Warning: This is a rant. This is not a measured, spiritual, uplifting piece. This post is written in anger and is therefore somewhat self-pitying and abrasive. It is probably also offensive. You have been warned.
What is my profession? I am a homemaker and a homeschooling mother. I am also a college professor, but this is my second job. I do it only because my debt requires a second income. I would stop teaching in a New York minute if my financial obligations were mitigated.
When people ask me what I do, I assess their ability to damage me and then I answer accordingly. If they are not in a position to bully me or my children, I tell them that I am a homemaker and that I also teach. If they are in a position to bully me or my children, I tell them that I am a college professor. People who hear that I am a college professor are doctors, nurses, school officials, and others who may use their professions as excuses to become very busily and judgmentally involved in others' lives.
I have found that when I first mention that I am a homemaker, I get a variety of negative responses.
Response #1: Condescension. "Isn't that nice! I wish I could stay home with my children, but I just couldn't afford it. It must be so nice to be home with them all day. You must have your hands full!"
Related to this response is their tendency to then treat me like I'm a half-wit. I notice this particularly in doctor's offices. When they see me as a homemaker, they are inattentive, rude, and bossy. As soon as they see on my charts that I also have a doctorate and teach in a college, they adjust their tone and vocabulary to indicate that they now respect my intelligence and my ability to make informed decisions.
Response #2: Judgment: "You have betrayed the feminist movement and/or are wasting your education."
Sometimes the reaction really has been that blatant and nasty. Most of the time, however, it is more subtle. People give me a great deal of advice on how to get a job teaching in a university. They encourage me to network, apply myself, and become more assertive.
Of course, the two responses often come together. People tell me how "nice" it must be to stay home with the kids and then give me advice to help me escape that unfortunate situation. They tell me that they are so impressed with my ability to (my goodness!) write, teach, and look after children. My, my! So busy! They must think I'm a complete innocent if they think I believe they're actually praising me for staying at home in an unpaid job.
I study the history of domesticity. I know that it doesn't make me somehow "special." I'm not unaware of its changing status, and I'm not likely to believe that somehow my choice to be a homemaker makes me unusually patient and self-sacrificing. The job undertaken by most women until the most recent generations is certainly challenging, but to gush about it as if it is unusual and soooo nice, is a bit much. I know that tone. It is the same tone people used to speak to me when I was a child. "Well, good for you! You know how to write your own name. What a smart girl!"
So here's the point of this post, fair readers: If you happen to speak to a homemaker, try not to be condescending and judgmental. It is a real job, a real calling, and it takes real time and energy. I am not lazy or unskilled. I am not doing this because I can't make it in the "real world." I actually mean to be where I am. I also do not need ego-stroking. I'm not ashamed of being a homemaker and don't need your praise or pity.
Don't tell me that you would do if you had the money. That's especially insulting to a person in a low-income family. Relatively speaking, while I am more privileged than many people living in poverty, I am very likely far less privileged than you are. My spouse is a blue-collar worker and we have lived from hand to mouth our entire marriage. It takes some doing, let me tell you, to stay home. If you are going to tell me that you would stay home but you just don't have the money, you'd sure as hell better hide your vehicle (or your clothes, or vacations, furnishings, jewelry, etc.) that cost more than my entire household. It isn't nice to tempt Quakers to violence.
The thing is that I respect and admire people who work outside the home. I see that choice as challenging, interesting, and important. It would be nice if such people felt the same way about my choice, but if they don't, I much prefer that they keep their mouths closed than respond to me by bullying me, judging me, or by gushing saccharine insincerities in my direction.