How do you answer that question when you no longer work for The Man? How do you answer it when you're somewhere between stay at home mom and self-employed? How do you answer it when you know it's the social question most often that people ask in order to determine a) where you are financially compared to them, b) whether they should be interested in you or not and c) it lets other people put you into a box marked Labeled: Converse or Ignore.
It's really weird, the way I feel about answering that question these days. What am I? I had a lot of my ego wrapped up in being a project manager for The Man and then I quit. What was I then? A SAHM? I was working on the photography thing, so I'd occasionally trot that one out: I'm a photographer. Now, I'm not chasing the photography thing (too cash intensive - at the moment), but am instead considering the plant nursery thing.
"What do you do?" often gets answered with "I'm a full time gardener."
You get a really weird response when you say that you're a SAHM. Often it's just, "Oh." Then the eyes glaze over and you are dismissed from the conversation. The questioner turns to the next person in the conversation circle and asks the next person. Your worth/interest as an individual is taken from the response to that one single question. Perhaps the rest of the group shuns you, or perhaps any other moms in the circle then want to talk to you. Why do people assume that if you're a SAHM you don't have anything interesting to say? Any interests or hobbies that they, the fully employed, might also share?
Why do I care?
That's the better question, I think. The full time gardener comment does get an interesting response out of others and gets the conversation rolling. Talking about opening a plant nursery also moves the conversation along. However, repeatedly, I've noticed responding with SAHM gets me the cold shoulder. Why is that? Someone has to take care of the kid(s) and in this case, it's me. I even know two men that are stay at home dads. I have no idea how they respond. Do they say what they used to do? Do they announce their SAHD-ness with pride?
Sometimes I find myself talking about what I used to do. Suddenly I get more clout.
Oh, you used to work in IT? Cool.
You used to travel around the world? Cool.
You are a SAHM? Uncool.
Oh, I see Jane/Bob over there, nice talking to you!
Cue insincere smile and rapid escape.
What's up with that? The media would have us believe that ain't nothin' better than Mom and Apple Pie, staying home, raising kids and doing laundry. Women are most often defined by their motherhood status. However, the reality is a whole lot different. We're not taken seriously. Our issues can safely be ignored until the month before election day. Our children are used as fodder in unnecessary wars. If we decide to protest, we're belittled (See any reference to Cindy Sheehan.).
Oh, and if you mention you're a feminist, look out! Suddenly you're defending your choice to have a child and your choice to leave the traditional workforce. Whoo! Ain't no fun like that!
So what's a liberal, feminist, self-employed SAHM to do?
Announce it. Be proud of it. Be belligerent. Why not? Everyone has (or had) a mom. You might be someone's mom now, or some day in the future (if you choose to). If we're not proud of what we do, why should anyone else be?