-at-home mom,” and once I used the J-word: “I’m just a mom.” Ouch!
These answers were unsatisfying for me and my new acquaintances. Potentially interesting conversations ended prematurely as the generic job title I share with millions of other women left me feeling painfully ordinary and uninteresting.
“The world does not live and die by the categories of at-home mom, working mom, and alpha mom,” says Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira, author of Mama’s Got a Fake I.D. “These labels come in handy for marketers…but in real life they aren’t useful.”
Rivadaneira suggests that mothers take their cues from God, who chooses to reveal himself in myriad ways, and answer this standard question more creatively.
She suggests using the “I’m a mom and a _______” approach. For example, “I’m a mom and an activist.” Or “I’m a mom, a runner, and a writer.” This gives your new acquaintance two or three windows into who you are as a whole person, not just one role or part of you. It also gives them the opportunity to ask a follow-up question about whichever aspect they resonate with or find most intriguing.
Rivadaneira also suggests using a grammatically ‘active’ approach to your answers by focusing on verbs. So rather than saying, “I’m a mom, a student, and a dancer,” you might say, “I raise kids, study theology, and go salsa dancing as often as possible.”
As moms learn to describe themselves in more creative ways that reflect their beautifully complex identities, Rivadeneira says they move “out of mom anonymity” and are “seen and known as both fully mom and fully something else.”
I can’t help but think of how great it would be if fathers also came up with better ways of describing themselves that included their passions, as well as their work, and affirmed their love and commitment to raising their children.
How would you like to answer the question “What do you do?” more creatively?
 Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira, Mama’s Got a Fake I.D.: How to reveal the real you behind all that mom (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2009), 127.
 Rivadeneira, Mama’s Got a Fake I.D., 128.
 Rivadeneira, Mama’s Got a Fake I.D., 129.
 Rivadeneira, Mama’s Got a Fake I.D. 129.
 Rivadeneira, Mama’s Got a Fake I.D. 128.
Josh Rusev said:
Hello, dear friend. I think the problem is not the job of stay-at-home mom being enough, but the lack of recognition of how hard and important and irreplacable it is. The world will not recognize it because it does not value life or child raising any more than it values pets and hobbies. Service is not a dirty word. It is a beautiful one.
Marta Oti Sears said:
Josh, I agree that at-home moms, as well as at-home dads, are not valued enough. I also know that many employed moms feel undervalued and judged by women who choose (or chose) to be at-home moms and by men whose wives were at-home moms. My hope is that we can value those who are making the “other” choice without allowing that to take away from our value. And vice versa.
U. Shaw said:
Hi Marta- Great topic! The lack of understanding for what I am doing (being at home with my small children) is something that I wrestle with. I have heard it said that it is tough when you are bucking a trend and that is often how I feel. The trend right now seems to be for mothers to return to paid work, in some form, pretty quickly after their kids are born.
I am reading “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown right now and what you’ve been writing about recently made me think of what she says here: “We seem to measure the value of people’s contributions (and sometimes their entire lives) by their level of public recognition. In other words, worth is measured by fame and fortune. Our culture is quick to dismiss quiet, ordinary, hardworking men and women. In many instances, we equate ordinary with boring or, even more dangerous, ordinary has become synonymous with meaningless.”
Oh man. This is not part of our current American culture that I am proud of, at all. What kind of legacy are we leaving our children with? The sooner we can regroup on this topic, as a society, the better. I don’t think their are any easy answers, necessarily.
Thanks for writing this, Marta! 🙂
Marta Oti Sears said:
U., thanks for your thoughts and the great quote. I really like Brene Brown. Her words cause me to consider changing the name of this blog back to my original idea, “Beauty and Meaning in the Ordinary.” (Does that resonate or speak to you more than “Beauty and Meaning in the Mess”?) Your thoughts, and Brene’s, warrant another post. 🙂