I sipped my green smoothie, listening to the conversation of the women around me. Most of them I had just met, and if you know me at all, you can imagine I was all kinds of nervous.
One of the ladies happens to be a close friend. Not a newcomer to the group herself, she brought me into the conversation, sharing with the others — mostly working women — that I’m a stay-at-home mom.
I knew, in this setting, I had no opportunity to footnote all the asterisks I needed to dispel the image in their minds I’m sure they suddenly had of me.
I’m not ashamed to be a stay-at-home mom. In fact, I’m proud of it and consider myself extremely blessed. My friend, who knew the pains it took for our family to transition to one-income when my son was 6 and my daughter was 2, knows I don’t fit the stereotype.
How do I know the stereotype? Because for 6 years I was a working mom. I had opinions of stay-at-home moms — right AND wrong — before I became one.
I didn’t have to know these women in front of me to surmise the types of thoughts that may have passed through their minds. Oh, how I wanted to tell them my story! To dispel every single stereotype that didn’t fit me!
What they might have thought — whether they actually were or not — fluttered through my mind:
She must not be educated. (I have a bachelor’s degree.)
She must not have known what it’s like to enjoy a career. (I launched and managed a department at my job of 10 years, which I loved. It made me feel accomplished. I enjoyed my work.)
She doesn’t know what it’s like to be a working mom and to have the guilt of leaving your child all day. (I left my son for 6 years and my daughter for 2. And for most of those days, I actually looked forward to going to work. I returned from my maternity leaves early, in fact, by my choice.)
She must be one of those women who only dreamed of being a mom. (Oh, how I wish I were that woman many days! Not a day goes by that I feel I’m not cut out for this!)
It must be nice for her husband to be able to earn enough for the household. (Yes, it is nice, but it didn’t come instantly. When I first stayed home I cut coupons like a mad lady; grew a garden to cut back on the grocery bill; made my own bread, yogurt, cleaning products, deodorant, etc.; and bought almost all of my kids’ clothes used.)
She must look down on working moms. (Oh, how that is the furthest thing from my mind. I understand working moms and have compassion for how many of them have a love-hate relationship with their place in life. I get their stress, their conflicting emotions with wanting something “just for them” yet simultaneously craving more time with their children.)
But this wasn’t the time or place to explain myself. So I stayed silent, longing for the day that these ladies would come to know me and see me for who I am, not a title that, while accurate, carries misconceptions.
Just pondering this comparatively innocuous stereotype led my mind to how many more destructive stereotypes in our society abound. Of course, none of us think we stereotype people based on a label. We’re above that, after all.
But let’s just put it to the test. Think of the image that comes to mind with the following:
white police officer
Be honest with yourself. With just reading those titles you had an opinion. Depending on your affiliation, association, or first-hand knowledge of any of those categories, you may have different images than others do. But you most likely have an image in your mind of every single one.
The problem with stereotypes is that we don’t think we have any. But we do.
The first step is acknowledging it.
The second step is understanding that we are probably wrong. If we’re not wrong about one person then we’re wrong about others.
The third step is to dispel the stereotypes by getting to know a person. You might just find that the stereotype behind the label isn’t accurate at all.
You see, none of us wants us to be known by a label. We all want others to get to know the real us, the one beneath the label.
Don’t trust generalities or memes or the most articulate blogger on the subject because no generalities will encompass the whole of an individual. Do the hard work of getting to know a person who may seem to be your polar opposite. You may find that you’re not all that different after all.