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Labors of Love

By Shelah Miner

I hate going to the doctor’s office, and probably not for the reasons you think. Of course, sitting around wearing nothing but a paper sheet is no fun, I absolutely abhor being weighed, and I have an unreasonable fear of having my blood pressure taken, but one of the things I dislike most is filling out the forms in the waiting room. The family history part is easy, but eventually I have to declare what it is I “do” for a living, and I never know what to say. Should I say I’m a stay-at-home mom? Should I declare myself a writer? I feel like stay-at-home mom doesn’t capture everything I do, but I worry that I’m being a poseur if I call myself a writer. “You’re not a real writer,” the voice in my head says to me. “It’s not like you’ve ever made any money writing.”

When I look around my house, I see evidence of the talented women in my life, most of whom either spend their days taking care of small children or working at jobs far less soul-satisfying. There are paintings by my best friend and college roommate, a quilt my aunt spent hours stitching together, costumes lovingly sewed by my godmother, beautiful baptism photos of my daughter taken by another wonderful friend, my girls wear bracelets made by a friend who is a SAHM with a PhD. My mom’s delicious cakes often fill our fridge, and another friend has a habit of dropping by with beautifully decorated cupcakes.

These friends are not doing it for the money. Michelle could charge five times as much as much as she does to take pictures. She’s incredibly talented, and after she’s done with a shoot, she spends hours editing her images. From a purely economic standpoint, what she earns is not worth the time she invests. When I was a little girl, my mom and her best friend spent the year hand painting and cross-stitching sweatshirts, toys, and baby accessories and sold them at a craft fair each fall, and barely cleared enough money to pay for their fees and travel expenses.

So why do we do it? None of us at Segullah is getting rich from what we write, but here we are, day after day. What is the creative endeavor in your life that brings you happiness and how do you share it? In what ways do you benefit from the passions you see in others? When you’re at the doctor’s office, do you fill out the employment box with “painter” or do you call yourself a “SAHM” or an “office manager”? Does it matter what you put in that box?

P.S. It’s not entirely true that I’ve never made any money from my writing. I did get $50 once.

About Shelah Miner

(Co-Editor-in-Chief) teaches English at BYU and French at a Salt Lake City middle school. She has an addiction to her Audible account, hates making dinner, and embraces the chaos of life with a husband, six kids, a dog, a lizard and four rabbits.

34 thoughts on “Labors of Love”

  1. Love this.

    I have a friend who is ethnically Uyghur, but lives in a town where most Uyghurs blend in with the Tajiks and Uzbeks in the neighborhood. She's not a blender-in though, and I've enjoyed watching her passion to share her language and culture with others. Most people seem to think she's weird, but she doesn't mind. She could put "Rebirther" in that box, if there were such a box here.

    Another friend is an amazing cook. Her speciality is pirog. The last one she made me was for Eid al-Adha and was filled with potatoes, onions, sheep-tail fat, and cinnamon. Delicious. Cooking for her extended family and her friends is how she serves others and that's fine with me. "Nourisher" might be the word for her.

    My creative endeavor right now is to observe my corner of the world and tell other people about it. I love watching how other people do things and blogging about it is the easiest way for me to share that love. Maybe I'll write "Observer" the next time I see one of those boxes.

  2. I've never seen it be required that you fill out that box. If anything it's just to help the doctor be aware of potential occupational hazards that may effect your health.

  3. If you write, you are a writer, whether you've made money at it or not, whether you are published or not. If you get published, you are then a published writer (or author, or whatever).

    Thus saith the editor. >.o

  4. I get this. I used to work professionally as an educator/teacher. Educating other people's children. I do teach music part time from home and so sometimes I put that down. But, really I'm a mom who takes care of her children and her home. Actually, I do more than that… I educate my children is all areas of their life. That is what I'm going to put next time… Educator. And if they ask me where I tell them the most important place, my home.

  5. I make greeting cards and give them all away! I spend a fortune, and have the best time creating things that aren't just stuff that my family and friends have to store. They can actually use the stuff I make, and then I can design more and give it all away again. For me it's all about the creating!
    At the Dr. I proudly write in capital letters- HOMEMAKER,

  6. I'm with Michelle some days slave feels just about right. When I'm feeling particularly witty I put "Domestic Goddess". Though not a very effective in the domestic management type areas.

  7. I usually write "Mother" on those forms and my creative endeavor lately is compiling all the many, many, many writings I've done about my children as they've grown. (I guess that's just "journaling" or a prehistoric form of blogging?) I also like to take and edit pictures and fool around with photoshop elements.

  8. I totally get this and I feel like this every time I am at a social event with my husband and everyone asks what do you do? It is hard to tie it all up into one title.

    Even though I don't introduce myself as such or squeeze it all into the tiny box for occupation, I am a mother, a cook, a food writer, a writer, a blogger, an event planner, decorator, crafter, reader, and volunteer.

