Occupation Unspecified: What Label Fills Your Blank Space?
As a military spouse, have you ever had to re-think your career field? Have you ever had to switch gears and try something new because your new duty location simply didn’t offer the same opportunities you had before? Have you ever moved to a new duty location and filled out a form for your new doctor or children’s school and wondered what to put in the blank space reserved for “occupation?”
The first few times I had to declare my occupation on some form after marrying into the military, I really wanted to leave it blank or write “currently unemployed” rather than “homemaker.” For some reason, the latter option made me feel ashamed, embarrassed, or like a failure somehow. After all, being a “just a housewife” brought no financial value to the table, which made me feel somehow – shall I say – less valuable. Not to mention I had spent four years and thousands of dollars to earn a degree for a “real” occupation.
More than just a housewife
My first permanent change of station left me in limbo. Having moved states, my career/job opportunities were more limited than before. I left my position as media buyer at an advertising agency just weeks prior to moving in with my soon-to-be husband. Self-demoted to a sales person for a radio station in a new state, I hated it, and knew I wouldn’t last. I wasn’t sure what my occupation was or would be in the years to come, nor had I ever been a housewife. I had lived on my own and/or with friends, but being a “housewife” was different. To say that it was an “occupation” was a strange concept all together. After all, you don’t get paid as a SAHM. I felt like I was more than “just a housewife.”
Eventually we moved (and moved and moved…), and I tried to find work in our different duty locations in an effort to feel like I was contributing somehow. I attempted a variety of paid occupations such as: waitress, customer experience associate, commercial sponsorship coordinator and direct sales beauty consultant. Nothing stuck.
Moving beyond my occupation
It seems with every PCS, comes a new identity crisis. Once I had a conversation with a friend about not knowing what to put in that blank space labeled “occupation” when filling out a form for my children’s new school. I wanted to put “writer.” I was a Journalism major. However, I had no recent bylines attached to my name. And even though I was working on a children’s picture book and a woman’s fiction novel, they were unpublished at the time. Regardless, I felt justified. My friend disagreed. Then I was hit with this: “Well, if you don’t get paid for it, then you can’t say you are a writer.”
I disagree. Here’s why:
I do not get paid as a “housewife” either, but that would be an acceptable label on a form requesting an answer for occupation. And just because I don’t (or didn’t at the time) get paid for being a writer, that shouldn’t disqualify me from actually identifying myself as a “writer.” If I have children, I’m a mother. If I write a blog, I’m a blogger. If I write a novel, I am a novelist. If I paint, I am an artist. If I am a stay-at-home mom, I am a housewife.
Being labeled a housewife
Many times there is a stigma attached to a certain label. The label of “housewife” is often perceived as insulting; like a housewife is too uneducated to be a professional or too wrapped up in her children to want a career.
Any SAHM (or SAHD) can tell you that’s not the case.
Usually, a homemaker becomes one out of financial necessity. Sometimes it makes more sense for one person in the family to make themselves available 24 hours a day to their children. As for my family, this person is me. And yet I am all of these things: a military spouse, a writer, an artist, a mother and so much more. None of which I have made a lucrative career out of. So what is my occupation?
I am more than just one label and I am worth more than what I get paid to do
I am a writer.
So, that aforementioned comment challenged me. I pushed myself to finish certain writing projects. The women’s fiction novel I had been working on for years, “Legacy: And Other Things Left Behind,” was published in 2017. I also wrote, illustrated and published two children’s books. I contribute to Military Moms blog regularly, so for that I can say that I am a writer. To see my books in print after so long was extremely validating, but having people read my work and say positive things is even more rewarding than the money attached. It doesn’t matter how much or little I am paid, I am a writer.
I am an artist.
For over 20 years I have taken art classes or exercised my creativity in some way. I have a minor in Fine Art.
Even still, I had a difficult time calling myself an artist. Again, I don’t get paid as an artist. Only once has someone commissioned me for a painting and that was more than a decade ago. I just enjoy painting and drawing and coming up with stories to illustrate. In recent years, I’ve painted backdrops for community theater programs. In 2011, I was a scenic painter for the Aviano Community theater group in Italy. For my work on the backdrops I created for Hello, Dolly! I won the US Army IMCOM Europe Tournament of Plays “Topper” award. The third-party validation, plus seeing my name inscribed alongside the word “artist” on a trophy was rewarding. Plus, the cast saw me as an artist and an asset to the production. Currently, I’m painting a backdrop for our local primary school’s production of Peter Pan. The children and teachers appreciate my small contribution. Even though I don’t charge for creating these backdrops, I am an artist.
I am a housewife.
Even though I’m a SAHM, who doesn’t get paid for cooking breakfast, cleaning toilets, or folding laundry, I am a mother and a wife who stays at home with her children. By definition, I am a “housewife.”
For a long time, I didn’t want to be labeled “just a housewife,” but I’ve come to embrace it. I know all too well the sweat, blood and tears that go into the job. I also know the reward this occupation brings. Hearing my children’s laughter, seeing them smile from ear to ear, and feeling pride in watching them succeed is payment enough. It is rewarding when they say something insightful, solve a problem independently, or do something helpful. Shamelessly supporting my husband as he moves along his career path as an Air Force officer is rewarding, too.
Although it is also unpaid and undervalued, being a housewife is one “occupation” I will always have and cherish.
I am more than a label.
After thirteen years of being a wife and mother, and I still wonder if I should put anything different than “housewife” in that blank space reserved for my occupation. “Work-from-home-Mom,” “Self-Employed,” “Domestic Engineer,” “Human Development Specialist,” “CEO Hudson House,” and “Domestic Goddess” all seem to ring true. However, I’ve learned that my occupation cannot be confined to a tiny rectangle on a piece of paper.
Your occupation: Whatever label fills your blank space does not define you or determine your worth.
It doesn’t matter how you identify yourself in terms of your career. And it doesn’t matter how much the job pays that you end up putting in that box; just know that your value is not measured by the amount you bring home. Your occupation is the role you play while contributing to society and your family. Making a positive impact on those around you is your reward.
While listing “homemaker” as an “occupation” can often feel inadequate, it is just one of the many labels we give ourselves. So what label do you prefer?