you don’t work Mommy!

This morning, after I got the 6-year-old off to “summer club” at the local museum and got the 7 1/2-year-old deeply entranced with some Toy Story Legos, I grabbed my laptop and said to my 2-year-old daughter (in the kitchen with my vacationing husband) “Mommy’s going to go do some work for a while.” 

Maggie belly-laughed at this little joke. “Mommy, you don’t work!” she chortled.

“What? Yes I do, honey,” I said.

“No you don’t,” she giggled. “That’s silly.”

“Well, I don’t wear a suit and go to an office like Daddy,” I said. “But I do work. My writing is my work.”

“NO IT’S NOT!” she roared, laughing helplessly. 

This really bothered me. I suppose it’s mostly that my daughter doesn’t want me to “work,” as in, “exist for anything beyond her whim of the moment.” And she does have me around, a lot of the time, doing just that.

At the same time, I want her to know that I do work and that my work has value. Admittedly I may be a little defensive on this point; I’m not exactly stoking the fires in a coal mine, or performing open heart surgery. But I do something that I enjoy and that I think is of value. I even wrote a book that is actually on bookshelves. Not that that impressed my daughter much, either. And it still hasn’t quieted my inner doubts that I have something to prove, that if I’m going to take time away from my children to do something else, it had better be worth it.

Yesterday afternoon, I emailed a contractor who is going to do some work on my in-laws’ house (long story). I finished up my brief missive with “Hope you’re enjoying this incredible weather this week!”

Within three minutes came the response: “LOL some of us have to WORK!!!”

So that makes two people who think I don’t work.

This seems to me to be a particularly mom-ish problem. So many of my friends are working part-time, re-entering the work force, blazing their own trails, trying to be the best mom they can be and getting a career back on track at the same time. And many of our families probably do perceive us as not really working. I mean, as if. 

What about you? Have you found that people are quick to make assumptions about your “work” or lack thereof as a mother? 

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Mommy on the Spot August 31, 2010 at 5:49 pm

I just met up with some people that I used to work with. When we were saying good bye, one of them said, "Keep in touch. You know, some of us have to work." Well, I might not be going in to teach in a classroom all day, but I am working really hard to take care of my kids. Keep in mind, earlier in the night, she said there was no way she could ever stay home.

Which is totally fine. It's such a personal choice. But I don't say to her, "Keep in touch. I know your busy not being a mom to your kids, so I'm sure I'll hear from you soon." It's ridiculous. We are all moms, and we all are busting our chops to make life work.

If writing makes you happy, don't you feel like it makes you a happier mom? And everyone wants a happy mom.


KBH August 31, 2010 at 5:58 pm

I run into that A LOT!~ I think if our culture put more value on the work we do as mothers than maybe we wouldn't hear such comments. I also volunteer for a breastfeeding support group and am rarely taken as a credible source. I've always said that if someone had to make an appointment and pay me for the information then they would take it seriously. I hate hearing "oh you're so lucky, you get to stay home" I kindly respond "Well, it was an important CHOICE, for our family." I want people to realize you don't just draw a lottery ticket and 'get' to stay home. Also, it doesn't come without it's own sacrifices—- financially (living on a single income)and personally (holding off on using my bachelors degree), etc….

BTW- I read your book in less than 2 days!! I think you did great WORK on it!!!!


Anonymous August 31, 2010 at 5:59 pm

I agree! I am lucky enough to have a job that allows me to work at home with my 2 year old; however, my husband and family members act like I don't work. My husband will often ask me to go out and run errands for him or ask me why I didn't just go grocery shopping during the day instead of waiting until he got home. It's frustrating because I bring home income that counts!


onthenightyouwereborn August 31, 2010 at 6:00 pm

I think I'm going to remember that the next time someone says, "Some of us have to work." I'm going to say, "I know you're busy not being a mom to your kids." Okay, well I really won't, but I'd love to. I work part-time too, from home while the kids are at their Nana's house. I do get that too. Mostly I think people are jealous. It was a big realization for me how much of my self-worth was tied up in where I worked and what I did for a living. I spent the first few months of freelancing feeling pretty lousy actually. I'm trying to think of how I can demonstrate my "work" to my two-year-old, but I don't know yet!


