Just A Mom

Soccer mom?

Going out to California last month was a bit of a wake-up call for me. All of the women that I met were so incredibly accomplished! One of them actually worked as a anesthesiologist, and then decided to become a lawyer. How awesome is that?!?! I was surrounded by consultants and lawyers and people working at promising start-ups and women who have young children now but who did those things before they had children and are taking a short break.

Me? I graduated from high school, went to college and shopped majors until I settled on one that’s part of the humanities, which virtually guarantees me a tiny salary if I decide to go to work (they really need to post that Georgetown Study in big letters in college advisement centers across the country). Oh yeah, and I technically haven’t even graduated yet! Marking “some college” on forms is always a thrill.

This summer I’m moving past the college graduation hurdle, but I don’t have immediate plans to pursue a career which means I’m slated  to continue to show up at cocktail parties embarassed about what I do. We’ll be standing in a group and my husband will introduce himself and be asked what he does. He will reply, and it will be my turn.

What’s your name? “Jenna.”

What do you do? “Oh, I’m just a mom.”


I don’t want to be that way anymore. There is no need to get in some sort of flame war arguing about who has it harder, stay-at-home-moms or working-moms, because both groups are both spending time doing something valuable throughout the day. If I decided to get a job and we hired a nanny that person would never say “I’m just a nanny.” I’ve also never heard “I’m just a doctor,” “I’m just a consultant”, or “I’m just in sales.” I’ve certainly never seen a man cast his eyes down and answer apologetically about his job.

I am choosing to do this. It is my profession. It is what I do. Arguments that posit you can only count something as a profession if you’re paying taxes or being handed a paycheck are silly and not worth paying attention to.

Next time I’m asked what I do I have a variety of responses I can give. “I stay home with my son,” or maybe “I split my time between photography and motherhood.” But you won’t hear me say “Just a mom” anymore. We as women can all lend a little more respect to our chosen vocation by showing how proud we are to be doing what we do each day.

64 thoughts on “Just A Mom

  1. I really loved this post. I’m a stay at mom too and I say “I just stay at home” too. Of course I don’t mean it like that! I’m going to do better at this too. Thanks!

  2. I am not a mom but still love this post and your attitude towards this issue. Once I have children I want to able to choose between being a stay at home mom or going out to work without belittling my own choice. Both are great, both are hard choices.

  3. As a working mom, I am insanely jealous of stay at home mom’s! I am proud of my career and worked hard to get where I am, but am giving up promotional opportunities (and money) to keep the flexibility that I have with my current position.

    I NEVER think that anyone is “just a mom” if they stay home.

    Plus, I’m pretty sure you could also say, “I’m a photographer AND a stay at home mom AND a blogger” and you’d be telling the truth 🙂

    If I saw you on the street and was introducing you to someone, I would say you were a blogger and photographer 🙂

    Jenna Reply:

    Your comment made me realize something. Whenever I am with a friend who introduces me to someone else, they never say “This is Jenna, she’s just a mom”. They actually never introduce me as a mom! They say I’m a photographer or a blogger. It’s funny that I can’t embrace the roles that other people see me filling. I think it’s partly because I feel like if I don’t say I just focus on being a mom, I’ll be judged and criticized for not loving my kid or doing a good job or something.

    Chelsea McGowan Reply:

    I agree with this. You being a mom is not what you do for a living. You’re a part time photographer and a blogger. You also have a two year old son. If you did absolutely nothing outside the home, you could say, “I’m a stay at home mom”, and that would suffice. But to say you split your time being photography and motherhood… well, so do I, with 30+ weddings and 200 portrait sessions a year. I think the first step toward legitimizing SAHMhood as a choice is to not try to equate it with other things, by assigning a salary or anything like that. It’s a choice, and for your family, it’s the right now. There’s no more “just” about that than their is about any other lifestyle choice.

  4. I’m very much a “we’re all just doing the best we can so let’s not place jusgement” kind of person anyway, but salary.com did some kind of survey with thousands of stay at home moms and came up with an approximate salary SAHM’s would earn in the work force and it was something upwards of 100k. Isn’t that incredible?! Moms rock, stay at home or not.

