What am I now?
January 28, 2011 2:46 PM   Subscribe

I recently became a homemaker without kids, and I'm feeling weird about it.

I used to have a busy professional practice. I developed a serious chronic illness, struggled with work for some years, then finally had to take some time off from work. During this absence, my husband and I discovered that we are both much happier to have me at home. I was never that crazy about work, we get along fine without the money, and our lives are more enjoyable because I'm not constantly exhausted and miserable and have the time and energy to do things to make our life nicer, basic things like cooking and cleaning and doing leisure activities that I never had the energy to do before. We are now thinking that perhaps I just won't return to work. I can do whatever I like--work part time, pick up some work now and less work later, whatever; it's a family business and it's all very flexible.

However, the social aspects of this change are very confusing to me. When people ask me what I do, I still say "I'm a [member of a certain profession]." This feels like a lie. I'm not really working right now and don't know if I will in the future. People know that I'm home and not at work. But it feels to me that unless you're extremely wealthy or extremely poor, it's socially unacceptable to be "just a housewife." I am adamantly opposed to going around telling people about my health problems. I'm a private person. And I'm not disabled, I just don't have the physical stamina or mental acuity to work the way I used to, and, well, life is just better this way.

The problem is not only how to present myself to new acquaintances, but also how to frame my new life to myself. It seems that if you have kids, even if they're in school all day, it's okay to stay home. You're a stay-at-home mom. Or if you are an artist, or a writer, then it's okay to stay home, even if you make hardly any money at it. If you have enough money, then it's okay to spend all your time with your horses or whatever. But I don't fall into any of these categories and I fear, quite reasonably, I think, that people with think of me disparagingly.

Am I wrong? How would you view someone in my situation? Can you help me find a way to frame this both to myself and to others? Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (49 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
"recovering ________" when asked what that means, say "I'm not sure yet, I will let you know when I figure it out."
posted by Ironmouth at 2:48 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't talk about jobs and careers, talk about what you're passionate about.

You don't have to fit into the box where your job defines you, just tell people what excites you.
posted by smitt at 2:53 PM on January 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

You are retired.

Or you are an aspiring writer, or you are doing research for your next artistic endeavor.
posted by sageleaf at 2:53 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a lot of friends who have varying degrees of not-job-havingness. I've found that if you answer the "What do you do?" question as if it were not "What do you do for a job?" but "How do you spend your time?" people are usually okay with that and people who dig for more specifics are often just nosey and/or digging. If you say "I'm a member of $_PROFESSION" people are going to follow-up asking where you work or your opinion on blabla. This is a normal conversational progression, so if you don't want to have that conversation you may want to tailor your response somewhat.

But it feels to me that unless you're extremely wealthy or extremely poor, it's socially unacceptable to be "just a housewife."

I think of this in two ways. People want to know what interests you because that gives them something to talk to you about. They also want to know how you spend your time because that gives them something to talk to you about and if you're a closer friend, an idea of how you're doing and etc. So assume that no one is thinking "Just a housewife" or if they are, then they're boorish and forget them. How do you talk about what you do? If you don't want to discuss your illness at all, that's fine but maybe worth making sure you're not telling a story that has a big question mark in it that will point to an illness anyhow.

So, I have a work at home job that a lot of people don't understand and often it's easier just to pretend I don't have it for smalltalk purposes. So my answers to this sort of question would be

- Well I teach some computer classes at the local high school, I've been snowshoeing a lot and I've been working on my moss garden and making a lot of soup lately.
- I've got a library background so I've been putting that to use writing a book about the digital divide.
- I've been helping my parents clean out their houses and spending some time travelling visiting people in Massachusetts.

The truth of the matter is you're professionally educated, not working in that profession and between you and your husband, you have enough money so that you don't have to have a double income. You seem satisfied with this but somehow not totally "right" with it from a personal perspective and that will probably come with time as you learn to frame it better in your mind.
posted by jessamyn at 2:54 PM on January 28, 2011 [19 favorites]

You have chosen not to work right now.