KBH August 31, 2010 at 6:02 pm

I run into that A LOT!~ I think if our culture put more value on the work we do 'only' as mothers, not to mention other employed work, then maybe we wouldn't hear such comments as often. I volunteer for a breastfeeding support group and am rarely taken as a credible source. I've always said that if someone had to make an appointment and pay me for the information then they would take it seriously. ALSO- I hate hearing "oh you're so lucky, you get to stay home" I kindly respond "Well, it was an important CHOICE, for our family." I want people to realize you don't just draw a lottery ticket and 'get' to stay home. Also, it doesn't come without it's own sacrifices—- financially (living on a single income)and personally (holding off on using my bachelors degree), etc….

BTW- I read your book in less than 2 days!! I think you did great WORK on it!!!!


Amy Wilson August 31, 2010 at 6:17 pm

thanks all for your comments! Looks like this is something many of you can identify with. I want my daughter to think that I "work" because I don't want her growing up thinking men leave the house and bring home the bacon, and women stay home. Or at least, that it *has* to be that way…


Mommy on the Spot August 31, 2010 at 6:49 pm

KBH, I totally hear you on the whole lucky comment. It's kind of a back-handed compliment. . .


Jessica August 31, 2010 at 7:26 pm

I work 3/4 time away from home. What bugs me is when having conversations with new people who know I'm a mom they never even ask the "What line of work are you in" question. It's as if being a mom totally precludes me from having a career or that I can only relate to diaper rash and toddler tantrums.


Margaret August 31, 2010 at 7:38 pm

I was just writing about this. I recently told an old work friend how busy I was and she seemed genuinely confused and replied, "Doing what?" Well, writing, taking care of two kids under two, taking care of the house. Even if one isn't earning an income at home you are WORKING. I think our kids see us in our totality in a way that our peers don't. They don't care so much about the details. In some ways your daughter thinking of you "not working" could be a positive because she thinks of work as something not fun and you are modeling for her a way to be joyful in what you do. A great thing!


Sheila Baum August 31, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Omg, did you hit a nerve in our house! For nearly 10 years I "worked" for a newspaper. My husband and I had our daughter 2 years ago and I decided to stay home. Being a stay at home mom is like working 24/7 with no vacation or sick time. I can't even imagine how tired the rest of you are who work outside of the home too. But I've found you're lucky if you even get credit for the first job, if not the second. A co-worker of my husbands is constantly asking me, "so what is it you do all day?" One of these days, I swear I'm going to pound her one. What the heck do you think I do all day? And her kids are grown!
No matter where you are located, home, an office work IS work. Give women some credit!


amountainmomma August 31, 2010 at 9:00 pm

There seems to be a general misconception as to what constitutes work.

When I worked at my university pub people would make comments about "when I got a real job, in the real world." I find the same attitude applies to motherhood. Telling people you are a stay at home mom conjures up visions of bon bon eating and soap opera watching (maybe in the first few months, have now replaced such activites with rapid superficial cleaning and wine drinking) rather than dinner planning, poop & vomit cleaning, laundry doing, floor sweeping, etc etc.

Writing is certainly a worthy endeavour, and one most are incapable of or disinterested in. Writing is not just work, its a way of life. Its the rhythm of your mind and an outlet for a lot of frustration, pondering, and comprehending that is often more of a benefit to those who write than those who read it.

Keep up the good work Amy!


Capability September 1, 2010 at 2:01 am

As a SAHM, and an almost WAHM (writing a blog and for other websites), I completely identify – not only do people not think you work (not paid does not equal not working).


capability September 1, 2010 at 2:03 am

sorry – new computer and that posted before I previewed it…meant to finish with something snarky about being a pretty reliable go-to as well but refrained.


Diane September 1, 2010 at 3:54 am

It is frustrating to me when I am so easily dismissed by others when I am asked if I work and I reply that I am staying home at the moment to take care of my son. Usually I am then ignored. I started adding to my reply that I am writing now too, but that isn't given much merit. Staying home and being a mom is the hardest job I've ever had. Like someone else commented, there are no vacations, or paid sick time! It is incredibly rewarding, though. I also know that it is temporary, as my son will grow up and need me less. (sniff.) I know I am lucky that I can stay home with him. And to those who wonder if it is ever boring…No!!