  5. I think the root of the “mommy wars” is that both working moms and stay at home moms feel the need to defend their decisions. Often times, while defending their decisions they inadvertently put down those who chose a different path. I like you’re attitude on it. Choose what you think is best and what you want to do and who gives a crap what anyone else thinks! There’s no need for anyone to defend what choices they make, because working moms and stay at home moms both make great moms. And I believe they have it equally as hard, but just in different ways (as do dads)!

  6. This post really made me think, because I do always say “just” in front of what I do, because my husband has what is considered to be the more prestigious career. Whenever he introduces me to groups of his coworkers and they ask if I’m also in medicine, I always say “oh, no, I’m just a biochemist.” This weekend I at my neighborhood street fair with a friend and bought myself a piece of jewelry as a graduation gift. When the woman selling the jewelry congratulated me, my friend said “Yes, she’s a doctor now!” and the woman asked what specialty I was going into for residency. My response: “Oh, I’m not a clinician, I’m just have a Ph.D.”

    Just a Ph.D.? My husband finished medical school in 4 years and had one miserable year of 90 hours/week as an intern. I spent 7 years for my Ph.D. and 5 of those were 80+ hour weeks, every week. All of my husband’s med school classmates repeatedly told me that my path for a Ph.D. was far more difficult than their journey through medical school… and yet I say I’m just a researcher and just have a Ph.D.

    Why is it that we always put ourselves down in the presence of people who we deem as more important in society?

    Sunny Reply:

    Yes this! “Why is it that we always put ourselves down in the presence of people who we deem as more important in society?”

    My husband and I both have engineering degrees (mining and civil respectively) but he has an MBA from a top ten school and is in a smaller field/better role, so I tend to act as if my engineering degree is not as big of an accomplishment.

    I went to a wedding last year with a bunch of people my husband and I had worked with in high school and they were all so shocked by my degree and congratulated me several times and I left and was just like wow I guess it does matter. It is ridiculous thats what it took for me to realize my accomplishment.

    Jenna Reply:

    Thanks for chiming in J, as your comment helped me realize that this isn’t just about what I’m choosing right now, it’s likely something I will always trying to be fighting off mentally. My husband will ALWAYS make more than I do, and it’s very likely that his career track will lead to considerable prestige in the business world. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life apologizing to everyone that I’m on a different path than he is.

    And I hope you will stop saying you are just a PhD. Some quick googling suggests that only like 1% of the American population have one (and that probably includes a few sub-par programs as well!) You’ve achieved something monumental!

    Sugar Scientist Reply:

    I think you are dead on that we (as a society) place value in the actual amont one earns, much more so that the importance of what one does (which are, very obviously, not always the same!).

    Even though I have a Ph.D., I will typically only make a quarter of what my husband will make when he is an attending… but just because I probably won’t break a six-figure salary and he’ll be making $400K+/year does not mean that my educational/career value is 0.25x his value.

    I think it’s hard when you know that no matter what, your spouse will always contribute more financially, but that doesn’t devalue what we chose to do. You’ve made the decision to raise your children yourself, which is priceless in value. (Although if I were you, I’d introduce myself as a photographer, since personally, I’ve always secretly wished I had the talent to make it my career!)

  7. Have you read “I Am a Mother” by Jane Clayson Johnson? That is exactly the theme of her book–to be proud to say “I am a mom!” She had a big career before too. Anyway, I definitely recommend it, and since reading it I have caught myself from saying “I’m JUST a mom” too. Like you said, it is my choice 100%. There is nothing else I’d rather be doing, and I am so proud to my my kids’ mom. Even if some days I want to crawl under a rock, I still would not choose it any other way :).

    Jenna Reply:

    I bet I’ll be able to check that one out at BYU!