    And the only money I have earned writing was $400 for a snippet I submitted to Reader's Digest for life in these United States…

  9. I've given a lot of thought to both titles: stay-at-home-Mom and writer. The stay-at-home thing really makes it sound so confining and stationary, which is obviously completely wrong. I appreciate the ideas behind "domestic goddess," "Family CEO," "home executive," etc. but could never use them with a straight face. I like "homemaker" the best because it's a nice sentiment to aspire to, although it's sooo June Cleaver.

    As for calling yourself a writer, I don't think it matters if you've made money for it or not. I have made money at it for many years but until recently felt silly calling myself a writer — thinking that by using the title it meant I was claiming to be a good one. Then I realized that all it means to me is that writing is my art form. Some people can paint a picture or take beautiful photographs of their children, I write about mine (and lots of other stuff, too). Regardless of quality, it's how I express my creativity and that makes me (and you, Shelah) a writer. Officially.

  10. Whenever I am with my husband and someone asks what I do he jumps in and says "she's an artist". It's okay coming from him but I feel like such a fake when I say it. I am not quite sure what I do. I also feel like a poseur when I think of myself as a homemaker. I am still trying to figure out how to be a good homemaker…and now my kids are about gone and I still feel like I have A LOT to learn about homemaking. Ah, the joys of mortality. Maybe next time I'll just answer "good question".

  11. I put down "homemaker" because I think the 60+ receptionists might not know what to make of "SAHM".

    I think I've gone through several "creative periods". It all depends on what challenges I have at any given moment that determines the "emphasis".

  12. I don't like the term SAHM. I don't have to stay anywhere. I love writing "homemaker". I like the quaint old-fashioned sound. And I like that I remodeled my home so the term has multiple meanings for me. And I'm just the kind of person that doesn't really care what someone thinks I do…cause I'm always switching around anyway. Yoga teacher, artist, writer, what am I this month? Office manager? I'm not sure.
    I want to make a home where people love to be. I may be a better artist or writer than homemaker, but that's what I want to be best at.

  13. I gave birth to my son a month after I graduated with my MA. With the end of the semester came the end of my job, and it was not until a month later that I was hired to teach the evening class I teach now. At the hospital I had to fill out those forms and I panicked way more than I ever thought I would. I was not a student, not an employed teacher, and I did not know what felt right to say. I suppose that is why I value Segullah so much – not everyone here is a SAHM, but I believe we are able to recognize the many talents that women offer that may not fit nicely into a little box.

  14. i was talking about this very topic to my bookclub the other night. i hate it when i am forced to compartmentalize my life. the primary role that i play right now is as a mother that spends almost all of my time at home raising my small children, but i am so much more than that. i graduated with a law degree, but i feel like a pretentious fake if i list that as my occupation because i only practiced law for a year and don't have any plans to practice law in the near future. and yet, that experience has forever shaped who i am.

    when i introduce myself to people at church, i usually stick to the safe answer of SAHM because i feel like it will help me fit in better and once again, sound less pretentious than lauding my other accomplishments. and yet, i feel like they are only getting to know a small fraction of me. as much as i love my children, they are not the only thing that i want to talk about with my visiting teachers.

    i don't know what the answer is, but i wish that it didn't take so long for other people to meet all of me. i have a friend who knows how to ask the perfect question when meeting someone. it's never the same question, either. she just has a gift and detects the set of questions that will get that person to open up and divulge more of their personality than they usually would. i wish i had that gift.

  15. After 30 years of working, I recently quit my job. I went back to school, in part so that I could put "student" in the little box. I need to spend more time on devotional readings so that I can create a firmer sense of self on my own terms. I also want to spend more time writing so that I can literally "compose myself" in an effort to metaphorically compose myself. Thank you for articulating the fact that people produce some amazing things without getting formal or monitary recognition. There are a lot of unsung heroes out there with complex identities that do not fit within lines on a form.

  16. Stacy, Thanks for the writing encouragement. Next time I might check the "writer" box and write next to it in parenthesis: "thus saith the editor".

    Really though I see myself more as a Creation Specialist. Creating complete human beings, creating food, creating cleanliness, creating friendships, creating intelligence, creating health, creating connections, creating art, writing… whatever needs to be created that day. I feel graciously blessed to have a life that allows me to go where the spirit (Holy Spirit and creative spirit) leads!

  17. I'm with Sage…I didn't like the term SAHM either, when I was raising my sons. What SAHM really stays at home? I would label myself, 'fulltime mother'

    Now that my sons are all grown and gone, I just put 'homemaker.' If anyone questions it…"You don't have a job?"… I am very proud to say, "My husband makes all the money." It's a great life.

  18. Labors of love are truly beautiful things. But I have some concerns. I think that part of the assumption here is that Labors of Love cannot also be paid labor.

    Debra wrote "when i introduce myself to people at church, i usually stick to the safe answer of SAHM because i feel like it will help me fit in better and once again, sound less pretentious than lauding my other accomplishments".

    I think Debra's comment is really revealing. While it may be hard to fit into the outside world as a SAHM, it is really hard to fit into the church if you aren't one. I used to describe myself as a SAHM who taught a few classes at the college so that I could fit in a church, which didn't really work. The truth is that I have a significant part-time, soon to be full-time, job teaching a subject that I love at the local college. I get paid, but my work is also a labor of love.