And I am jealous.
posted by elsietheeel at 3:00 PM on January 28, 2011 [26 favorites]

I would say, "I'm very lucky to be a stay-at-home wife". I envy you. Sorry that you were ill though.
posted by shoesietart at 3:05 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

You are retired!

Your life sounds a lot like the retired life of most retired people I know - they do a little freelance work, do a little volunteering, do a little housework, etc. Whatever moves them.

If you're too stereotypically young to say "retired," people will have a "wow" response, not an "oh, weird" response. They'll likely say something like "lucky you!" to which you can reply, "Yes, I am lucky. I worked hard and planned well to be able to enjoy my retirement." If they ask how you did it... tell them you worked hard and planned well! Your health problems, general wealth, and personal life are none of their business. Demur.
posted by juniperesque at 3:05 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think I'd tell people I was a superhero, and reframe it that way to myself. Mild mannered housewife to everyone else, but ...

Nothing to be ashamed of, being 'just a housewife'. Be positive about it. You are so lucky to be able to devote yourself to your family (and that includes your extended family). If you would like to pursue a hobby, fine, but be aware that all the effort you invest in yourself (reading, perfecting domestic skills, whatever) will get passed to them in some form. Discussions, advice during troublesome times, contributing traditions and memories - you can be a priceless source of wisdom and support to the people that matter most to you. Perhaps you can look at being more involved in their lives in thoughtful ways. How lucky for you and your family.
posted by griselda at 3:05 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

"I am a [profession] but I am taking some time off, and I like to do [leisure activity]."

Nothing misleading or dishonest about it, no need to get into the whys and wherefores, and people will do one of three things 1) follow up on your stated leisure activity 2) follow up your former profession or 3) comment on how lucky they perceive you to be. Just smile brightly and agree that it's good to stop and smell the roses.
posted by ambrosia at 3:07 PM on January 28, 2011 [9 favorites]

and between you and your husband, you have enough money so that you don't have to have a double income

Exactly. When I read this in your question:
If you have enough money, then it's okay to spend all your time with your horses or whatever.
my first thought was, but hang on, you just said that you DO have enough money to allow yourself to do this. So why is it not ok for you?

You could just do what many of the high society women do and say "I'm a philanthropist." (you could always help out once a week at the local soup kitchen to make it true).
You might find you get used to your new role once you shake off the assumption that you are your job, and that not having or desiring one makes you a lesser person, if only in the eyes of others (maybe I'm reading too much into your question, but that's where this seems to come from to me)
posted by ClarissaWAM at 3:07 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

i tell people i'm a homemaker, they ask how many kids i have, i say none, and then they look at me strangely and walk away. it's a weird life to lead. like you, my husband and i realized that both of our lives are better if i don't work. i haven't quite figured out the social aspects of it, but that's partially because i'm stuck in an incredibly conservative area.

i think all the window dressing of "i'm retired, i'm a recovering _______, i'm a superhero..." is a way to apologize for something that you have no reason to be ashamed of. i think being a homemaker is very fulfilling and comforting. i'm proud to be who i am. i have no doubts that my contributions to the home equal my husband's. plus, saying you're a homemaker gets you out of loads of boring work talk.

the hardest part for me has probably been that i feel like i'm the only person in this situation. it's nice to stumble up on this question just to feel a little less alone in it all. feel free to memail me if you just want to chat or bitch or feel like someone understands.
posted by nadawi at 3:12 PM on January 28, 2011 [16 favorites]

Don't feel weird about it. When I was a stay-at-home mom, there were always certain people who thought that wasn't enough, either. There will always be those people. Don't worry about them. Personally, I'm jealous of your stay-at-home status! I would just say something along the lines of "I decided to take some time off" and leave it at that.
posted by fresh-rn at 3:21 PM on January 28, 2011

People who ask "what do you do?" are mostly trying to make conversation, not to judge you. Seriously.

I am extremely sympathetic to where you are--I used to run my own business and work a bazillion hours and then I stopped being able to do that because of illness and caregiving responsibilities (though, unlike you, I am a writer and so always have a professional identity regardless of how much paid work I am doing).