  8. Jenna, you’re a mom but you’re also a small-business owner and a blogger. Don’t forget to mention that as well! Especially since the people who you meet at these parties are potential opportunities to spread the word about your business. Maybe they know someone getting married/needing a portrait session/etc and can pass on your business card. I’m not saying you should see interactions with your husband’s colleagues and their spouses as primarily a way to advertise your business but you never know. Make sure they know what you do and they might think of you when they or someone they know has need of your services.

  9. My first thought was similar to a few others: I would have expected you to confidently identify yourself as photographer (not as a blogger because blogging is often looked down upon, but being a photographer is hip and enviable, no?).

    My second thought was that when I was a nanny I totally would have said “just” and I certainly do now that I am a secretary. In fact, I have a slightly nicer sounding official title but I avoid using it because it sounds more pretentious to me and it seems better to just put it out there that I am just a secretary rather than deal with the embarrassment of clarification.

    I think that SAHMs actually have a huge advantage (if they want to embrace it) because being a SAHM is a position of privilege that can be skewed (and lived) largely according to personal choice. It is quite different from being a nanny, secretary, etc. where it is obvious that you don’t have what it takes to get an MBA/Ph.D./Whatever and a better job. But you never know if a SAHM dropped out of highschool or abandoned a successful career after getting multiple advanced degrees.

    Lydia Reply:

    There’s nothing wrong with choosing to be a nanny, secretary, etc.. It’s not always about a lack of “having what it takes.” I envy people who enjoy their profession. I sacrificed that enjoyment when I settled for the bottom line.

    Nicole Reply:

    I am a nanny and I struggled with this for awhile. I have a bachelors degree add well as Montessori certification, I taught for a few years but I didn’t really love it. I LOVE my job, I get to be part of parents team raising awesome kids and it comes with great perks like spending the summer at the pool!

    there have been times where I have been embarrassed by my career choice or felt the need to qualify it but the bottom line is I love what I do and I am good at it. Since embracing it I have meet a number of women with what I consider more glamorous careers and they often reminisce fondly about how important their kids’ nanny was to there family which feels very validating. Others just love hearing the stories that go with it (I keep it super generic, I don’t ever reveal anything private or compromising, I value their privacy)

  10. I can totally relate to this post. Sometimes it feels like becoming a stay at home mom has swallowed up my identity. But staying home was a carefully thought out decision and definitely hard work. I remind myself that there are moms who don’t have the option to stay home, and I’m lucky that it was a choice I was able to make. (whether you stay home or work outside the home, the privilege is in being able to choose). Now in those conversations, I word my answer carefully so it’s something more along the lines of “I get to stay home with my kids, and I really love it”. It’s a good reminder to myself that it is a choice and one I’m happy with.

    Jenna Reply:

    “I get to stay home”. I love that this acknowledges the privilege of making this choice.

  11. I came to write exactly what someone else already pointed out: no one would ever introduce you that way — I for example would never tell someone that my stay-at-home mom was “just” my mom — so I think a lot of this is internal.

    I’m a graduate student and it’s taking me a while to finish my Ph.D. because I had kids. I took the kids to have lunch with my husband on Monday and I met a bunch of his co-workers, and when they asked me what I do I felt so self-conscious. I felt like I was saying, “I write my dissertation and sometimes teach and have some childcare and an awesomely involved husband, why can’t I just finish this silly degree?” But afterward, I realized that the pressure and anxiety I was feeling wasn’t coming from outside, it my was my own defensiveness, ambivalence, dissatisfaction, etc.

    At some level, it’s also a weird, corporatist model that values certain kinds of high-earning jobs and degrees. I think I’m going to start asking people what they like to read or what their favorite fruit is rather than what they “do” (which we all know is code for what do you do for money).

    Jenna Reply:

    The questions you want to ask get at a post I have in my drafts folder, about learning how to talk to people in more engaging and meaningful ways!

  12. I am not a mom, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with being a stay at home mom. You are also a skilled photographer!

    Personally, I am over feeling bad about not being more “high achieving”. In the last year I have spent a lot of time trying to find my true self. I got out of a career in the medical field that I hated and now I am in grad school for my degree in library science. Oh and I LOVE it! I don’t think I will ever be the high powered career woman that my own mother is, but I am OK with that because that’s not what I want.

