How to Have a Great Conversation with a Stay-At-Home Mom
You know the feeling: you are at a party and struggling to make connections. You have a few short chats, but no one seems to be that interested in continuing a conversation with you.
Now imagine—it’s not one party. It’s every party. The problem is that inevitably you are asked that question: “What do you do?” And when you answer, no one knows how to talk to you about your job.
This is the plight of the stay-at-home mom (SAHM). One mom, for example, said that when she accompanies her partner to law school functions, she feels she doesn’t have much to contribute to conversations about internships, salary, promotions, professors, or classes. Another mom found that when she shared that she is a full-time caregiver, that was usually the end of the conversation—no follow-up questions. As stay-at-home moms, we often have to lean on some side hustle we’re pursuing or what we did before kids to relate to our conversation partners. And while this strategy works to engage people, it ultimately dishonors the important work we do caring for our kids.
Why is it so hard to talk to SAHMs?
We stay-at-home moms are generally pretty nice people (if sleep deprived and in need of some serious self-care), so why is it so hard to strike up a conversation with us that acknowledges what we actually do instead of side-stepping it? Here are a few theories:
- Lacking shared experiences. Having kids is a big milestone–and something most people say they want at some point in their lives. However, if you haven’t had kids yet, you may not know how to engage in conversation about what life looks like as a parent. Kids can also be a personal topic, so you may be uncomfortable knowing what to ask that is casual enough for a first conversation.
- Outside the mainstream. In our era of glass ceiling breaking and “work-is-life” culture, the prospect of stepping back from work to prioritize family is counter-cultural. As polite conversation typically flows down the well-trodden paths (such as “what people do”), you may not be prepared to talk to someone who’s made such a divergent choice.
- Not feminist enough. These days, being a good feminist often means putting on your hard pants and bringing home the bacon. If a woman has chosen to step out of the rat race (forever or just for a little while), you may wonder about her politics or religious background, and that may make you more nervous about discussing her life with her.
- It’s a touchy subject. Staying at home with kids can be a hard choice for many women, with some moms feeling great about it and others feeling less great. You don’t want to make her uncomfortable, so you may think it is best not to say anything.
Why It’s Still Worth It to Try
As stay-at-home moms, we understand it might be hard to talk to us. After all, “How to Talk to Stay-at-Home Moms” is not a course that’s covered in business school. But we will also say that when our conversation partners choose not to ask questions about us, it makes us feel invisible, insignificant, and infantilized. By attempting to discuss our real lives with us, you will give us a much-needed break and perhaps learn a thing or two about a life different from yours. If you are prepared to take that journey, here are twelve excellent questions to help you get started.
Level One: Keeping It Casual
These are great entry-level questions that will engage a SAHM without getting into territory that feels too personal.
- How old are your kids? How are they sleeping these days? (This is a great question for new moms especially.)
- What milestone are you looking forward to in your family?
- Do you have any funny stories from your week?
- Have you read any good books or watched any good TV recently?
Level Two: Getting Personal
These questions are for when the conversation is going well and you want to learn more.
- What skills have you gained during your time as a mom?
- What is something you are passionate about that has evolved since you’ve had kids?
- What are some goals you have for your home and family life?
- Did you always want to stay home with kids?
Level Three: The Deep Dive
If you really want to know more about this stay-at-home mom—why she’s made the decisions she has and how this choice has impacted her—try some of these questions.
- Why did you choose to stay home with your children?
- What do you like about being home with your kids, and what’s hard about it?
- Do you feel supported as a stay-at-home mom? If not, what changes would benefit you and your family?
- What do you wish you had known before having kids?
The Long and Short
Stay-at-home moms are people too—adults who have made their own decisions and are capable of discussing those choices. Don’t be shy! Overlooking what a woman has chosen to do with her life is another way of erasing her. However, starting up a conversation that honors her life choices will have the dual benefits of making her day and teaching you some things about a life that’s different from yours. Try it out—we can’t wait to talk to you.
Advice For Stay-at-Home Moms
Of course conversation is a two-way street. If you’re a SAHM yourself and are looking to improve your party-going experiences, Hannah—whose interview was the impetus for this article—has a few tips for you which will make awkward party conversations a thing of the past.
- Keep up with the local news. This is a natural shared conversation topic and one in which you are on equal footing. The news can be anything from a new construction project or restaurant opening to an urban greening project or pending legislation. If you live in the same community, the chances are high that you have a common pet project or interest. In our neighborhood, for example, the university purchased a local elementary school which they are tearing down to build more university buildings. There are lots of opinions on this project, and it has been a great way to initiate discussions with people in our community.
- Read some popular or newly released books. This is my go-to, surefire way to have something interesting on my mind when I run into people. I make a goal to read a book a day, usually from The New York Times Bestseller List or Oprah’s and Reese’s book club picks. My hope is to read so much that I will have read or heard of any book that comes up in conversation. This doesn’t always happen with niche topics, but it has been overall surprisingly effective. I feel like I am learning and challenging my mind, and the diversity of books I read means that the conversation topics they spark are wonderfully varied.
- Keep up with popular TV shows and movies. This one is a challenge for me, but I try to at least know what is streaming and ask about people’s favorites. Now that I am nursing our newborn at night, I have some time to catch up on shows. I found that Squid Game wasn’t too scary for me, and my years in Korea and language proficiency added to the fun conversations I’ve been able to have about the show.
- Make memories with friends or family. If relationships with family or friends have deteriorated since you chose to stay home, plan an event together or share an experience that can become a conversation topic between you two. This has been the case with my sister—it can be hard to find things to share with her because she is always going on amazing trips and having incredible experiences (she’s single, childless, and has a lot of disposable income) and my life looks the same day in and day out. She recently invited me on a child-free trip to Portland to visit her, and over the summer we went to a concert in Southern Utah. Taking a trip and making memories together has given us a lot more to talk about, and it has reminded us that we still have a lot in common.
Editing credential to Bethany Bartholemew.