Just finished your book! Thanks for such an uplifting take on motherhood. So much of what you wrote happened to me too. I really enjoyed it!


Anonymous September 1, 2010 at 1:22 pm

My 13 year old step son just brought this up the other day. He was complaining about his hard work with school and soccer practice, and said he'd love to sit around the house all day and stay home like I do. WHAT?!?! What exactly is it they think we do? Why is there a culture of thinking that SAHM's do not work. What exactly do they think it takes to raise a family, balance the bills and check book, keep the house clean, do the laundry, taxi everyone around to practices, cook and feed them all, and run all the errands that need to be done. If I were working full time outside the home I would seriously need a full time nanny and housekeeper. That makes two people to do the job that I do. Even my husband makes the occasional, "well you're home all day" comment. It burns me up!

On the up side, I go away for vacation for a week and a half next week and with my husband working 13 hour days, my step-son's hectic soccer schedule, we'll see how much they appreciate me when I return. 🙂


Courtney September 1, 2010 at 3:59 pm

This is a hot topic for most moms! I have a 20 month-old, and I stayed home with her during her first year of life. It was a wonderful but turbulent time for me, as an individual. I'd been working at jobs that came with a paycheck since I was 12. I liked working! Now there I was, 29 years old, and I was not bringing in any money, I was not leaving the house to work, but I had a baby and I struggled with "only" being a mom while I was home.

It took me a good year (until I went back to work outside of the home) to fully understand that I was of value as a person, as a mom, as a friend, and a sister, and a daughter, without bringing home any money. I was still Courtney! Even more so! I was stripped of everything "work" related – conversations with colleagues, long lunches, an office and a title – I was just me! It was really hard to learn that, but it was an invaluable lesson that I hope my daughter learns one day – that your work should fulfill you, but if you make it define you, and then one day you don't have it anymore, then where does that leave you?


A glimpse of me.... September 1, 2010 at 6:34 pm

I am a stay at home mom to 6 children whom I homeschool.

My dd who is only 8 mo old was unable to respond, but my ds 3 is the only one that responded correctly, "YES, you have a job." I asked him, "What is my job?" He told me it was to take care of all the kids. I guess I only have 1 smart kid in the bunch, huh!

BTW ~ I always explain to people that being a homeschool mom is my chosen career. And yes, I do have a college degree.

There are sacrifices, but all so worth it. I would like someone to come to my house for 1 hour and tell me I don't work.


SAHM who Leaves the House, Too September 1, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Amy, I adored your book. I identified with several of your passages, and it made me laugh out loud many times.

After working for 11 years, I chose to stay home with my two sons, who are now 5 and 7. Whenever I have to fill out a form asking for my occupation, I cringe at writing “Stay at Home Mom”, not because I regret what I do, but because the term seems so unworthy of what is truly involved. It paints a picture of women with agoraphobia, and since we stay home, we dress in bath robes and house slippers and are generally indolent.

Whether women work or stay home, it is difficult. Women need to respect and support each others’ choices. There are pros and cons to each choice. When my children were younger, it was impossible to place a phone call without one of them crying or needing me urgently. They seemed to wait until I was on the phone for these outbursts, and I would fantasize about working in my old office, where I could make a call without interruptions. I would think about listening to the news in the car (instead of Raffi), uninterrupted during a peaceful commute to and from work, and having a lunch hour to run errands by myself – no diaper bags, carseats, strollers, or nap times to worry about. AND, at the same time I would also think about how incredibly stressful it would be if I worked – to get myself and my kids up and out the door in the morning, work all day, then walk back in the door to kids wanting me to make dinner, help with homework, give baths, and put them to bed.

In closing, I will share a story that you and your readers might enjoy. Because I plan to return to the work force, I keep a toe in my old working life, occasionally attending industry functions. At the last one I attended, the online registration form asked for my company name. I didn’t know what to put….it would not accept a blank. Finally I just entered “N/A”. I got to the event (a luncheon), found my nametag at the registration table, and below my name, it just said, “N/A”. So here I am, SAHM, N/A.

