Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gaining Respect for Your Work as a Mother

When moms get together, especially stay-at-home-moms and moms with large families, they often talk about how little respect they receive from people in the community or the culture at large. While this is true to some extent, I think many people do respect and value the work mothers do. I think we mothers have the power to change opinions in our interactions with others.

Have you ever met an experienced professional who likes their job?  I bet you've noticed that they tend to dress well, speak about their job with passion, and are confident about their value and worth. Contrast that with the stereotypical image of a mom with many children or one who stays at home. The image of  a mother in yoga pants, hair in a loose ponytail, and chaos unfortunately comes to mind. It's hard to have respect for someone who doesn't appear as if she respects herself.

I think the most important any mother can do for herself is to actually value and respect herself. If you truly believe that what you are doing as a mother matters and is important, then that self-respect and sense of self-worth will come out. I was in the store a few weeks ago with my baby. We were having a great time talking back and forth and a few people noticed our interaction. One older man stopped and chatted with me briefly. During our conversation I told him that I have six children. He was totally surprised by this revelation. He gave me the standard response, "Wow, you must be so busy." To which I replied, "I am busy doing such important work. I am so happy and proud to be a mother to six wonderful kids. I know what I am doing is valuable and meaningful". The entire tone of the conversation changed. His attitude went from pitying to respectful. When I shared how important I considered my work, he could see the value of what I was doing and consequently walked away re-considering the worth of motherhood.

Dress as if you respect and value yourself. You don't have to go all diva on anyone, but if I have learned anything from "What Not to Wear", it's hard to take someone seriously in sweat pants-or even yoga pants. I don't have anything against yoga or sweat pants and I wear them, especially when it is really cold outside and heating the house is super expensive. Try to put something on a little nicer when you go out for errands. Invest a little money in buying a couple pairs of good jeans that fit you properly (please don't buy mom jeans because as Tina Fey says, "nothing says you've given on being a woman like mom jeans) and a few nice tops. Make sure you have some nice flats that are comfortable. Wear an accessory or two. Make sure you have a haircut that isn't too high maintenance but looks nice even on time-crunch. Invest in a few makeup basics that make you look more polished and put together. Get a free make-over at a makeup counter if you need help with makeup or check out youtube's extensive library of tutorials. If you don't know how to put together something, have a style-savvy friend help you shop. If your budget is tight take a friend to the thrift store. Several years ago as I was grappling with a major lupus flare, my hair fell out in big clumps and I lost 20 pounds. I have a small frame, so I looked really, really bad. I felt bad and I looked bad. I started wearing makeup and I got a good haircut. It didn't take away my physical pain but I felt better and more able to cope with everything I was experiencing. I know we live in a super-shallow world which does put great stock in appearances. I hate the pressure too, but I'm already fighting a battle for respect when I walk out the door with six children. I choose to alleviate some of that pressure with a more put-together appearance.

In social gatherings, like work parties or school events, it is easy to feel the pressure of talking to people about your work. Small talk is never easy and some people are just better at it than others. I admit that I have a strength for being able to talk to people in many different situations. It may help to practice with friends to work on how to positively present your work as a mother around others. Here are some things I do in these situations: I ask people questions about their lives and listen. I try to relate to their experiences through my own experiences or what I have read. I read and study a lot. I listen to educational podcasts all the time, so I always feel like I have I something to contribute about a variety of topics. (I listen to podcasts while cleaning and I use my library extensively.) When I talk about my work, I smile and speak positively about my experiences. I'm not ashamed to share that I have six children and have been married for 17 years. People who are proud of their work share it openly and discuss it in positive terms. I don't brag about my kids, but I do talk about the people they are becoming and how proud I am of them. If people ask about what it is like to parent six children, I try to relate my experiences to their own parenting experiences. When one friend asked me how I could clothe all my kids on a budget, I shared what I do and how that works for our family.

Finally, work with your children on appropriate public behavior. Practice appropriate behavior in restaurants and work diligently on manners. My family is frequently complimented on their behavior when we go out in public because my husband and I have worked very hard on manners and appropriate behavior. If we notice they are mis-behaving, we address the problem then and there--we don't ignore it. I have noticed that people notice and appreciate it. When you are at a restaurant, do your best to keep your area clean and give an extra tip to the server and the person bussing the table. While living in Sweden I learned that if I wanted to explore and enjoy myself, my kids were going to have to come along. So we made it work. My kids have been to museums and historical sites all over the world because I didn't want to miss out on those things.

While it may seem like an impossible job, we mothers can change the way others view us and our work as mothers by respecting ourselves, dressing in a more professional manner, talk to others in positive ways in social settings, and teach your kids how to behave in public. I'm sure there are others ways to positively promote yourself and the work you do. What have you found that works? I would love to read your stories and experiences.



Marisa said...

Very good post. Being confident about yourself is the right way to approach gaining support for your job as a mother. We mustn't be so insecure as to wait for others to assign value to our lives. Yes, parenting is very challenging, but it's the best thing we can do to change the world for the better, so it deserves our best efforts. Appearance matters! Your children’s behavior goes a long way toward helping others respect your family. But if there is one child who just seems to need lots of correction, do it lovingly. It always hurts my feelings to see a parent being mean to a child who's misbehaving, and seeming to excuse their own public tantrum as being the child's fault. I like giving verbal praise to my children in public, because I want to see more of that in other parents. Kids remember and base their self-worth feelings on what you say about them. I'm not a fancy sort of girl. I like low maintenance and plain-jane stuff, but I'm going to try harder to look nice, and make sure my kids have good clothing to choose from also, because of your post. Thanks so much!

swedemom said...

You are so right, Marisa. It is important to respond lovingly and kindly to a child-whether in public or in private.