You’ve said your polite hellos, ascertained how you both know the host, discussed the merits of the cheese platter and come back around to what a lovely party it is. The smiles are freezing on your faces and you’ve both taken a drink from your glass to fill the awkward silence. It’s inevitable. She goes first: “So, what do you do?”
You thought this interaction was awkward before! Just wait until I’ve answered that question. You see, I’m a stay-at-home mom. Not a staying-home-for-a-little-while-then-going-back-to-work mom, a stay-at-home mom. Which surprisingly, as far as I’m concerned, is kind of hard for people to deal with. Particularly working moms.
If you’re a stay-at-home mom too, you may also have found yourself in awkward situations like this one. But never fear. Here, at last, is a stay-at-home mom’s guide to small talk. Let’s begin.
Question: “So, what do you do?”
This one is relatively easy. Just answer honestly. Yes, it will lead to all sorts of other frustrating and awkward questions, but we’ll deal with those in a moment. If you do chose to lie, lie convincingly.
Question: “What did you used to do?”
Okay, yes, I get that this is kind of rude. It implies that what you currently do (devoting your heart and soul to the upbringing of tiny humans who rely on you for everything) isn’t worth talking about. But she doesn’t know she’s being rude. In her world, she’s asked you what your job is and you’ve just told her you don’t have one. Which, actually, is very rude. But we’re being the bigger person here. You know, to set a good example for our kids. Or something. So, again, answer honestly. For example, in my case I could say: “I was an elementary school teacher for ten years.”
Question: “When do you think you’ll go back?”
Try not to judge her. At least not out loud. Internal judgment is fair game, and perhaps necessary to keep from throttling her. You decide. See, she doesn’t know how she sounds. So, take a deep breath and remember that to her, staying home full time is something the feminists wiped off the map along with bras, razors and those nice little pearl necklaces. Honesty is the key here as well. For example, I would reply: “Never.”
Question: “Do you miss it?”
The “it’ here would be your job. As in, do you miss your real life, the thing that actually gives your life meaning? This is actually a semi-valid question. It at least addresses your actual current state of being, rather than something you’ve given up and won’t be returning to. And maybe you do miss your job sometimes. In which case, feel free to say so. You could try something like: “I do miss it sometimes. But I love being a mom and feel that it’s really important to stay home with my kids.” It’s okay to be a little sanctimonious here (I mean, she’s so annoying!) just as long as you keep your tone light and friendly. But, if you’re like me, another acceptable answer would be: “No, not even a little bit.”
Question (okay this one’s actually a statement but she seems to think a response is warranted so we’ll include it here): “We just couldn’t afford that.”
So, technically speaking, this is a non sequitur. Unless you specifically asked her why she isn’t also a stay-at-home mom, this comes out of left field. No one is asking her to be a stay-at-home mom so her justification for why she isn’t is kind of random. Until you factor in mommy guilt. This woman is just trying to justify to you why she has chosen to leave her kids at daycare and go back to work. This is her issue, not yours. So, while you might be tempted to say: “It’s hard for us to afford it, too, but we make it work because it’s important to us,” you should instead simply nod and say: “Oh.”
Question (actually, still not a question): “I’d just get so bored.”
Again, not technically related to what you are talking about but apparently relevant in her mind so we’ll persevere. This is the guilt again. She is trying to let you know that she has a job that engages her intellectually and that this is justification for not staying home. Since it matters to you not one whit whether she stays at home or works at a remote laboratory on the moon, you should feel free to reply: “Then it’s a good thing you’re not a stay-at-home mom!” If you’re feeling extra magnanimous you can let her know that, yes, it sometimes is boring but that’s okay because lots of things are sometimes boring. But this concession isn’t necessary. Moving on.
Question (this one is actually a question): “So, what do you do all day?”
I think the most polite response to this question is: “Oh, goodness, look at the time! I must fly. There are pillows to scream into and hair to rip out.” But, if you really can’t stand it, I give you permission to answer honestly. What do you do all day?
You tell her, sister.