Thanks for your wonderful book & blog.


A.J. September 2, 2010 at 1:09 am

ironically, when i had to go in to work this past week while on vacation (things were busy), my boss was at home and was at that moment dealing with all 3 of his children – and said to me "i know why you're at work. It's much easier being there than doing THIS," as all 3 kids were asking him for different things (ie, what always goes on at home). thought you might enjoy that anecdote.


Laura Vanderkam September 3, 2010 at 4:41 pm

I think part of teaching kids/spouses/society to take work like writing seriously is to treat it seriously ourselves. I work from home, but have regular working hours, and childcare during those hours so I can focus on work. I have a space in my house where I usually work. The other day, my 11 month old was crawling around under the desk and my 3-year-old got all upset: "Mommy, Sammy's in your work!" They know they're not supposed to touch things, and the 3-year-old knows what the clock says when mommy's done with work.


Anonymous September 4, 2010 at 12:36 am

Laura you have hit the nail on the head I think: if our children, partners, and acquaintances are misinformed about what our "work" is, then we need to tell them– and not be ashamed to talk about mother work as being true, and real, and worthwhile.

There's this book called "Respect for Acting" that I first read in high school, and it was about this very issue for actors (another profession that people don't really understand or take seriously). Uta Hagen's point was that we have to respect ourselves and our work first if others are going to.


Buckeye Mom September 7, 2010 at 12:39 am

I, for one, know that I work a whole lot harder as a stay-at-home Mom than I did when I got dressed up and went to an office everyday. I very much miss being taken seriously, being treated like I have half a brain and having people do what I request of them THE FIRST TIME! I do not, however, have the slightest desire to return to the workforce as I was before. I do not wish to wake my children super early in the morning to drop them at a sitter or latch-key. I also do not wish to deal with rush hour traffic to pick up my children from a sitter or latch-key to then race to soccer or choir practice and then to have dinner at 8:00 pm. I love that I can put my children on the bus, that I can get the house cleaned and run errands while they are at school and that I am there when they get off the bus and the roast is already in the oven. I miss intelligent conversations, but I do not miss the rat race!


Meredith September 8, 2010 at 2:00 am

I hate when people ask me, "what do you do?" and I say, "I stay at home" like I have to make apologies for being a stay at home mom, raising 2 little nuts. Cute nuts, but nuts, nevertheless. I won't apologize for the fact that my husband makes enough that I don't have to work. And if I found my calling, so to speak, I certainly would "work", as I worked all my life until I had my first child 5 years ago – and I am 37 now.
I have never been a fan of Oprah, but I have to say I find it comforting when she exclaims, and does so on many occasion, that stay at home moms have the hardest job in the world. Not that I should need validation, but it sure feels good when a multi-billionaire claims my job is harder than hers. And so it is. But with more rewards than all her money coud ever buy.


Practicing Mama September 12, 2010 at 5:38 am

Of course, you might not even be taking comments anymore to his post of nearly two weeks ago, but as a fellow mother of three young children, I'm sure you can relate to the fact that I'm on kidtime.

Anyway, I, like you, mostly stay home with my kids but also do some writing (from home) as "my work." What I struggle with most often is how best to set an example for my sole daughter (for some reason, I don't worry about this as much with my two sons): is it better that I'm (mostly) staying at home with her and just being her mom right now or am I letting her down because I'm not out, you know, conquering the world or mediating world piece or ridding the city of bedbugs or otherwise pursuing a high profile career? How do I encourage her to be whatever she wants to be when she grows up without bursting her bubble that she may not be able to do it all (at the same time, anyway)and as for balance between motherhood and career–what balance??

By the way, I loved your book and was laughing out loud in parts.


kerry colburn September 14, 2010 at 9:57 pm

My theory is that anyone who says "some of us have to work" to a mom–whether she works outside the home or not–has never been a parent! Like you, I struggle with working part-time as a writer while also raising kids who are used to having me underfoot. To them (and probably to others as well), my work is something that can be either done now or delayed, like emptying the dishwasher. It's a constant effort to keep those boundaries drawn. Congrats on the book, and check out mine sometime: "How to Have Your Second Child First,"


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