    I just say rock what you got! It’s more than enough.

  13. This is interesting because I also thought you’s say you were a photographer.

    You know how important education is to me. We’ve talked about it a few times and you’ve watched me struggle through school and work for a while.

    I’ve always thought once I had kids and people were to ask me that I’d just respond “I’m a registered nurse but now I choose to stay home with our kids”. I’ve always viewed the stay home part of motherhood as something that was more of a temporary state than a definition of who I am as a person. I would always be a mother, but I wouldn’t do the stay home part all my life as eventually children move out and you’d need to find fulfillment in other things that are just as time consuming as child rearing before you become the obnoxious mother in law that meddles into her children’s lives bc now she’s a stay at home wife and has nothing else to do. 🙂

    Another thing for me and getting an education I wanted my children to be proud of their mom, even if I was staying home with them and not working at all, and I felt like them knowing that mommy is a nurse or mommy is a Nurse Practitioner would mean something to them. I particularly wanted to be an example to my girls because I feel like in LDS culture it’s not the stay at home part that is looked down upon, that part is more expected and respected. I feel as if women’s education in LDS culture, especially higher education, is not the priority. Getting married and having children is the priority. I’ve met women who quit their education because their husband was going to school and “they were just going to stay home anyway”. I’ve always wanted to scream at them that they were just as worthy of an education as their husbands! Anyway this is turning into a rant. My feelings are is that there is a time in life for everything and choosing to stay home is perfectly appropriate and worthwhile to do so while the time is needed so be proud mama Jenna!

  14. This idea has been a major battle for me in the last couple years…

    I graduated college in 2006 and got a job as a daily newspaper reporter. I worked at two papers from July 2006 to August 2010.

    We moved from Wisconsin to Michigan for my then fiance’s job. I couldn’t get a newspaper job to save my soul, let alone a journalism job, and I needed something to help pay the bills. I ended up landing a gig as a part-time administrative assistant for a nonprofit helping more kids go to college in very undereducated county. I often felt bad that I was “just a secretary, who worked part time.”

    We moved from Michigan to Illinois for my husband’s job in October. I still couldn’t find a journalism job (I looked, trust me.), so I freelanced for the local paper and waited to find something more to help pay the bills. I ended up getting a job as a part-time secretary for a church. I still feel guilty saying I’m “just a church secretary.”

    I was really offended recently when an old co-worker from the paper made an off-hand comment to me about wondering when I work because I was training for a marathon and doing other things with my time. I wanted to tell her that I work very hard, but don’t often get paid for it. I take care of my husband and our pets. I clean the house, I cook meals, I care for the yard. I keep myself healthy, so we can have healthy children this fall. I might be a part-time secretary who makes very little and a part-time, freelance writer who makes very little, but I am a hard worker–a wife, a pet mom, a soon-to-me mom, a responsible home renter, a daughter and sister, a blogger and a friend.

    I have really learned not to be ashamed of what I do but to own it because that’s just where I am in my life right now…and it’s bound to change again soon. Do I wish I was still a full-time reporter? Sometimes. The state of the industry has me thinking twice about that. Do I wish I had some sort of full-time job? Yes, then I wouldn’t have to piece together income to ensure we make ends meet every month. Do I like my situation? Yes. I am happy. My husband is happy. And we are about to embark on a new journey together very soon, and we wouldn’t be able to think about raising children if we weren’t in the place we are.

  15. Beyond all this, WHY do we all define each other in relation to what we do for a living? I find this so frustrating. And I am NOT a SAHM.

    What we do is not who we are.

    But of course I fall into this trap too… when you meet someone it’s a hard question NOT to ask.

    Tory Reply:

    I was thinking about this too. Of course, I get it – I too fall into the trap of wanting to know “what you do” because I feel like it’s the first, most public insight into what makes a person who they are. But I 100% agree with “What we do is not who we are.” I have a relatively fulfilling career and I do not have children, but I would never define myself by the job that I do for a paycheck. We are all so much more than the work we do at work OR at home.