But you do stuff, right? So you have something to say about what you do. "I'm lucky enough not to have to have a full-time job right now, so I am {learning to paint/volunteering at the local animal shelter/enjoying redecorating my house/catching up on the last ten years of bestsellers/whatever stuff you do that might make for a good conversation}."

If someone asks why you're not doing a full-time paid job right now, they're either a) wishing they could leave their full-time paid job and wondering How You Did It, or b) a jerk who pries into things that aren't their business. So say whatever feels right for the situation--either "We're very lucky not to need two incomes, especially in this tough economy" or "I was a bit burnt out on {former profession} and taking some time to think about what I want to do next" or even "I'm on sabbatical right now, and lucky to be able to do that."

I myself would (and do, and have done so) avoid saying that I was a housewife or a homemaker, because those particular words are very identified with gender-essentialist outlooks on the world, and there are so many layers of preconception and prejudice that people have in reacting to those specific words. Presumably you and your husband aren't choosing who does full-time paid work and who does not based on your gender identities, but on the unique set of circumstances each of you experiences, yes?

I also wouldn't say that I was retired, if I were in your situation. Again, there are a lot of preconceptions people have about "retiring" that don't fit your situation.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:23 PM on January 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

My situation is somewhat similar, except that I'm single and the illness eventually turned out to be a big enough deal to land me in the "disabled" category. I still haven't found a very good way to respond when an acquaintance asks "what do you do?". "I'm retired" generally works OK; it gets some raised eyebrows 'cause I don't look (quite) old enough, but that can be fun. If it's someone I get to know better, the details come out as needed.

Your in-between situation is harder to define, to others and to yourself. It took a few years, but I got to a point where I gave myself permission to be happy even though my life doesn't measure up to standard definitions. Enjoying the little pleasures and interesting events of each day turns out to be more than enough to build a satisfying life.

If the way you're living your life is working well for you, that's Enough. Anyone who thinks disparagingly of you for that doesn't know you or your situation well enough for their opinion to matter to you.
posted by Corvid at 3:36 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can do whatever I like--work part time, pick up some work now and less work later, whatever; it's a family business and it's all very flexible.

Can't you just say, "We have a family business" and leave open the question of how much of your time is spent on it?

I would interpret that to mean anything between "We have a business that is so successful that I don't have to have a traditional job" through to "I work 24 hours a day at my start-up", so I might continue the conversation by asking you a bit about what the business is and does, but presumably you'd be happy to talk about that.
posted by lollusc at 3:40 PM on January 28, 2011 [11 favorites]

I am an (over)working mother and I feel like there are a lot of awkward moments when I have these conversations with stay-at-home wives and moms. Here's what I genuinely want to know: what do you enjoy or find challenging; what's the most recent thing you've read, accomplished, or plain old seen. I think it takes a lot of courage and imagination to structure your own time and like discussing the pluses or minuses of any choices - we all make 'em. The awkward part is only when people start off with "well, it's nothing like x's job" or "I could never do what you do." The more you are comfortable with your life choices, the more others will be, too. Enjoy your time, and don't apologize!
posted by mozhet at 4:00 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm in a similar situation (without the family business) and I tell people "Oh, I live the life of Riley" and then turn around and ask them about themselves so that they can see that I'm interested in continuing the conversation, just not about talking about job-type stuff.

Yes, people will think disparagingly of you and judge. If I get to feeling too defensive about judgey people, and sometimes I do, I flat-out say "I don't work for health reasons", which generally cuts off that avenue of conversation. (I tell them the same thing for why I don't have kids, which is the one reliable thing that shuts judgey people up about my decision not to have them.)
posted by immlass at 4:03 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

nadawi: i think all the window dressing of "i'm retired, i'm a recovering _______, i'm a superhero..." is a way to apologize for something that you have no reason to be ashamed of.

This, a thousand times.

