The Best Job I Never Had

A funny thing is happening in my life. People are suddenly deeply interested in my career choice. For twenty years, I have been a homemaker and 24/7 support staff for my children. During this time, when people would ask me what I did for a living and I would respond as I just have, they would immediately lose interest in their line of questioning. I figured that was either because they didn’t want further elucidation on my career staying with my children, perhaps hoping to avoid what they assumed would be inevitable potty talk or presentation of myriad baby photos, or because they figured that I had no intelligent things to say because I was only a homemaker and caregiver with no perceivable goals, accomplishments, or interests. There were many times at parties and social events when I felt ostensibly invisible. In this country, you are only as important as your job. Taking care of children and a home is undervalued when held up to other careers.

Recently, however, it seems many people I know are curious about my future plans. I’m assuming this sudden concern is because our youngest is finishing up the first quarter of his last year of high school. The question posed is always the same: “What are you going to do with yourself once both boys are off at college?” After decades of no one having any interest in my daily goings-on, I have found myself at a loss for a response to this question. I assume most people pose the question because they are wondering what work I will do now that my current employers no longer need me. Some people have asked if I will go back to my previous career as a scientific and technical editor. Some people have asked if I’m planning to go back to school since I have been out of the work force for so long and might need some retraining. Other people suggest maybe I could work at Starbucks or Walmart because my resume is a little lackluster what with the twenty year hiatus I’ve had. Their concern for my future is a little puzzling given their previous lack of interest in the goings on in my life.

So, I am going to take a minute to demystify my plans so people can stop worrying about what I will do with the extra hours I’ll be saddled with once Luke graduates next June. My plan is to retire. My tour of duty is over, so I am going to find myself again. Maybe I will work on writing. Maybe I will practice a lot more yoga and ride my bike. Maybe I will travel and visit friends I haven’t spent time with in far too long. Maybe I will work on creating new recipes that fit my old lady diet. Maybe I will play drums in a garage band. Maybe I will make a bunch of AARP friends and play pickleball. Maybe I’ll get weekly massages. Maybe I’ll get bored with all that and find a part-time paying job or volunteer at an organization that feeds my soul. Maybe I’ll do a little bit of all of it. I have no idea. But after twenty years of having my life schedule filled in with other people’s plans, I’m looking forward to making plans of my own, whatever that might look like. And the beautiful thing about retiring from a non-paying job is that I won’t be missing a paycheck. So, win-win.

I’ve been lucky and I’m still lucky. I get to retire from a non-paying job no one thought I was doing all these years. At least now I’ll have an answer when someone asks me what I do. When I meet someone new and they ask me what I did before I retired, though, I’m going to have to tell them I had a classified job with the US government so the conversations ends there. Life is funny sometimes.

8 comments

  1. Hello. I have been thinking about this great post of yours. (LOVE the Lego Block Halloween costume, but I digress.)

    Perhaps reframing the situation might help? Technically you aren’t truly unpaid if your household finances are handled like those of many other couples? In many cases, both partners in a marriage contribute to all payments: mortgage, utilities, automobile, home purchases, college tuition, etc., the list goes on.

    1- Writing naively here – divide up those costs for the past year by 2 – your husband and you. Your husband is in a way “paying” you for your labor by covering what you would have been expected to contribute if you had been in the externally employed arena. (I know that is simplistic and not necessarily 100% realistic, but please humor me.)

    2- The value of labor performed by Stay At Home Moms exceeds $180k per year according to Salary.com: https://www.salary.com/articles/how-much-is-a-mom-really-worth-the-amount-may-surprise-you/

    3- While I understand that people in your circles are curious about your future plans, in other circles it is extremely rude to inquire what another person’s job is. Even moreso than before the pandemic. So many people have experienced steep changes in their employment and standard of living during the pandemic. The old rules used to be 4 subjects that are off limits – sex, religion, money, and politics. The 5th off limits topic now is “what kind of work do you do?” More and more, people are coming to the understanding that “you are not your job.”

    4- You are an excellent essayist and writer, and my suggestion is that you come up with a snappy retort when people ask about your outside employment or lack thereof. Just shut them down with a Cheshire Cat grin. You don’t owe anyone an answer about your future plans. It is rude of people to ask – however well-meaning they may seem.

    Retiring from being a SAHM is just like retiring from an external job. The important thing I think is to recognize that your are retiring TO [fill in the blank] instead of retiring FROM [fill in the blank]

    The future is yours to create on a schedule that works for you.

    Best, Babsje

    1. Hi, Babsje!

      Thank you for taking the time to respond. I appreciate all you have said here about the income issue. I have to say, though, that my lack of financial contribution has had less of an impact on me that it has on outsiders for some reason. I know how my physical, mental, emotional, and temporal contributions have enriched my family and our life together. And I know they are aware of my efforts as well. I finally learned that people who were upset that I didn’t have a paying job were mostly envious of my position. And I didn’t blame them for that. I am sure there are millions of people who wish they could stop working for the man and spend more time with their family. It’s a good life if you are fortunate enough to be able to have a choice.

      The aspect of other people’s judgment that vexed me the most was their feeling that my decision not to work outside the home somehow made me less interesting or intelligent. I have a post graduate degree. I keep up on world events and politics. I am always learning new things. But it seems other people assume that once you decide to stay home full-time rather than have a job outside the home, you lose brain capacity (or perhaps never had it in the first place). Over time I learned to tell people I was a “wildlife manager,” which was an apt description of my life as the mother of boys. If nothing else, when I then told them the wildlife I managed was two sons, they usually had a good laugh about it and noticed I had, at the very least, a sense of humor.

      Overall, my post was meant to show how detrimental and judgmental it can be to belittle and devalue a person based on their career as a full-time parent and homemaker. I have always appreciated how hard other parents have had to work to balance work outside the home with work inside the home. It’s a tough row to hoe, and I am grateful I was able to have children and make the choice to choose one job rather than trying to manage two. That has forever seemed like the more difficult path.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful comments. I deeply appreciate when someone reaches out and shared their thoughts. It helps me fill in the gaps in my thinking and rounds out my point of view.

      Best wishes!

      1. Love your wildlife manager phrase! And I agree with you that many were envious of your choice, which to them was a luxury they, themselves, couldn’t choose. What cheeses me off is the rudeness – as if it’s anybody’s business. Enjoying your essays and musings.

      2. I agree with you about the nosiness. As a diehard introvert, it appalls me that anyone would ask. I figure if someone wants to tell me about their life, they will. I leave the door open in conversation, but I’m not going to pry because I too often wish people would mind their own business and leave me alone. 😉

  2. I took the same career path as you. I also had the same feelings when people asked me what I did. After my kids were both in college, I fell into writing parenting advice for SwimSwam.com on a weekly basis. It was fun, didn’t pay much, but I felt productive and had good feedback. That led to other writing jobs. But now I’m not as motivated to take on paid assignments as much as working on projects for myself. It sounds like you have lots of interests and will enjoy your new life.

    1. Thanks so much for your support and comments here, E.A.

      I too have considered choosing paid work as a writer as an opportunity, but ultimately I knew that when you are writing what others want you to that takes some of the fun out of the process. That is why I chose to blog. I knew I could work to monetize it if I ever needed to, but also knew keeping it just for myself allowed me greater freedom of expression. I don’t know where I will land next year after Thing 2 heads off to school, but I am so thankful to have the time and wherewithal to figure it out.

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