This sabbatical is an experiment: What happens if I change my identity from “real estate developer” to “mother”? From the first moment I changed hats, I noticed changes in myself and how others treat me.
On the second day of my sabbatical, I picked up my son from school. One of the administrators said to me, “Oh, look at you! You’re dressed differently!” When I explained that I wasn’t wearing my normal business casual attire because I had just started a sabbatical, she replied, “Oh, you’re just a mom now!” It was my first data point. I didn’t write it down, but I’ve never forgotten it.
Over the course of my experiment, I’ve noted the different responses I’ve gotten from men and women when they learn I’ve taken a sabbatical. Women have three responses. The first is, “Good for you! I know how much you were struggling to juggle everything. I’m happy for you.” The second is, “I wish I could do that! You’re so lucky.” This is the most difficult response to handle because it momentarily overwhelms me with guilt and shame. Typically it takes me an hour to recover. The third response is, “That’s too bad. After all those degrees and all that schooling, are you worried about whether you will respect yourself and whether others will respect you?” Luckily this one is the rarest of the three. When I get this response, I retreat into my shell like a frightened turtle.
Men also have three responses. The first is, “That’s great. My wife stayed home with our kids, and it was the best thing for our family.” The second is, “I’m not surprised. I always wondered how long you’d last.” The third is, “Oh, really?” Those guys are just wondering what the score is on the game.
Do you want to know what I’ve learned so far? I’ve learned not to judge others. I’ve learned that it takes years, a wealth of shared experiences, and trust to really know another person. And I’m reminded of that adage about walking a mile in someone’s shoes.
On the day I changed my identity from “real estate developer” to “just a mom”, I didn’t change a bit. I just changed how I spend my time. Up to that point, a large part of my identity had been tied to my occupation. But my occupation never fully captured who I was or how I wanted others to perceive me. Something very interesting happens when you strip away the title. You feel a little naked, a little exposed, a little vulnerable. Try your own experiment. Try completing the “Occupation” line on a form with something that has nothing to do with your work. See what happens.
A few months ago, I received an email from a friend, with this quotation from a book:
“If every woman made the same decision, how would my children learn that sometimes motherhood looks like going to work to put food on the table or stay sane or share your gifts or because you want to work and you’ve earned that right. And that other times motherhood looks like staying home for all of the exact same reasons. As far as I can tell, no matter what decision a woman makes, she’s offering an invaluable gift to my daughters [and sons] and me. So I’d like to thank all of you. Because I’m not necessarily trying to raise an executive or a mommy. I’m trying to raise a woman. And there are as many different right ways to be a woman as there are women.”
If we want to lift women up, if we want to raise them higher, let’s stop judging them. Let’s start reaching out to each other. Let’s start talking. Talking leads to understanding, and when we understand one another – I mean, really understand the complexities we all face – the dominoes start to fall: empathy, connection, collaboration, empowerment, action, and change.
So what’s the key to becoming a housewife? The key is to know you’re the same person as you always were. The key is to know yourself, or get to know yourself. The key is to abandon judgement. The key is to know who you are, and lean into it.