Once a Hostess, Always a Hostess: On Being the Work ‘Mom’

chrystina cappello Jan 16, 2022
Woman in white bikini covered in horizontal stripe shadow

My mother has three sisters. Whether it’s a holiday with a four-course meal, a birthday party in honor of three cousins simultaneously or a regular Tuesday doctor appointment for Pop, they know and manage the who-where-why-when-what of it all. And before them, there was Gram. 

As I was growing up, as far as I knew, women ran the world.

We’re Italian. As you may have guessed, a lot of food comes along with that. The four-course meal you just heard about happens every year for New Year’s Eve, Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday, Memorial Day, Pop’s Birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. 

As I was growing up, as far as I knew, women ran the world.

Even during a pandemic, for Christmas Eve, my mom and her sisters cooked their usual items, packaged them individually in Tupperware containers with reheating instructions taped on top and swapped them in a socially distanced outdoor gathering.

As a 32-year-old woman, I’ve worked really hard to try to figure out how I fit into this matriarchy. While I still haven’t figured out how to make stuffed clams, stuffed shrimp, lobster tail or fried scallops, I did manage to put my box of goodies together to share. It included chocolate trifle, one-of-a-kind sugar cookies decorated with royal icing and little jars of coquito, a coconut-based alcoholic drink inspired by my time spent on my most recent client engagement in Puerto Rico.

Being a caretaker and a hostess is in my being. 

In kindergarten, I made invitations for friends on the bus to attend a party at my house (which my parents found out about when the first parent called to RSVP). In high school, I hosted monthly parties where my friends would help me push all the furniture to the side of the living room and dance to the “Cha Cha Slide” late into the night. And in college, I was a resident assistant, where it wasn’t uncommon for me to spend an evening making pancakes for my residents (even if I had to plug the griddle into an outlet in the bathroom). 

I graduated with an engineering degree in hand. I took a job with a large, international company, and I started to raise my hand to assist with all sorts of activities from day one.

At my first Women’s Initiative event, a partner (who happened to be a woman) talked to us about her career path. She talked about the opportunities she’d had and her experiences at our company. 

Most of the words in this memory are a blur, but somewhere in the middle of a question-and-answer session, she mentioned she never wanted to be the person to bring baked goods to a team meeting. That’s who she was at home, she said, and she absolutely did not want to be seen as that person when she walked through those oversized glass doors to begin her work day. 

I was heartbroken.

All these years, I'd built my personal brand around being somebody who was there for others. Would this be bad for my career?

All these years, I’d built my personal brand around being somebody who was there for others — with a shoulder to cry on, a piece of advice or a homemade cookie. Would this be bad for my career? Is it something I needed to check at the door?

With all the confidence (and ignorance) of an early-career 22-year-old millennial, I vowed I wouldn’t fall into the trap of leaving a piece of myself behind. I knew from my college internships working with engineers that there was always a mom engineer who kept all of the other engineers on track. 

I wanted to be that mom engineer.

I’ve now worked for 10 years at that same job I started one week after graduating from college. In those 10 years, I got promoted from consultant to senior consultant to manager and now senior manager. I’m still happy to get everyone’s coffee orders, I’ve packed baked goods to share with coworkers on flights, and I still insist that all good meetings come with an icebreaker game.

My behavior doesn’t come without comments from other team members, but I think being asked if I’ve managed to get up and bake a quiche before 9 a.m. is actually a compliment — 1950s housewife-in-pearls achievement unlocked. It also doesn’t come without my own second thoughts, wondering whether people would take me more seriously if I didn’t smile and bounce in my chair so much. And admittedly, it does get pretty lonely as you get promoted only to realize that you’re now the token woman in the virtual Zoom room. 

I think being asked if I've managed to get up and bake a quiche before 9 a.m. is actually a compliment.

But being a hostess comes with its own useful set of skills: learning to command a room, executing meetings and events flawlessly, organizing resources for maximum output, and remembering to send thank-you notes to your clients for an extra touch of thoughtfulness. My bosses rely on me for these skills each day. 

By watching and working with my mother and aunts to host holidays through the years, I was able to grow into these strengths. The same strengths that took me from consultant to senior manager — and the same strengths that help me throw a darn good dinner party. 

About the author

Chrystina lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and works with state and local governments to assist with federal grant compliance. When she's not working, she blogs about community building at Chrystina Noel and podcasts about personal development on Things I'm Working On.

Image by cottonbro via Pexels.

Join the conversation!

Healthy Rich is a platform for conversations that illuminate the diversity of our relationships with work and money. We publish, produce and host projects from budding creators whose voices we don’t hear enough in personal finance media, like BIPOC, women, LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities.

Subscribe for free to get our latest in your inbox.