Sunday, December 5, 2010

Not Nice

I recently ran into an old coworker at the grocery store. The last time I'd seen her I was six months pregnant and she was leaving our organization after having landed some version of her dream job. Now my thirteen-month-old peered up at her from behind my legs.

"Is this your daughter?" she asked.

"It sure is," I said.

She gave the requisite compliments. I asked about her job and she gave me a brief summary of its pros and cons.

"Where are you working now?" she asked.

"I'm still home with this one," I said.

"Wow," she said. "That must be nice."

If you ever want to watch me struggle against my temper, say something to this effect. A common variation:

"You are so lucky to be able to stay home with your baby!"

In fact, my partner and I have made and continue to make a number of very large sacrifices - financial, professional, artistic, and emotional - so that one of us can always be with our daughter. It's a constant struggle that we've prioritized from the beginning. As well as being the best thing I've ever done, it's by far the hardest for a million different reasons.

Let's just say it's a lot of things, but it's certainly not nice. And although I realize there are many people who can't stay home with their small children no matter how much they want to and no matter which way they rearrange their lives, these are never the folks who call me lucky. Luck has a part to play in everyone's life, yes, but I promise you that's an entirely different conversation than the one being rudely, wrongly, and self-servingly assumed in these instances.


  1. I hear you here, and I don't doubt that there are a number of horrid ways in which the sentiments "how nice" and "You're so lucky!" can be uttered.

    But as someone who always says, "Wow, how nice!" when I meet someone who is staying home with their child, let me just say that what I always mean is, "How nice for the child." I was semi-raised by people other than my mom, because we were deserted by my dad when I was 18 months old. For this same reason, my mom always sighs rhapsodically, "You're so lucky!" when SHE encounters someone who stays home with their child. She would have given anything to have been able to continue staying home with me.

    I hope you don't mind my offering these perspectives on behalf of two people who have said some variation of these things... and as someone who also plans to stay home with he child.

  2. I'm 100% thankful for your perspective. Awesome.

    When I read what you wrote, I can hear a very particular tone of voice in the words. The sincerity inherent in the statements you describe is what's wholly missing in the ones I'm relating.

    There was a snideness in what my old coworker said. It was as if I'd told her I'd married a wealthy man and didn't need to work anymore. "Wow, that must be nice."

    When an acquaintance complains to me about her nanny, or about any number of chosen expenses, and then sighs, "You are so lucky..."

    It's what's behind the words that infuriates me, not the words themselves. I promise.

  3. i get it. 100%. and i hear that too - 'it must be nice.' and i swallow my tongue every time. it IS harder than any other job i have ever held, more wonderful and sometimes terrible - if you know what i mean. wrenching? anyhow, i wouldn't change it. i just get irked at that snideness as well.

  4. Yeah, I've heard that weird, weird, judgy tone. I do know what you mean. It's related to the tone a lot of people use when I tell them I don't work a "day job." Like they think because we "stay home" for our respective reasons, that we are lunching at the Ritz (or Chicago equivalent) every day or something...

  5. I can totally relate to your post here. I feel some sort of anger/frustration built up inside me when someone says that to me. I have sacrificed a lot so that we can build a solid family. Yes, there are lots of pluses, but for an introvert like me, I crave my own time alone, as well as craving my time as an individual with interests. I never realized how hard it would be to sacrifice such commodities. Thanks for posting this. You are not alone.