At the same time, I do understand the feeling like you need some succinct way to explain your situation to new acquaintances. As Sidhedevil said, most people who ask what you do really are interested in getting to know you and aren't trying to judge you. That's an excellent point to keep in mind. I disagree with Sidhedevil, though, on going with language along the lines of "I'm lucky not to need to work" -- from your point of view, you're trying to acknowledge that your circumstances are unique and fortunate, but from the other person's point of view, that can feel like you're rubbing your wealth in their face.

I think the most balls-out, unapologetic, accurate way to respond is: "I'm a homemaker." Anyone who has some kind of problem with that probably isn't worth your time to try to bend over backwards explaining your personal business to them. And most people totally won't have a problem!
posted by hansbrough at 4:05 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Addition: I also really like responding with some kind of thing you've been into lately: "Right now, I'm doing a lot of baking" or whatever you're doing -- IF you'd like to share that.
posted by hansbrough at 4:07 PM on January 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have a friend in a similar situation. She deals with it by answering "I'm an artist," which means she paints and does crafts and such. Never mind that she has never had an exhibit or anything. Do you do something similar that you are passionate about? A bit upstream someone suggested a reply such as "an aspiring writer." I'd shorten that to "I'm a writer" (or artist, or pianist, or photographer, or whatever it is you love to do, regardless of whether a paycheck is attached).
posted by chez shoes at 4:11 PM on January 28, 2011

Treat it as a request for conversation fodder.
"I used to ___, but I'm taking some time off from that" is a great way to note your background. ("Yup, not working at all, just at home" if anyone needs followup.)

Then, give them something else to work with, conversation-wise: "These days I'm spending a lot of time _____". (Reading up on the middle ages? renovating our bathroom? setting up my art studio?)

People want to know what light topic to talk to you about now, and they want one fact they can stick in their mental rolodex for next time.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:13 PM on January 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was unemployed for about a year and a half, and not in a situation necessarily where i was applying for jobs and not getting them, but moreso that I had no idea what path to follow. It sucked, and I truly dreaded social interactions because people always talk about their jobs. Which is fine, and normal, but supremely uncomfortable if you aren't working yourself and are not sure how to handle the question. I dreaded meeting new people and catching up with old friends, and always felt like such a loser (and I know people weren't judging, just making conversation and genuinely curious). Picking up a volunteer gig went some way in giving me something concrete to say I was "doing," and when that turned into paid (part-time) employment I can't tell you the wave of relief that washed over me, that I finally had a job I could refer to when people asked what I "do."

So I'm sorry, that doesn't really answer your question but maybe you will find yourself eventually feeling you want to pick up something to do with part of your time, and I'd highly recommend volunteering. My situation was different because I want to have some kind of profession as part of my identity, but still I can relate to the feelings you are having.
posted by JenMarie at 4:14 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like the French system, where it's absolutely rude to ask someone what their job is, until you know them very well.

The literal translation would be, "what do you make?" Which sounds to me like, "how much do you make?" Maybe the answer is, "I make the home," or maybe you could try, "I run our little country."
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:14 PM on January 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

"I'm on Sabbatical." And for your own self you can decide if there might actually be a sabbatical-type project that you want to do, to give yourself a goal if you don't like feeling goal-less.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 4:19 PM on January 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

i don't work because of health problems but don't really like to wear it on my sleeve. business consultant is usually boring enough to end the discussion.

and i haven't asked someone else what they do in about nine years. hobbies, pets, whatever. not jobs.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 4:20 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Actually, on second thought, saying you're on sabbatical is still basically apologizing for being free from work... screw other people. You took an early retirement, is what you did, and we're all just incredibly jealous. Enjoy it!
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 4:22 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was you, once. You know, before I had a baby and became a SAHM. I was recovering from a deep depression and my husband offered to support me through it.

I would proudly exclaim that "I'm a housewife!" in such a tone (ie: "isn't that great?!") that no one really questioned it. I think the line of work I was coming from (food service) was often vastly more embarrassing to explain, mind you. No one seems to understand when you love a line of work so much that you'd be willing to work too hard for too little just to do it...but I digress! Honestly, I think my husband got harangued for it worse than I did. A chorus of whip sounds from friends, etc. Mostly because our relationship was very young when this happened.

