Disclaimer:  I don't know who Matt Walsh is, although a quick search revealed that he is making enough waves that there's a website called whatismattwalshwrongabouttoday.com.  That's okay; if people feel the need to attack him, he's probably doing something right, and in any case, he gets this one really, really right: “You’re a stay-at-home mom? What do you DO all day?”  (H/T Jon)  This husband's homage to his wife was inspired by conversations like the following:

“So is your wife staying at home permanently?”

“Permanently? Well, for the foreseeable future she will be raising the kids full time, yes.”

“Yeah, mine is 14 now. But I’ve had a career the whole time as well. I can’t imagine being a stay at home mom. I would get so antsy. [Giggles] What does she DO all day?”

“Oh, just absolutely everything. What do you do all day?”

“…Me? Ha! I WORK!”

“My wife never stops working. Meanwhile, it’s the middle of the afternoon and we’re both at a coffee shop. I’m sure my wife would love to have time to sit down and drink a coffee. It’s nice to get a break, isn’t it?”

The conversation ended less amicably than it began.

Walsh's whole commentary is worth reading.  Here are some snippets.

Look, I don’t cast aspersions on women who work outside of the home. I understand that many of them are forced into it because they are single mothers, or because one income simply isn’t enough to meet the financial needs of their family. Or they just choose to work because that’s what they want to do. Fine. I also understand that most “professional” women aren’t rude, pompous and smug, like the two I met recently. ... But I don’t want to sing Kumbaya right now. I want to kick our backwards, materialistic society in the shins and say, “GET YOUR FREAKING HEAD ON STRAIGHT, SOCIETY.”

In making his point, the author fails to mention that there are other essential professions (sometimes lacking in respect), and that any legitimate work done with excellence and integrity has value, often great value. Cut him (and me) some slack: it doesn't change the truth of what he says. Our society has elevated employment, almost any employment, over work that does not bring in a paycheck, especially if the non-paying work involves home and family, like rearing children or caring for elderly parents.

It’s true — being a mom isn’t a “job.” A job is something you do for part of the day and then stop doing. You get a paycheck. You have unions and benefits and break rooms. I’ve had many jobs; it’s nothing spectacular or mystical. I don’t quite understand why we’ve elevated “the workforce” to this hallowed status. Where do we get our idea of it? The Communist Manifesto? Having a job is necessary for some — it is for me — but it isn’t liberating or empowering. Whatever your job is — you are expendable. You are a number. You are a calculation. You are a servant. You can be replaced, and you will be replaced eventually. Am I being harsh? No, I’m being someone who has a job. I’m being real. ... If your mother quit her role as mother, entire lives would be turned upside down; society would suffer greatly. The ripples of that tragedy would be felt for generations. If she quit her job as a computer analyst, she’d be replaced in four days and nobody would care.

Having been both computer analyst and mother, I can attest to what he says.  Guess which career garnered the most admiration and accolades?

Of course not all women can be at home full time. It’s one thing to acknowledge that; it’s quite another to paint it as the ideal. To call it the ideal, is to claim that children IDEALLY would spend LESS time around their mothers. This is madness. Pure madness. It isn’t ideal, and it isn’t neutral. The more time a mother can spend raising her kids, the better. The better for them, the better for their souls, the better for the community, the better for humanity. Period.

The following may be my favorite paragraph of the whole article.

Finally, it’s probably true that stay at home moms have some down time. People who work outside the home have down time, too. In fact, there are many, many jobs that consist primarily of down time, with little spurts of menial activity strewn throughout. In any case, I’m not looking to get into a fight about who is “busier.” We seem to value our time so little, that we find our worth based on how little of it we have. In other words, we’ve idolized “being busy,” and confused it with being “important.” You can be busy but unimportant, just as you can be important but not busy. I don’t know who is busiest, and I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. I think it’s safe to say that none of us are as busy as we think we are; and however busy we actually are, it’s more than we need to be.

