Friday, 13 June 2014

So, what do you do?

I've been asked this question several times in the last couple of weeks and each time I've responded with a different answer! Which, unsurprisingly has had me thinking...what DO I do?

These days 'multi-tasking' is my middle name! In amongst being chef extraordinaire (catering for all types of food likes & dislikes), running a fantastic laundry service (bring me your washing - or rather put it in the washing basket, don't leave it in the floor - and it will be returned, washed, dried, sometimes ironed but always folded), being a travel agent (bespoke foreign holidays are my current speciality), a financial whizz (to be fair, I'm much better at spending it, but hey!), gift finder (who buys the presents around here?), post-girl (someone has to mail those presents!), events planner (mostly of the kids party variety but grown-up ones too), creative oik, I'm frequently something of a UN diplomat or perhaps an FBI negotiator... Have you guessed what I 'do' yet? Yes, I'm a mum!

I haven't worked since my smallest was almost 2. I think I should rephrase that... I haven't done any paid work since my youngest was almost 2. My current job might just be the hardest one I will ever have!

The hours are appalling - I'm on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - the pay even worse (we Brits don't tend to discuss salaries!). The payback is great though - the hugs & kisses, smiles & giggles, holding hands and singing together, the list is long and is certainly what makes my job all the more delightful.

But still I ponder that question - What do I do? How do I define myself these days? I find that a response of 'stay-at-home mum' is something of a conversation-killer. The person asking the question isn't quite sure of his/her next question. My husband is an architect and I can imagine his answer can easily lead to further conversation & interesting discussion. My response seems to need further explanation of what I did before this job. Or the need to justify why I stopped work. Or is that just me?

So, what do I do? Do I look back at what I used to do & have that as my answer? It was a massive & very important part of my life after all. I used to run a small book packaging company specialising in creating & selling novelty children's books for the under fives with customers around the world, dealing with all types of projects at various stages (& locations), I organised exhibitions & considered budgets, built databases, saw fabulous products through from concept to delivery, built amazing relationships with colleagues, customers and suppliers alike. But I don't do that now & I'm not planning on going back to it....

Hmmmm, I'm still trying to find the right answer! One that will satisfy the person asking! Now?? 

I have resurrected a love of fabric & will sew at any and every given opportunity, often finding that I have to sew NOW as every detail of the project in my head has been worked out and MUST be executed before I go mad! I love that my eldest daughter has such faith in me - she flippantly asks "mum, can you make me a....?" without thought that that might not be something other daughters ask their mums or doubt that I can do it. I really love that!!

In terms of 'work' and aside from my 'proper' job as a mum, I help run a toddler group at my church with 2 others. I organise a craft every week for the littles. Since they're aged between 0 and 5 it needs to cover all abilities. Perhaps you'll do one project in 2 minutes flat, perhaps you'll take longer or perhaps you'll do at least 5 over the course of the morning! I like everything to be prepared in advance so they can get creative without adult help. Of course parents and carers are encouraged to help - or do their own! - but essentially it is the child's own creation and gorgeous they all are too.

But that's unpaid, so does that count??

For the last 18 months I have been Chair of Governors at our local Infant School. My eldest daughter has been through the school & my littlest is currently at their pre-school, starting Reception in September. I have a vested interest! But I also have a desire to help improve the school for the benefit not only of my children but of their friends & our neighbours. I was blessed with the skills and feel that I 'should' use them although I do feel that our Government is taking advantage of a vast unpaid workforce. But that's another story!! It's a good way to keep my brain active, to learn new skills & to encourage others along the way. It's hard work, especially when my other 'work' gives little free time and I'm new to Education per se (even though I've been through the system myself it was quite a while ago and when you're the student, you have no idea of the behind the scenes stuff). And it also takes a lot of my time with meetings, discussions, training etc. But still it's unpaid, so does that count?

I'm hatching plans for a new business, something I can do from home in time that doesn't interfere with taking the girls to & from school or to their after-school clubs and, most importantly, just being here for them. Maybe then I'll feel more confident in telling people what I do. 

Maybe it's just me, maybe I need to get a clearer handle on what I do? Maybe I need to quash my assumption that people only want to hear about paid work? Or maybe it's okay to 'tailor' my response depending on who I'm talking to.... 

I suppose because my norm has been to do paid work & be able to clearly explain that work, this current way of life is quite novel for me - the scope is huge (see paragraph two!) and I need to stop underestimating its value. 

Unpaid in monetary terms it may be, but in 'real' terms, it's the best job ever!!

Now, if only I could get a bit more sleep....but that's another story...


  1. It's a huge role, Jo! I find it really depends on the social situation how I respond. Sometimes, I just tell them my previous career and go from there... other times I ask them more about themselves... and still other times I'll go the full gamut and give them the run down! I do wish there was more respect out there for what we do in our executive roles at home....

    1. I agree, Rachel, some more respect would certainly help. It's so under-valued as a job. On social media my description says I'm MD or CEO of our family!

  2. I've nailed it -what you do, you LIVE! And well by the sounds of it - people to love and be loved by, creative energies, somewhere to serve your community. It's the tiring, energising, all-consuming, mundane stuff - it's life!! Great post Jo. And from the other side of the world, so interesting to try and decipher UK terminology that's unfamiliar to me. Reception - is that like our Prep - first year at primary school??

    1. Thanks, Annette! Life is for living, after all!

      Reception is the first year at Primary School here, where you turn 5 somewhere in that year. Our academic year runs from 1st September to 31st August. Is yours different?

  3. Hi Jo. Thank you for articulating what is mostly my life too. I think some people feel confused by the fact our lives are not imprisoned by the toil for money. Sometimes the best things in life ARE FREE....they see us flying and singing sweetly like a bird, building our nest, doing our thing and they want to hold on to us, hold us in their hand by questioning what we are doing in the only way they know how. I find my wings TIED down during this process and sometimes this leads to me finding ways of working with my wings tied in this way to be LIKE OTHERS. We must SMILE AND FLY sing and SOAR.

    1. Loving the image of smiling and flying and above all, soaring! Thank you.

  4. It is a funny question to answer, isn't it? And such a go-to question. I don't get out much (stay at home mum for 4 years), so I don't get asked very often, but now I have gone back to university, I suppose I have an easy, stock answer now!


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