What happens when people don’t see you as you see yourself? Should you be offended?

Recently, the hubs and I were at a community event. I was in attendance as spousal support. Arm candy, if you will. <I’m laughing as I type that.>

Spousal support = verbal filter fully engaged. Don’t be an idiot. Tuck in the crazy.

We were chatting with a local business leader and his wife whom we had not met previously. It was a lovely conversation. Were enjoying getting to know this couple, sharing little funny tidbits and bantering back and forth. It was fun. Hubs explained his job at the hospital and we chatted a bit about the gentleman’s company. The subject of family came up and I said we had four kids. He asked their ages and I obliged.

And then he said, “So, you’re at home, then.” < Referring to my job, then.

Do you know that feeling when the air is sucked out of the room? When the sudden lack of oxygen creates a vacuum so powerful that it sucks every morsel of life from the space? Well, I don’t exactly know what that feels like, but I imagine it felt like the space around us immediately after this seemingly innocent statement.

Hubs had a silent but visceral reaction beside me: Oh, crap. Well, there went that. 

My mental processing was more gradual. It went something like this:

“So, you’re at home, then.”

  • My natural sarcasm: Um, like right now? No, I’m standing here in front of you.  
  • Offended professional: So, because I have four kids and a husband you assume I must not have a career outside the home?
  • Offended teacher: Was that a question or a statement? 
  • Offended mother: You’re assuming I’m a stay-at-home-mom, then, because I have four kids and a busy husband? Because, that’s the only option for a successful family? 
  • Offended academic: In one fail swoop 22 years of formal schooling and two decades of work experience was just disregarded as nonessential. 

Since my crazy was tucked in and my verbal filter was fully engaged, this actually happened:


No, I’m a college professor. I have a Ph.D. and have taught in higher education for the past 12 years. I teach principles of management, organizational behavior, ethics and human resource management. I also write, publish and consult.

He was surprised, but impressed. We continued our enjoyable conversation and expanded the topics a bit. Later, I reflected on this situation. What actually bothered me?

I’m intense. I process. I analyze. I question. I reflect in order to understand myself and my reactions.

If I reversed the gender role, would I feel the same?  If we were at a community function where the hubs was functioning as spousal support and the topic of our four children came up in conversation with a business leader as posed to my husband, would the follow up statement be: So, you’re a stay-at-home-dad, then. Come on, that wouldn’t happen.

Was I bothered at the assumption that successful parenting of 4 kids = no career?
Was I offended at the statement versus question issue, which made it an assumption?
Was I irritated at being thought of first as merely a wife instead of a professional?
Did my identity solely rest in my career and not my family?

I truly believe moms who work solely inside the home are undervalued, overworked and misrepresented. It’s a noble, difficult profession, in which I could not successfully function.

Three cheers for day care! 

The only person in this family who is a stay-at-home anything is the dog.
She has fully embraced her career as a do(g)mestic goddess.
Some of my friends cried at the bus stop the day their youngest went to Kindergarten. I did a little happy dance. Even more of my friends dread the day their youngest goes to college. My husband and I are counting the days. We’re this close to making one of those paper chains you made as a kid to count the days until Christmas. Maddy is only 8, so it would be a really, really long chain and I just don’t have that kind of time.

As my blog-spiration Jen Hatmaker deftly described, I’m that Worst End of Summer Mom all the time. I know this about myself and I’m ok with it.

The assumption versus question thing was an accident, I think. Maybe voice tone gone awry, so toss that. My identity does not solely rest in my career. It also does not rest in being a fake biker, but that’s another blog post for warmer weather.

No, I think it was that I was clearly a wife and not-so-clearly a professional. I was there in a supportive role, not in front of a classroom or conference podium. And I liked it. It was fine. I’m proud of the hubs and all he’s achieved. Isn’t being his wife enough, at least in public? At one event? Do I need a sticker on my forehead with my resume detailed for the general public to see before they engage me in conversation?

Because, let’s face it, I may not have my crazy tucked in at all times.

It wasn’t this person’s fault. He’s a nice guy with a nice wife. Can’t I give him a break and let it go?

I don’t know. Maybe. I’m working on it.

What would you do?