A few days ago I tried to update my resume in preparation for someday joining the Foreign Service. When the State Department gives you a job offer they will ask for your full study and employment history to determine how much experience and education you have. Based on their assessment, they’ll figure out how much to pay you (FYI: all of this is on their website). Aside from asking what you did when you did work, they also ask when you didn’t and why.
Right now I’m a stay at home mom (or SAHM, as shortened in some parenting circles) which technically means I’m unemployed. I knew wondered what sort of explanation I should put down to next to my 2 years of unemployment so I googled “stay at home job description.” Among the top results was a discussion board (which I link to in the title of this post) bursting with a variety of opinions. On one end of the spectrum was a woman who felt that SAHMs were superhuman:
A Stay-At-Home-Mom is more than a full time job requiring incredible, long-term self sacrifice, commitment, patience, stamina, adaptability to change and a multitude of valuable, marketable skills such as the following adapted from the top ten listed by “salary.com”: Chief Executive Officer, Educator, Councillor/Psychologist, Household Manager (including housekeeping, laundry, building maintenance and gardening), Cook, First Aid, and Driver. In 2009 a Stay-At-Home-Mom, on average, contributes the equivalent value of an employee earning a salary of US$122,732.00 annually.
That posting received this exasperated response from someone on the other end of the mommy spectrum:
I don’t want to sound mean - but don’t try to give yourself more credibility than you have. You have children and stayed at home. Period. Don’t give yourself glory for the so-called sacrifices you made.
We all balance checkbooks. We all have to maintain our homes. We all play psychiatrist at some point or another, whether it be a sister, friend, or a child.
This posting literally concludes with the words: “Really now. So what.” Over the course of the thread it comes out that the second poster has never been a mother and doesn’t really see how “special” it is although apparently at one point she would have given anything to be a SAHM herself.
Although I found the first woman’s posting to be a bit unrealistic in terms of her expectation of potential employers’ ability (and interest) in recognizing the skills and experiences of SAHMs, I found the second woman’s response to be naive as well. Before I was a full-time mother I had no idea about the challenges and workload that came with having a child and staying at home so I doubt this other woman had a very good idea either. I feel somewhat entitled to an opinion as a woman who was raised by a SAHM who has also had a career in a competitive high-pressure industry (investment banking). Now I’m the mother of two beautiful daughters and have not worked since having my fird child. - I would say that SAHMs face real challenges and develop real skills to deal with them. All of that, however, doesn’t provide an exact equivalent to the challenges and skills of the workplace. In a lot of ways they’re harder because one never know when one is doing things right (no raise! no pat on the back!) Yet when one make mistakes one fears ruining the lives of those you care about most. On the other hand the challenges are easier to deal with because one is one can grin and bear it for the most worthwhile cause(s) you could ever wish to support.
In the end I chose to write a fairly brief and neutral job description:
Trailing Spouse & Stay-At-Home Mom September 2010 – present Providing childcare for two children while managing family finances, housekeeping, meals, travel, and activities (at a post without a bilateral work agreement)
I figure that I don’t need to be on the defensive because I can also let my work speak for itself. (Which will be…when they both learn to speak?)
One of the friends I made through my husband’s A-100 class (the orientation class for those joining the US State Department’s ranks of Foreign Service Officers aka FSOs) posted this link recently and, as I read it, it helped me get pumped up for joining my husband in his work. I plan on putting myself onto the register (the list of candidates eligible to be called into upcoming A-100 intakes) after Chinese New Year but that doesn’t mean I know when I’ll actually be uprooting myself and moving back to my nation’s capital to learn how to be a diplomat. Why? Because the list will keep changing as other people are added to the register. Additionally, the number of A-100 classes is unclear as the government seems to be trying to manage costs day-by-day during the tough economic climate. Yes, it’s complicated. (I like how this one woman goes through all the ins and outs of her register strategies. If my post is confusing you already, check her’s out as she goes into all of this in more detail.)
I want to say I’ve already taken the first step but so far, it’s only happened in my mind as it’s just plans which have not yet translated into action. With that thought, please wish me luck in my endeavors to join the ranks of working diplomat moms and their diplotots!