I think I'll change my advice to those who are asked the condescending and offensive question, "What do you DO all day?"  And I'd apply it to almost any profession, not just motherhood—no one from the outside can really know what it takes to do another's job.  First, I'd quote Elbert Hubbard:  Never explain—your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anywayThen I'd suggest this as a response:

That's a trade secret, and revealing it is against the rules of our Guild.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 7, 2015 at 8:54 pm | Edit
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Louis Armstrong is (mis?)reported as answering the question "What is jazz?" with "Man, if you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know."

I think that quote stuck because it gives jazz a mystical flavor and a gnostic appeal, where only the initiates could truly understand and partake and any understanding you felt or intuited meant you grokked jazz, if only a bit. If that's what you're aiming for, then your suggestion is a good and effective reply.

But I'd only use it when it's clear that the questioner is being condescending and is not interested in real dialogue. Otherwise, it shuts down the discussion and prevents the genuinely curious from learning something.

What would you think - you do have a considerable experiental advantage over me - of the following:
If you were home with your kids, how would you spend your day?

Posted by Stephan on Saturday, April 11, 2015 at 4:46 pm

The problem is, it is impossible to tell the heart-motive of a simple question. I don't think there is any proper way to word the question of what a stay-at-home parent does. Either the asker is genuinely open to learning, or he is not, and it is remarkably difficult to descern in the moment. However, with even a little bit of dialogue I think it is possible to accurately judge the interest level of the asking party. My question is, how do you respond to the question in a way that furthers the conversation a little bit to make that judgement possible? I don't want to shut people down right away, but I also don't want to feel forced to sum up my complex and deeply personal life in a sentence no matter how interested the other is. I think Mom's point is that the question makes us extremely uncomfortable because so much hangs in the balance and there is no possible way to describe everything about what one does, yet the question implies that it is possible to give such a summary. I think you would have similar trouble with the question "If you were at work today, how would you spend your day?"

Posted by Janet on Sunday, April 12, 2015 at 7:49 am

Correct. I've always struggled with that question, because in terms of time spent, most probably goes into writing e-mails. And if you put it that way, surely what I do is pretty unproductive, right?

So, as Walsh gleefully points out, people get uncomfortable in a hurry when pressed as to what they do at work, and usually don't realize that it's merely a taste of their own medicine. (Corollary: a taste of one's own medicine is only salutary if the patient realizes it's his own medicine.)

If I want to sound more important, I might come up with an answer like "I do maintenance work on the lab process and try to make as much of it as possible preventive maintenance." That's a more functional view of those e-mails and standards I deal with, more satisfying to me - and impossible to frame on the spot. (I had to think about that before typing, and might have come up with something else another day. [I did here.])

But since conversations tend to get awkward and testy if at least one party has no compunctions about making the other feel uncomfortable, perhaps Linda's suggestion could work as a humorous end to the discussion, especially if followed by a change of subject. Or, if we suspect the person asking didn't intend to make us feel uncomfortable, something like:

That question makes me quite uncomfortable, perhaps adding: I find what I do worthwhile, but I doubt I can summarize them in a short sentence, nor am I certain that you would find them as worthwhile as I do.

Posted by Stephan on Sunday, April 12, 2015 at 8:10 am

*summarize it, not them.

Posted by Stephan on Sunday, April 12, 2015 at 8:11 am

I think I misunderstood. Stephan, was your first comment a suggestion for how one could respond to the "what do you do?" question? I read it at first as another way to ask the initial question.

Posted by Stephan on Sunday, April 12, 2015 at 1:49 pm

The last question is from Janet, not Stephan (he used my account and I didn't notice) . . .

Posted by Janet on Sunday, April 12, 2015 at 1:49 pm

Yes, that's what my first response was intended to be. Just goes to show how hard it is to communicate well...

Posted by Stephan on Sunday, April 12, 2015 at 2:25 pm

This is great and shows why I shouldn't be so quick to comment on my own posts. I'm holding off until I can use a real keyboard—look how a good discussion starts when I hold back.

Posted by SursumCorda on Sunday, April 12, 2015 at 4:06 pm

Hmm, I don't know, I feel like I've said what I wanted to and now I'm kinda waiting for you to chime in...

Posted by Stephan on Monday, April 13, 2015 at 3:36 pm
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