“Do you work outside the home?”
I guess this has become the PC way to ask if you are a stay at home mom or not. But, personally, this particular question drives me nuts. Mostly because I don’t know how to answer it. See, I work 2 jobs (and considering a third) but I don’t work outside the home. I have a pretty sweet set-up with a home office and it works great for my work as a trade show manager and a director for a non-profit ag organization. So I know what people are really asking when they pose that question, “do you have a job?”, and the answer is “yes, thanks” but the technically correct answer is “no, I don’t work outside the home”.
My head always vapor locks for a second before I answer because I’m trying to work out what is the most honest answer. Perhaps I should just forget about an honest answer and come up with something far more interesting. “No, my husband has only let me off the chain for this trip to town” or “Does mowing the lawn count?” or something else witty that I apparently can’t think of at this moment.
I think the reason people ask the question is because we still have a divide in our culture between women who have a job and those who don’t. That’s what it comes down to…people can banter back and forth about the correct terminology but let’s just call it as it is. Do you have a job or do you stay at home? People have demonized both choices and that’s why we have an entirely new vocabulary to describe what we do. “Stay at home mom” is now almost a slur…we try to come up with ways to explain all the things we do as moms: domestic goddess, domestic engineer, family management, the list goes on. And in our attempt to justify our choice to stay with our children, we cast doubt on those of us who choose to (or have to) work a job in addition to being moms. And then moms with jobs feel that we need to justify our choice by reminding everyone that we do all the household work AND hold a job. It really doesn’t help any of us…women divided against women over a personal choice just holds us all back.
You’ll notice that I took ownership in both descriptions when I talked about moms at home and moms with jobs. That’s because I feel that I have one foot firmly planted in each side. An odd position to be in and one that comes with it’s own unique set of pros & cons. To be sure, it’s a blessing for me. My work is mostly performance based so I can manage my time as needed. This lets me take off time to go to a school play, soccer practice or doctors appointment without having to punch a clock or arrange for time off. I can work at 5 am or 10 pm, as long as I get stuff done. With 3 kids who play sports in town (we live 12 miles out) and a small farm and a husband who works 24 hr. shifts, that is huge! This type of flexibility is enough of a benefit for me that it has kept me from seeking out higher paying, more conventional jobs that might actually have retirement benefits and the like. For our family dynamic, this is the best thing for all of us.
An average day for me can consist of getting the kids off to school then working in the barn then making bread and then settling in at my desk, all before 10 am. And, if I need to take advantage of good weather to work in the garden or clean the chicken coop, I know that I can catch up on desk work at night or when it’s yucky outside. Like today, my youngest is home sick but I don’t have to rearrange my schedule too much to be there for her and still get my work done. And in between business calls I’m taking calls from the high school about my son’s class schedule and making dentist appointments It’s a multi-taskers dream!
What is also means is that I never really leave my work behind. I’m always checking my email and I always have a To-Do list. It also means that my kids don’t always understand that I have to keep some kind of office hours, even when they are home from school for various reasons. I have to balance my time pretty well to make it all work so I wake up early and I stay up late to get it all done. And I take my work very personally so it means a lot of stress if the show isn’t filling up like it should or if the membership numbers are down…regardless of other responsible factors, like the economy, I feel a constant pressure to make it profitable and viable. So sometimes there’s more stress involved with this type of job because it’s entwined with the rest of my daily life and not something that I leave behind when I leave an office. But again, it’s worth the flexibility that gives me time with my family.
So yeah, I have a weird set up. And it makes answering that ridiculous question a little difficult. But never fear, I’m sure I’ll come up with some type of smartass remark that will satisfy as an answer…perhaps a bit more coffee will help the thought process.