Do You Work?


In June, we moved to a new town. The past few months have been a whirlwind of meeting new people, especially moms of little kids because that’s my social circle now with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old. I meet moms at swim lessons, moms at soccer practice, moms at kindergarten open house, moms in the neighborhood, moms at the park, moms at preschool. Moms, moms and more moms. I have to say I’ve met some supercool women. The town is full of smart, sociable, well-educated moms who like to have a good time and they’ve really welcomed me as the new kid on the block.

We plan to stay in this town for a long time and it feels good to be putting down roots. It’s likely that many of  these new women I’m meeting will have a presence in my life for years to come. Our kids will go to school together, play sports together and grow from little kids, to preteens to teenagers together. So we’ll be bumping into one another a lot and maybe some of them will even become close friends. I’m building my village.

Conversation with these women flows really easily. Sure there’s the silly get to know-you chit chat at first when we introduce ourselves and our kids and maybe talk about the weather. In most cases, that passes quickly and we soon get to the point where it would seem natural to ask deeper questions. In this day of telecommuting, freelancing and high unemployment rates in an affluent town with a lot of stay-at-home moms, asking a woman if she “works” can feel like a loaded question. In no way would I want to suggest that moms without careers don’t “work.” I was a stay-at-home-mom for a short period and it kicked my ass! Would it be better to ask “Do you work out of the home?” Cringing. That won’t work. I technically don’t work OUT of the home. I work AT home for a large company. Plus I just think “work out of the home” is a dated phrase that conjures visions of an era of 1980’s power suits and shoulder pads (see below).

So what’s a more tactful way to ask a woman if she collects a paycheck? I like to know because I’m a curious person and no matter what a woman chooses to do (have a career or put it on hold for kids), I totally support her decision and in most cases can find something really admirable about her choice. Both choices require brains and hard work. If I want to have a real relationship with these women, knowing how she spends her days is of great interest to me. Plus, I like my job and I feel it’s a big part of who I am, so it’s nice to share that part of me with new friends.

So I’m looking to you, mamas, for some ideas. What do you think is a more modern way of asking about a woman’s work choices? Am I over-thinking it? Are there any alternatives to “do you work out of the home?”

6 comments on “Do You Work?”

  1. I just wouldn’t ask, period. It’s a personal question. Eventually the subject of what a parent does all day — work, take care of the home, or a combination — will come up. I guess I see it like this: no one asks a father, “Do you work?” or some variation of the question. The assumption is just there, and if he happens to not work because he’s a SAHD or simply unemployed, he will just say so. So I don’t see the point in treating women any differently. The mortgage broker we used when we bought our house really got to me when he asked me “where does your husband work?” and then followed that up with “and do you work outside the home?” The assumption was that the man must work, and the woman may or may not work because of course her husband must support her. I make more money than my husband!

    1. Melanie, what do you think of this? I’ve noticed that men usually ask each other “WHERE do you work(vs. DO you work?)” . This usuallly happens within minutes of meeting and promts a lively conversation. What if I asked all these new women in my life the same question? Then she can say “at Innetech” (or whatever) or “at home”. I just feel like I can take only so much smalltalk with people and I like to know what makes people tick.

      1. I think that’s just it – it is difficult to make small talk, because it feels awkward and most of us hate it. Only the most outgoing, comfortable people can handle it well and make conversation in a way that feels natural to everyone involved. The underlying societal assumption that men always work, and women may or may not work depending what stage of life they are in, is always there. I’m trying to think of the last time I had this kind of conversation, and right now I can’t recall … sometimes I meet people through work, which takes the question out of the equation altogether. Then the question becomes “do you have kids?” Maybe it’s because most of the parents I know are still people I knew BEFORE kids, so I already know what they have been doing. I can’t remember the last time I met another parent for the first time and had no context for whether he/she worked or not; either that or it just didn’t come up somehow.

  2. I usually take the easy way out and ask something like, “do the kids go to daycare?” and then I’ve got more to go on for following “where do you work?” or “have you always been home with them?” question 🙂

  3. I would reverse it and say something like “So, are you home with the kids right now full time?” That way if they are they can expand, and if they aren’t they will tell you where they work etc.

  4. I had someone ask me “so now do you have another job other than the hardest job of all, being a mommy?”… it kind of felt like she was trying hard to not imply that SAHM wasn’t a job but at the same time it made me feel like we ALL have at the very least this one really work intensive job of being a mom and yes, some of us do it full time (plus) and for some of us it’s one of 2 (or 3) jobs, I confuse people because i work part time so they do see me out during the day on my days off and I imagine it’s something some of them wonder about. I have never felt offended by any other approaches to the question, but I can see how some might. I doubt the question itself would offend someone so strongly that they’d write you off, but the follow up response might be where they would form their opinion of you! If you can show them your admiration as you eloquently wrote in this entry, then I can imagine you’ll be hittin it off with SAHMs and exec moms alike!

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