    And while we’re on the topic… even though I’ve chosen not to become a mother, I envy SAHMs in that their jobs are a TRUE career. Lifelong, completely rewarding, fulfilling, a job you want to work 40 hours a week in and then smile through overtime. There’s no ‘just’ about that.

  16. It’s interesting to read this post (and the comments) because it seems like such an American thing (I think this was discussed in Bringing Up Bebe but I’m not feeling certain at the moment and I don’t have a copy to reference).

    We just identify ourselves SO strongly with our professions. I think I maybe think about this more than the average person because my husband is a CPA and we both feel like he is not at all the kind of personality most people think of as an accountant.

    Jackie Reply:

    Though one time I was staying with my sister, and trying to make conversation with her roommates, I asked what they did. (Not even, “what do you do for a living?” just “so what do you do?”) and they were all “why does it matter what we do?” and started talking about something else, amongst themselves. I really didn’t like them.

    Janssen Reply:

    Yuck, I would be so unimpressed by that kind of response. I like the idea of asking different questions, but no need to be rude to ones that are asked, especially with good intentions!

  17. Of course I’m biased since I’m getting my PhD in Literature, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with studying the humanities, even if the world doesn’t see value in it and doesn’t reward you financially. I would not be happy studying something else, and if I lived my life only caring about what would make me the most money, pretty much every decision I made would have been different, and I would not be living the awesome life I have now. I know that’s slightly off topic to what you wrote, but I have to defend the humanities. Also, if fewer and fewer people major in the humanities, then people like me will be out of a job, because there will be no jobs for people to teach students what they won’t major in.

    It’s interesting, because I find that I get a lot of grief from folks when they ask if I’m a mom, and I tell them no. Family, friends, colleagues, random strangers all say rude things to me about how I’m “just” getting my PhD, but I’ve not made a significant contribution to society by having a kid. There’s a lot of exclusion based on who ISN’T a mom, too.

    Turtle Reply:

    I just want to echo what Valerie said (also– for the sake of full disclosure I’m also working on my PhD in English). Just as people undervalue the unpaid work of parents who stay at home with their children– we often underestimate the non-monetary value of an education in the humanities. I love what I do and I learn something new everyday– for me, this is the best path I could have chosen.

  18. I’m not going to lie, I like the recognition I see in people’s eyes when I tell them where I work. At the same time I cannot WAIT to be a SAHM. And having done both (albeit just a short maternity leave) I can attest that they are equally challenging, just different.

  19. Hi Jenna. As a college graduate, who does not work in the field I studied (English major), and expecting my first child at 36…I would kill to be “Just a mom”. Be proud of what you do, and the time you get to spend with that beautiful child.

  20. Instead of saying “What do you do?” lets brainstorm some other things to say when meeting new people.

    I’ll start…how about “How do you spend your time?”

    Jenna Reply:

    Love this comment!

    Where are you from?

    Kayla Reply:

    What are your hobbies? What are you passionate about?

    Crystal Reply:

    Thanks! I’ve always hated “what do you do”. We are all so much more than the thing that pays the bills. I’m from Columbia, South Carolina

    Jenna Reply:

    Someone on Twitter just suggested “What do you like to do?” Such a simple tweak that makes a big difference.

    Crystal Reply:

    Yes! This!

  21. I’m also a SAHM but when people ask me what I do I say I am a “full-time mom”. I think that is the best description for how I occupy my time, and implies that it is the equivalent of any other full time job.

  22. I HATE the expression “full-time mom.” And I do not work, and I do stay at home with my son. But every mother is a “full-time mom.” Working moms are not mothering part time. They are doing everything SAHMs are doing, plus working. Terms like this just fuel stupid mommy-wars, and I’m sure that we all have more important things to be doing. When people ask what I do, I say, “I am a housewife, home with my son.” I love being a housewife, and I am really grateful that I am able to be one right now. I don’t need to be busier or more important than other people.