My point here is that if you approach these instances with excessive confidence, no one will have the chutzpah to question your motives.

I think of you as fortunate. Not everyone's married lifestyle has the luxury of surviving comfortably on a single income. If anything, I think you might run into some jealousy, more than accusations of laziness or whatever. I was told that independent women don't "do" that once, but that's just a load of horseshit, and you and I both know it. It wasn't anyone important anyway. If your husband and you are happy, that's all that matters, and the important people in your life know this.
posted by sunshinesky at 4:36 PM on January 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

i have a bunch of friends who were laid off when the economy broke and they were down on themselves about being unemployed. What I said to them was that they're not unemployed, they're freelance. They just happen to not be working at the moment.

So when you're meeting people and they ask you what you do, you're a "freelance X profession" or just a freelancer. Then change the topic to the weather. Everyone loves talking about the weather.
posted by tealeaf522 at 4:41 PM on January 28, 2011

My mom is a stay-at-home wife/mother and I've always been unsure about how to answer the question "so what does your mom do?" Perhaps you could say something like "I'm working from home now, pursuing interests in x, y, z."
posted by pised at 5:03 PM on January 28, 2011

Hi! I'm another housewife (although I have the "writer" thing to claim, when I feel like it). Sometimes I tell people "I'm a housewife" just like so. Other times, I'll say that I'm a castellan, because I feel that fits even better with what I do. There is no "just a housewife" - I plan the budget, pay the bills, do the laundry, plan the meals, do the shopping, clean, yadda yadda. It takes up a lot of my time, and it's important and adds value to my life and my household. Other times I'll try to clarify the question "what do you do?" , and say "oh, do you mean for money, or with my time? I spend a lot of time lately painting, and I'm trying to learn Japanese. I also write. Sometimes that makes me money, but mostly not."

I understand a whole lot of what you mean, with framing your life to yourself, as well as others. It's tough, and it's weird, and it's a situation that not a lot of people find themselves in nowadays. We're lucky, and we know it, but it just feels weird to talk about. I get nervous before social outings, too, kind of dreading the question and reactions to it, but I have to tell you that most reactions I've gotten are positive or neutral. If you want to talk more about this, feel free to drop me a line. I think the real trick is to remind yourself as often as you need to that there is nothing wrong with your choice - it's your life and your happiness and your family and your household. You don't need to justify yourself or explain yourself. Just tell 'em whatever you like.
posted by lriG rorriM at 5:17 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I was unemployed, and being a full-time stay at home not-mom, I would just tell people I was a trophy wife, with as much snark as I could muster. (It's a lot). It sounded better than "Well, I'm really a scientist, I promise! I just can't get a job! And, no, I don't want to hear about what I *should* be doing to find one!"
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 5:18 PM on January 28, 2011

I disagree with Sidhedevil, though, on going with language along the lines of "I'm lucky not to need to work" -- from your point of view, you're trying to acknowledge that your circumstances are unique and fortunate, but from the other person's point of view, that can feel like you're rubbing your wealth in their face.

Well, that's an interesting point, and I suppose saying "I'm lucky" as a starting place is probably too much, as you say.

But if someone is rude enough to say "But how can you make ends meet without both of you doing paid work outside the home?" then "I guess we're just lucky" is really the only answer that works.

See, the thing is that there are people who are still in the mindset of "If only the husband has paid work, then the couple is morally superior!" and I hate hate hate encountering those people so much that I would do anything to avoid playing into their trap. (Hence my loathing of terms like "housewife" and "homemaker" because, until I read this thread, most of the people I have experienced using them as self-identifiers were doing so from a place of one-upmanship {and it's not like women with paid outside-the-home work don't do just as much housework and homemaking, anyway}.)

!!!!!!!Though now that I see some of the people I adore here who are happily self-identifying as "homemakers" I have a much smilierfacier take on that word.!!!!!!!