    I worry that as LDS women, we sometimes champion a little too much those who work for free, as though all women should do this, as though this is our ultimate goal. I was touched by the post, but I'm also a little conflicted.

  19. I used to say "Speech Language Pathologist", but that's not really what I do. And it's hard to have an actual occupation and then leave the "Employer" space blank. That inevitably leads to the conversation, "Oh, you're an SLP, where do you work?" which leads to the "I'm not working now, I'm at home with my kids", which always makes me wish I would have put "Homemaker" to begin with to avoid the rigaramole. But I find it rankles, too. I know it shouldn't, but it does. I feel like people dismiss me too easily when they see I don't have an occupation, and that bothers me. I'm treated differently if doctors think I'm more than a homemaker, although I could be persuaded that's only my imagination.

    This is a long way of saying that putting "Homemaker" on that form makes me feel conflicted, too.

  20. I've struggled with this a lot this year too, only in a slightly different situation. I took a medical withdrawal from school last year (after 4 life years and 2.5 academic years of college), and right now I am a homemaker. I've made my absolute peace with myself over that fact, but I still have an awfully hard time presenting that to other people, both at church and outside of it. Because I don't have kids, people think it's strange that I stay at home, and I'm never quite able to put into one or two words what it is I DO! I'm actually kept quite busy by both the demands of my healthcare needs and the demands of my home. I think my role as a home-maker is an important and a special one, and one that I cherish – things around our home certainly go a lot more smoothly than they did when I was also trying to be a part-time student. But the blank looks I get when I try to tell people what I do definitely make me feel a little angst!

  21. Hm… I wonder if "self-employed" would work for all of the above? You're not necessarily employed for pay, but you certainly are working!

    But as a single woman, I sympathize with those that don't feel like they fit in at church without saying "SAHM." That's a term that's unlikely to enter my own vocabulary, even if I do ever get married, because at my age I'm coming closer to the age of never having kids.

    I think no one can know ALL of our selves, whether we have something easily recognized as the "thing" we do with a label or not, just from an introduction. It's easy for me to tell people "I'm an editor," and "editor" is a big part of how I define myself, but I'm also a family historian, photographer, friend, sister, aunt, movie buff, cook, housekeeper, cat herder, and a variety of other things. Whether we're employed at home or by a company, I think this is probably something we all struggle with.

  22. Nancy R.–YES! Mormons do think women should work for free. When I tell Mormons that I edit a religious studies quarterly, they often follow up with some version of "what _else_ do you do?" as though surely no one would pay for my service. When I tell non-Mormons what I do, they ask more interesting follow-up questions.

  23. Mormons do know that many women work for free but it could also well be that many Mormons know that the pay for an editor of a quarterly in this day and age is insufficient and that a large percentage of those quarterly editors do it less than full time, doing other things as well. It's a seriously underpaid profession.

    So my take would rather be that, having established in their minds that your work is part-time, they are simply asking about the rest of your interests.

    I edit and write. I get the "what else" question farther along in the conversation as well. They are less likely, I find, to ask that "what else" question of my friends, for example, who, when asked say they teach math or practice dentistry.

  24. I (mostly) made my peace with "homemaker" some time ago. As others have said, it sounds affected to use a more grandiose title, and "stay at home" isn't accurate either. And like some others of you, I actually kind of like the vintage sound of "homemaker."

    Self-employed is one of the most clever workarounds I've heard in a while, though. I might try that one out.

  25. I'm conflicted just like Nancy R. Here is the line from the post that has me concerned:

    "When I look around my house, I see evidence of the talented women in my life, most of whom either spend their days taking care of small children or working at jobs far less soul-satisfying."

    Does this seem to imply that paid work at a job is less satisfying tending small children? I have plenty of personal experience with the former and none with the latter, but I'm not convinced that working at a job is necessarily less satisfying than spending the day tending small children (note that "spending the day taking care of small children" is not the same as "being a mother").

    I'm an environmental scientist working for a large public health agency on air pollution prevention/mitigation/cleanup. I feel privileged to work in the field that I do, and I feel the satisfaction of knowing our work helps millions breathe easier. I have no grounds for comparing my present work satisfaction to the satisfaction from raising children–I only want to point out that it's quite possible for paid work to be hugely fulfilling, and perhaps a bit judgmental to imply that it couldn't possibly compare with childrearing.

  26. Laura-

    I know that for some people, their paid work is hugely satisfying. My husband goes off to work every day excited for what he's doing, and he comes home at night feeling like he's making a difference in the world. And he gets paid well for it. I have plenty of friends who find their jobs fulfilling, and I think that's fantastic. I'm surprised, in fact, that most people didn't jump on me for what I really meant by that statement, which is that for me, motherhood is occasionally highly satisfying, but often complete drudgery. And the things I really love to do (writing, teaching college students) make very little money, at least for the amount of time and effort I put into it. I think that many people turn to these creative outlets to fulfill that creative part of their soul that they don't get to use on a day to day basis in their "primary" jobs.


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