"And what do you do?"
The question threw me, and not just because I thought my two little answers were making enough of a scene to be obvious. I was holding my fidgety baby on my right arm while attempting to restrain my three-year-old from escaping the grasp of my left. Using my apparent distraction to her advantage, my daughter was trying to remove each and every beach ball from its wire cage and place it in our shopping cart. (Evidently, the cage like display case is designed just to hold the balls in place and not to slow eager toddlers down.)
The place? A local supermarket. The inquirer? A successful business woman I knew from high school. The time? Four years too late for me to have a good answer to that question.
"What do you do?" Why do those four little words still manage to make some of us tense, defensive, and somewhat uncomfortable every time we hear them? The world sees little glory in the raising of small people. Honor is found in the boardroom, the locker-room, the courtroom, and even the star's dressing room, but not in my kids' playroom. Is there no honor in motherhood? I'm really happy with my choice to be home with my kids, but answering "I'm a stay at home mom" seems to always be met with a dismissive "Oh…that's nice."
What a person does professionally is one of the first things people want to know; yet, ironically one of the least important when it comes to a person's value.
The problem isn't with the answer; it's with the question. Very often when we are asked "What do you do?" what's meant is: "Who are you and how much value should I assign you?" What a person does professionally is one of the first things people want to know; yet, ironically one of the least important when it comes to a person's value.
If I answer "I'm a mom," it's as if I've said, "I don't really do anything," when in reality I do everything. Not in the sense that I do the laundry or the taxes or that I'm raising two beautiful children, but in the sense that I'm busy with the job of becoming me. That's what I do. I'm becoming me.
Isn't that what we are all essentially doing? Becoming who we are supposed to be. Actualizing our potential in this world is our job. Some of us do it while we earn a living as a doctor, web developer, systems engineer, or financial analyst. Some of us do it while we stay at home and raise our kids. There's no difference.
Okay, so here's the difference. Society doles out honorable accolades and applause based on what you do, not on who you are. Hence, there's no one banging down my door to write newspaper articles about me, or name their kids after me, just because I've learned to get over it when my husband offers to help with the laundry and then forgets to move a load from the washer to the dryer.
But those are the moments. When we're kinder and more forgiving than we thought we could be. When we are frustrated by the little things, but we behave with generosity. When we rewash the clothes without mentioning it to our spouse and feel grateful that they were trying to help. Those are the moments when we should feel our greatest satisfaction; when we should feel our intrinsic value; when we should feel that we are truly in the process of becoming.
And who am I? one might ask -- which is a far better question. I, along with all mankind, am a being created in the image of God. This is where our value comes from. Overcoming our own desires in this world to fulfill God's will and to be more like God is how we manifest our value -- but only to God. It is impossible for anyone to tell the value of another person. We can not measure the level of difficulty each of us must overcome in order to be our true selves. For some, an extra wash cycle might be just too much to bear; for others, they might not even notice.
So the next time I'm asked what I do, I'll answer that I'm at home with the kids, keeping in mind that the inquirer might just be making small talk. Then I'll remind myself about the potential for personal growth that comes with my job, as with any job. It's not what you do, but how you do it. And then I'll go on with the business of becoming me.