When I tell people that I have three kids, ages 5 and under, I am invariably asked some flavor of “Do you work?”
This got me thinking: When we meet a man and find out that he has three kids – none of whom are old enough for kindergarten yet – do we ask him “Do you work?” Umm, no. We don’t. And if we did, people would look at us like we are crazy (“Duh he works. What do you think this guy does all day to support his family?“).
However, for some reason, it is completely and totally legit to ask a mother this. Not only is it fine to ask, it is also fine to pass judgement on whatever the answer is. “Oh you work? That’s good. You need to share your talents with the world and be a good role model for your children.” “Oh, you don’t work? That’s good. Children need someone they can depend on.”
However, the main problem with the “Do you work question” is that it sets the mother up for one of two answers:
- Yes. I do work.
- No. I do not work. I am a stay at home mom.
The problem here is that this implies that women who “stay at home” are “not working.” Like we’re just chilling out at home in our PJ’s binge watching Netflix and ordering takeout while our spouse is actually working to “support the family.”
Let me let you in on a little secret: I would love to have a day where I just sleep in, sit in my PJ’s, and binge watch TV while eating takeout. I might even go so far as to say that is one of my top fantasies. Sorry, Playgirl, you ain’t got nothing on an uninterrupted lazy day.
You know why I want to do that so badly? Because I work for myself. I do not have uninterrupted lazy days. Ever.
I am not a “stay at home mom” or a SAHM. I am not a “working mother” per the narrow-minded definition that in order to work, you have to work for some other a-hole. Nope, I am the a-hole I work for. I own my own business; I run a start up. I am the MF-ing CEO of Family Incorporated. And I am a mom.
You think all those preschoolers watch themselves and entertain themselves all day with little supervision? Gonna bust your bubble here – BIG NOPE. My employees like to smear breakfast all over their hair, table, and floor. They like to try to see who will win: the electric socket or themselves. And don’t even get me started on their soft skills. “Works nicely with others” is definitely a part of their Personal Improvement Plan. Their SMART goal might be something like this: “Employee will share her toys – when asked by a coworker – within 5 minutes of being asked and without screaming 75% of the time.”
Also, can I just mention here that my employees have no hard skills either? Basic things like “cleaning up after oneself” and “wearing pants” have not managed to be ingrained into their heads (Where are their parents?). I sincerely hope their parents can hammer these skills in – along with many others – in the hours they are together after work, namely 5 pm – 9 am. In the meantime, I will hold lengthy training sessions entitled “Let’s Clean Up Together” and “If You Don’t Put It Back, It Will Be Donated.” These sessions have had mixed results. I have spoken to my C.F.O. (the one who works for someone else) about using time-lapse video to record what my worksite looks like in the morning, how it changes many times over the day, and how it finally looks when he comes to our evening meeting. Maybe I will save the video for myself, so that I can remind myself that I worked all day.
Which brings up another point: I work in the service industry. Physicians, teachers, and police officers also work in the service industry. Their job entails monitoring and consulting with many different people all day long. Do we ask them if they “work” or just “stay in a building”? No, we understand that they are actively working even if we cannot see the results. We know that physicians are seeing sick people all day, some of whom will be told they will have to rest to get over a cold. No prescription needed. Teachers are busy planning lessons, teaching, and evaluating student progress. When everyone leaves, they spend time planning for the next day and resetting the classroom so that tomorrow, everyone can learn again. Police officers risk their lives walking and driving around looking for unstable or nefarious people. If they don’t arrest someone that day, does that mean they didn’t do their job? No. It means that they prevented a crime or that no a-holes were around to be found that day. They worked. Just like yours truly works. And like yours truly, at the end of the day, their worksite looks a lot like it did at the beginning of the day.
I am like a CEO – because I am a CEO – I am in charge of the domestic operation day in and day out: The buck stops here.
Sick days? That’s REALLY funny. More like suck-it-up days. You’re not feeling well? Suck it up. You’re the MF-ing CEO. Want a planned sit down lunch? It better be with another MF-ing CEO at a park, assuming that CEO can make it. We CEOs have to plan on our plans changing at any moment due to illness or employee rioting.
As a CEO, I run a very finely tuned operation. I’m in charge of procurement, waste management, facilities, public events, marketing, logistics, transportation, HR, and in my case – accounting. I triage all sorts of “emergencies” from inter-departmental fighting (“I need a bandaid because my sister got a bandaid!”) to unexpected facility failure (“Attention: Employee #3 just put the car keys in the toilet.”).
This CEO is in charge of developing strategic positioning for the future: What partnerships can I develop with other households? What capital improvements (like a washing machine that will complete the spin cycle without being held in place) would benefit this organization the most? What are our long-term employee development goals and how can we best meet them given the resources we have? Like my counterparts who work for other people, this CEO has limited resources in terms of time and money. And like my counterparts, the work we CEOs do has an economic value and benefits society. Case in point: If the CEO didn’t supervise the employees, she would need to pay someone who would. And if she didn’t, well then she would go to jail for negligence and Child Protective Services would be called. It’s funny how the “Do you work?” question fails to remember that gross negligence is a real result of “not working.”
CEOs have to do all this with a smile, because CEO’s cannot have bad days. I mean, they aren’t working for a paycheck, so what is there to complain about?
So, next time you see a woman with children, for the love of all things holy, do notask her if she works. She does work – either for herself or for someone else. Then when she ends her work day, she gets to put on her parenting hat.
I can’t speak for all the other CEOs out there, but this CEO loves her job – dare I say career (or is that too controversial?) – and wouldn’t trade it for the world.
So let’s raise our glasses and toast working moms everywhere. To the women in suits, sweats, or spandex, we salute you. Whether you work for someone else or for yourself, we value all that you do to support your family.
Love this? Send it to a mom you know who gives each day her best.