Seriously. If I had encountered more people like you using it as a self-identifier and fewer people who were straight out of "Desperate Housewives"--including the college classmate with a J.D. who said to me, in so many words, "Oh, how sad that you still have to work. Can't your husband find a better-paying job?"--I would have felt a lot different about "homemaker".
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:31 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have been a "housewife" no kids for a couple of years and am under 30. I always answered that I am a "lady of leisure". People seemed to enjoy that and it usually gets them asking about what I do for fun etc and we can converse about hobbies, decorating, gardening and so forth. I really loved reading this thread and seeing that I am not the only one home because they want to be.

I had aspired to be a lady who lunches but sadly I could not find other women with whom to lunch on a weekday.
posted by saradarlin at 6:43 PM on January 28, 2011 [13 favorites]

My professional life is all over the map. I've got background in a few divergent things. I spent a year pursuing a brand new completely different line of work and then abandoned it when it became clear that it just wasn't going to happen. I went back to the old career. I'm freelancing. I'm looking for work... but not really. Because I have a gig but it doesn't pay well. And, I just had a baby. Oh! And there's a side project that's completely random.

I've had a hard time making the small talk for... oh, the last two and a half years. But, really, as someone else said, people are just trying to get to know you. A couple times I've discussed my "elevator pitch" with my husband. I need a way to describe what I'm doing because I'm always networking, you know? And in this economy, I'm looking for whatever is interesting or enriching or different and either pays or pays off. So, I don't want to lose a great contact or friend by being too sad-sacky about my life or too obtuse because it's confusing.

So, I wouldn't worry too much about identifying yourself as one particular thing. Just think about how you want to present yourself and what you want to talk about.
posted by amanda at 7:25 PM on January 28, 2011

I like lollusc's answer, but you could also tell people you're a socialite. And just smile brightly.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:57 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry to hear about your illness and so happy for you that you and your husband have found a good solution. My culture is sort of the opposite of Sidhedevil's, no respect for leisure whatsoever, so I can definitely empathize with not wanting people to think you're mooching off of your husband!

What would make ME more comfortable would be to express, well, what I do with my time; e.g., I've been into baking a lot lately, I've been helping my mother move houses, I've been managing the renovation of our house, I've been working at the food bank... I also really like the suggestion about saying you work in the family business, as a fallback if you don't have something else to talk about. It's true, it's an interesting thing that you can talk about, and you don't have to disclose how many hours you work a week.
posted by Lady Li at 8:04 PM on January 28, 2011

My culture is sort of the opposite of Sidhedevil's, no respect for leisure whatsoever, so I can definitely empathize with not wanting people to think you're mooching off of your husband!

Oh, no, I encounter that a lot too. Sometimes both perspectives in the same group of people I'm introduced to!
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:26 PM on January 28, 2011

you could say that you work from home these days.
posted by macinchik at 11:01 PM on January 28, 2011

I think that the magic word you need is freelance. "I'm a freelance [professional]" It's true - you still plan to work a bit once in a while, but not full time. It explains why you're not working all the time, and sounds interesting and enviable.

You're living the dream, don't feel bad for loving it.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:38 PM on January 28, 2011

"I'm my own boss"

"I'm an actor/writer"

You could also justify it by going into a frenzy over some long-term domestic project, like sewing a quilt in a year, and blogging about it.
posted by tel3path at 4:09 AM on January 29, 2011

And finally there's this--the Bible says woman is to be busy and keepers of the home.

So you should not be ashamed of your new vocation. Count up all you do and see if you don't save yourself a lot of money over the course of a week. Anyone who says a homemaker doesn't do much hasn't really thought about the value of your services.

Just cooking, cleaning and laundry--figure out how much your husband would have to pay someone else to do these things. I'm sure you are at least saving a part time wage by doing these things yourself.

You're plenty busy and shouldn't feel the need to "explain away" why you "don't work". I bet you do plenty.
posted by AuntieRuth at 4:44 AM on January 29, 2011

Due to my work and being transferred to various countries, Mrs arcticseal gave up her FT job about 10 years ago. In the intervening years, she has been a student, PT teacher and not worked as she got to know the new country/location. She quite happily tells people that she's a lady of leisure. Own it, you don't have to explain to anyone.

