A couple of days ago I saw a post on Facebook from my old high school. It’s a small private school and they have a Director of Development. He was asking alumni to describe their profession – always a good list to have on hand for a school’s director of development. I clicked through to read it – I love knowing what people do. I feel like it gives me a little tiny window into who they are. I know the current trend when meeting someone is to ask what their interests are instead of what they do, but I like knowing people’s jobs. Introductions feels overly personal at this initial stage to me and just awkward. What they do is so much safer, it’s how the world knows them and it holds some insight into who they are.
I scrolled through more than a hundred entires and I found a few from folks I knew back in the day. I read them all and then clicked away without including myself.
This stopped me for a minute – Wait. why didn’t I include myself?
The answer gave me a little jolt. “I don’t have anything impressive to write.”
One of my main motivators in life is to be impressive. It’s true. I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I just know that it is.
And right now – what I would currently write, “Stay at home mom of 4,” wasn’t cutting it on my impresso-meter.
I don’t like that I feel that way. But I know why I do.
Let me give you a little window into me in high school. I was known as something of a feminist. I was sorta feisty and spirited and involved in student council. I feel like I was rarely in class – I was walking the halls getting stuff done. At homecoming instead of a king and queen we had guy and girl “ambassadors” of 4 character qualities. I was voted in as the leadership ambassador. In our senior yearbook I was voted as “Most likely to become the next president.” High school told me I was going places.
So to come in and say “Hi guys! I’m a stay at home mom.” felt like something of a let down.
I stewed on that for a couple of hours.
And then I realized that being a SAHM is not a profession. A profession is a paid occupation – especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification. Motherhood required no training, no formal qualifications and I’m not paid for it. It just isn’t.
I felt instantly better. I didn’t include my profession not because it’s not impressive enough, but because I don’t have one. That felt so much lighter to me.
I know it doesn’t feel better to everyone. Sometimes people like to retitle parenting as “Domestic Engineer” or “Chief Household Officer” or calculate all the money mothers would be paid if it were a profession. I get why people do that, but I feel like perhaps it isn’t the best idea.
Trying to make something that is by definition not part of a category fit into that category seems to overvalue that category to me. As though being a professional is the only thing that is worthy and valued. Being a parent, a stay-at-home-make-it-all-happen parent is the opposite of a profession. Not only are we not paid, it can be downright expensive to both our wallets and our future earning potential (assuming we would enter the workforce at some point). Not only are we not formally trained, but as soon as we figure something out with our kid, everything changes. Either we have another one (who is *nothing* like his sister), or the kid enters a new stage and all of the tricks we’ve learned are useless.
I understand redefining parenting work in professional terms helps people with no reference to parenting understand the value of it. Or to remind us that what we’re doing would be a really big deal if it could translate over to that professional world.
But. The professional world is not the only world. A profession is not the only valuable work. Trying to fit something that is clearly “other” into that “Profession” category doesn’t seem helpful. It seems flimsy and defensive. Being a stay at home parent is hard, valuable rewarding work – but it’s not a profession.
It’s a huge responsibility. It’s an amazing opportunity. It’s beautiful and a mess and exhausting and meaningful. It can ask everything of us. It’s life giving and life taking.
It’s not a profession.
So when I was looking at that post, I actually clicked away because I literally had nothing to write. The school’s director of development wasn’t talking to me. He was talking to professionals. And that’s okay. Not everyone is always talking to me. It’s okay to not be included every time.
I’m not the one “going places” and being professionally impressive. I don’t have a profession. I have prolonged education and a formal qualification….I just don’t have a paid occupation. I’m not a professional. I’m at home supporting our family – while my husband goes and does those things. Which is pretty much the exact opposite of what what seemed to be expected of me by my peers back in high school. Which is funny – because when occasionally asked in those days – I always claimed I didn’t really want all that stuff…I actually wanted to stay home with the kids while they were little.
Now that they’re getting bigger and everyone’s out of the house at school (for at least a couple hours a week) I’m raring to go professionally. Truthfully I’ve been antsy for a few years. I experimented with working part time and having a nanny a couple years ago. And then, when that didn’t work out for various reasons (okay fine, I was fired) I decided I really did want to wait the last two years until all the kids were school aged. This last year of one kid in preschool I’ve been easing back in, trying to get geared up and ready to go for it a little more intensly next year when I have six straight working hours a day available.
I say that to make it clear that I’m not advocating for one over the other – being a professional or a stay at home parent. I like, value and enjoy both. And I’m fortunate enough to be able to have choices in which I pursue. My only point is that they aren’t in the same world. And for a couple hours, when I didn’t realize they were different I felt left out and sad. I felt like I was devaluing my children and my role in their lives.
It makes complete sense that a director of development of a private school would want information on professions and not stay at home parents. That’s information he needs to do his job. This data makes the school’s hefty tuition fee seem more like a worthy investment to prospective or current families.
But maybe in our everyday conversations, when we’re not gathering data for investment validation, we should try to shift the focus. Maybe instead of talking about professions we should talk about interests and who we actually are. Surely our everyday conversations are the place to be inclusive of everyone. And there is so much more to be said when discussing interests than a job description. Maybe there is something to be said about that trend to introduce each other by interests instead of professions.
I’ve tried this and it involves more vulnerability and more work than traditional introductions. It’s hard not to fall back on how we’re recognized to the world (our job), and to share instead who we actually are. But I think it’s worth it.
I’m Sarah. I love learning about social science. I don’t enjoy small talk and would much rather get to know you by working on something together. (PTO anyone?) I read a lot of books (especially Juve Lit). I like learning how easy it is to make so many of the things I’ve felt like I had to buy, and then after a bit, buying them again. I like when there is exactly enough and if I’d have to choose I’d err on the side of too little instead of too much. I find beauty in the details. It makes me happy to share what I’ve learned with people. I like to explore my local areas on foot. It’s important to me that people are who they truly are. I can’t keep plants alive. I love a clean house, but I let it stay dirty. Exercise and good food make me feel healthier and happier than anything. My addictive tendencies are most susceptible to sugar.
So what do you think – is that better than “I’m a photographer and life coach”?