    Jackie Reply:

    Agree! I don’t like the implication that other mothers are “part-time moms.”

  23. Good for you! Being a mom, working or not, is one of the most important things you will do in life. It should be discounted!

  24. Remember, people are just trying to get to know you and make small talk. So however you can keep the conversation going,part time photography business or mom groups etc is fine. If its easier, Maybe think about how you want to present yourself and connect with people in your new location.

  25. I think this is where feminism sort of backfired. It used to be strange and looked down upon for a woman to work outside the home when she was married and especially if she had children. Then women decided we wanted more options and at some point staying at home with children became an archaic idea. At what point do will society have progressed far enough that it doesn’t matter whether you stay at home or have a career or both, if possible?

    Personally, I think people don’t care that I stay at home (even before getting pregnant), but I put that added pressure on myself to seem more interesting or feel like I have things in common with other women. I used to be a Massage Therapist, but got out of that career because I didn’t enjoy it. I was also a secretary during that time and continued doing so when I decided not to continue massage. Then, we needed to move for my husband’s job and meanwhile I found out I was pregnant. Finding a new job didn’t seem important. However, I ended up miscarrying and couldn’t muster up the gumption to try to find a job. When I finally moved on I couldn’t find anything and I honestly felt that I wasn’t to find one then. Now I have a daughter who I stay home with and she is definitely a full-time gig for me. That’s not exactly a story I can go into when I tell people what I do so that I can feel more interesting so “JUST” falls in there because I feel like I have to compensate. Isn’t that ridiculous?! Why should I compensate for my present situation when I can’t relive what got me here?

    I feel really blessed and privileged to have been able to stay at home for so long and I don’t think I should have to make excuses for my life being the way that it is. From now on I’m going to say that “I’m a mom and wife” with pride.

  26. Both of my daughters (who have 4 and 5 children) have degrees and stay at home with their children.

    My daughter-in-law stays home also with their 5 children. I am proud the my son can support his family so that she can stay home and I’m proud that my daughters are married to men who also can support their families so my grandbabies ALL have their moms at home!

    It’s a great time to be a woman and sometimes we need to be reminded that the equality for women movement wasn’t about getting out of the house – it was about giving women the choice to do what was right for each individual and family.

  27. Ok, while I totally agree with this post (yes!) I get super offended when people quote those stupid studies about which majors make the least/most and how that should determine what you study. If you are smart, work hard, find appropriate mentors, and play your cards right it should not matter.

    Not to toot my own horn but:

    I majored in a major on the 10 worst majors list. I loved my major and learned so much about the world, history, cultures.

    I learned how to think critically, how to write, how to ask the right questions.

    I volunteered a lot, held leadership roles, and worked during college at internships.

    Today, 5 years after graduation, I am a manager at Fortune 50 company making 6 figures in salary. In fact, I make more than my husband who majored in an area on the top 10 highest list.

    Next year I am heading to a top 3 MBA program.

    I say this not to say how great I am (I couldn’t even type my name), but because I think there is a value on the liberal arts, history, knowing how to think and write and read. Not everyone in my major has found a career in business (or wants one) but I really hate it when people diminish the value in a strong cultural education.

    end rant. (thanks for listening!)

    Jenna Reply:

    I think what you’ve achieved is awesome! But I think you are the exception, not the rule. Generally, financial security is going to come from the math and science areas, not the liberal arts.

  28. Thank you for this post, Jenna. I am many things – a mom, a blogger, a photographer, a bon vivant (not really, but I wanted to say that – ha ha).

    When people ask me what I do, I usually say, “I’m a writer”, because honestly, it’s just easier. Actually, I do my writing and the majority of my work while my child is sleeping at night – the rest of my day is devoted to him and will be until he is in school full-time this Fall.

    This afternoon I was at the park with my son and watched some full-time nannies with their charges. My thoughts about watching them have fun with these kids was, why would a mother give up on these joyful moments and hire someone else to raise their kids? But, different strokes for different folks.

  29. You’re not ‘just a mom’. You’re the CEO of your home and a child care specialist!

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