Still smarting

26 Apr

I met a woman the other day, who, after talking to me for half-an-hour about her academic qualifications and listing in detail all her career accomplishments, proceeded to ask me:

What do you do at home?

The question itself sounds harmless, a good-natured attempt at conversation, but when seen in the context of her attitude and the condescending tone of her talk, the aim was clearly to minimize me, to dismiss me as a person and belittle my choice to stay at home to raise my daughter.

I don’t feel the need to justify myself to anyone, and setting out to impress people is something I never do, but I have reached a point and an age in my life where I will no longer let a deliberate attempt to hurt my feelings go unchecked.

I looked this woman directly in the eye and asked her what does she do at home? I then told her that running a house is full of responsibilities, that raising a child is a full-time occupation and that the day is not long enough for all the things I like to do.

She was a little taken aback by my response, and although I don’t know if she was sensible of my meaning and implied rebuke, I feel infinitely better for having repelled, in my own way, her spiteful remark.

Two things have come to my mind upon reflection of this incident:

1) Women can be terribly hostile with each other, and

2) Women who stay home to raise a family sometimes are undervalued, at least in the West. I can’t really speak in general terms about Pakistani society, because I have only seen individual cases of a specific portion of society here. I have met several women who have jobs and distinguished careers, and others who would never dream of working outside their own homes, but I don’t know enough to judge the situation in this country, and in fact, I have no desire to pass judgement.

I do know that I am very happy staying at home and caring for my family. It was a natural step for me when our daughter was born, and I take great pleasure in being domestic, as in ‘devoted to home duties’ and ‘relating to the household and the family’, as Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary explains.

I do not feel intellectually deprived, either. There is plenty of stimulation to be had if one looks for it, whatever the occupation.

I may no longer wear suits and high heels every day, or be in the midst of a busy office performing tasks that eventually generate money, but I am there when my daughter wakes from her afternoon nap, all warm and slightly puffy, with pillow marks all over her cheeks. I am there to make sure she gets a good meal, to answer her questions as they occur and to give her a hug when she cries for me. How dare anyone disparage the life I lead as inconsequential, when it means the world to me.

I think the great point is that we are all able to make the choices that matter to us, according to our own circumstances and set against the background of our own lives. I don’t know what motivated this lady’s attitude, but I can only assume that she is far too impressed with herself but for all that still terribly insecure.  I am sure that I too may have hurt someone’s feelings with a thoughtless comment at any time in my life, but I can safely say that I have never been intentionally malicious.

I guess if my visitor’s intention was to make me feel small and foolish, her purpose has been sadly thwarted, because I feel nothing of the sort. The prevailing feeling is anger at her bad manners and pity for her lack of grace.


3 Responses to “Still smarting”

  1. charlotteotter April 26, 2007 at 1:55 am #

    Whatever her intention was, the most important thing is that you are happy and comfortable with your choice. I have friends who work, and friends who stay home as I do, and we try not to judge each other’s choices, no matter what our private feelings may be about what is “right”. Part of me would love to be out there, earning money and being important, but in my heart I know that nothing is more important to me than being around for my three small people.

    Well done for not letting any barbs or arrows get you down.

  2. lvmg April 29, 2007 at 10:05 am #

    The deciding factor for me is that my daughter will only grow up once, but I can always work later, and to give her the best start that I am capable of is the most important thing.

    We all have opinions about other people’s choices, but you’re right, the thing is to be respectful and keep what we truly think to ourselves.

    I’ve been thinking that maybe this is just an example of this lady’s personality. I hope it’s nothing personal against me, although this is actually the second time she asks this question since I met her, so who knows?

  3. Helen May 7, 2007 at 3:18 pm #

    Ah, as you know, I’ve been here too and I can relate to this post so much. When Kiko was about to turn one year old, a mother I know who had gone back to paying work when her baby was about 8 months old said to me: “So when are you going back to work?” I explained that I had lost my job when I had Kiko (she already knew this) but that I was happy with what I was doing right now. She then persisted, quite aggressively: “But what are you going to do for work?” I gave a deliberately vague answer: “I’ll wait and see what happens,” but I was so furious and still feel angry about it six months later. Her attitude implied that my choice to stay at home with Kiko was not valid, she almost seemed to be suggesting I was lazy. How I wish I’d tackled her in the way you did to “what do you do at home?” woman.

    In retrospect, I can see that the woman who challenged me was jealous of my decision to stay at home with Kiko. Maybe she was jealous of me full stop. I don’t know but, as you say with the woman you know, this was not the first time she had made barbed comments to me. When a person is negative and judgemental – and feels the need to list qualifications and achievements – it’s often a sign of insecurity.

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