I've told her that next lifetime, we get to swap :)
posted by arcticseal at 5:43 AM on January 29, 2011

I'm a full time stay at home dad. Have been for 5+ years. When certain people proceed to ask "but what do you do?", I figure they are to stupid to understand the fact that that alone is a lot to do, so I tell them I'm a semi-pro arm wrestler.
posted by ducktape at 7:12 AM on January 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

This is such a tough question, because I think you're running up against other people's (perhaps misplaced) jealousy of your situation. If I met someone new who told me that she's a homemaker, I would be very excited for her - because I would be delighted to be in such a position myself, at least for a period of time - but when I then learned that the catalyst for her situation was health-related, I would feel empathetic that the choice was not entirely freely made.

That said, this is a lot of detail to share with a new acquaintance, and the time/emotional investment of sharing this information may not pay off in deepening a new friendship. And I recognize that your question refers more to surface chit-chat, which doesn't lend itself to more complex answers than "I'm a ______."

Also, it strikes me as odd (presumptuous) to ask someone who's introduced herself as a homemaker how many children she has. Surely a stay-at-home-mom would introduce herself as such, and not as a homemaker? It seems a bit like asking someone who introduces herself as a doctor what her office hours are (assuming she's a GP), rather than simply asking what type of doctor she is or where she works (local practice, ER, etc).
posted by pammeke at 10:34 AM on January 29, 2011

Just wanted to add that I totally agree with your follow-up thoughts, Sidhedevil. Once the conversation is happening, acknowledging that you're fortunate is totally good. My comment was just about leading with that.

Also, I think lady of leisure is an awesome answer. Slightly tongue-in-cheek in the best possible way!
posted by hansbrough at 12:16 PM on January 29, 2011

I tend to just say, "I make stuff". People ask what, I tell them about the things I sew and the jewelry I make and suchlike, and try to hide how very little money I make off of it. I feel like a sponge, I feel like a wastrel, I feel guilty guilty guilty about the fact that my husband makes the money and I do not. I'm not over that yet. But the fact remains that I have never had a job that didn't make me miserable, and my husband makes a decent salary, and this really is best.

But yeah, I never know how to deal with the question either.
posted by Because at 4:31 PM on January 29, 2011

Hello, anon, I am you! Yes, down to the being unable to work due to various health issues but not officially disabled. Both my husband and I are much happier having me at home and it works for us financially and otherwise.

I really can't answer that I'm a housewife because, due to health and/or inclination, my husband does most of the "housewife" stuff as well. I usually answer that I'm a SAHM to four cats and a dog. However, I may steal "retired" or "lady of leisure" (although I've never claimed to be a lady).

Also, it doesn't matter what other people think of you. How you and your husband live your lives is (are?) totally up to you and is no ones business.
posted by deborah at 8:36 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

My answer: "I'm a combination of housewife, caretaker, and secretary to my self-employed husband."

I'll admit that it took me a couple years to mentally adjust to being a housewife. I was raised to believe there was no real value in homemaking, but that's a story for another day.
posted by luckynerd at 11:57 PM on January 30, 2011

I've had bouts of time where my job didn't define me very much--got laid off shortly before getting engaged a couple years back and fell back on some freelance copy editing for people I had known for years, then moved on to something a little more professional but still working at home with unstable hours. The well went dry for a long period and I had just gotten married and my husband switched jobs to something that was stressful transition-wise (still is, sort of), so I poured my time and energy into being there for him domestically. I never thought I'd be that person. But you know what? It was great. Currently he makes enough for us to weather periods where I'm not bringing in any hours and when it's come up with strangers or whoever I took sunshinesky's approach mostly--a chipper "I'm a housewife!" and a grin because inside I knew how funny that is given my background/feminist leanings or whatever. Get comfortable with it first yourself and the rest will come.
posted by ifjuly at 4:35 PM on February 4, 2011

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