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With just one sentence from a stranger, this mom's identity crisis was averted

Mary Amato with her kids in 1995.
Mary Amato
Mary Amato with her kids in 1995.

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series from the Hidden Brain team about people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.


Mary Amato was having an identity crisis. She quit her job and became a stay-at-home mother after her first child was born.

"People would say, 'You stopped working,'" she remembers. For Amato, that felt more like an accusation than a statement of fact.

The decision to quit her job was hers; Amato felt raising a child was important work and she enjoyed doing it. But she still felt insecure.

"I had been working harder than I had ever worked and not getting a single paycheck or recognition from my social network," she said.

Her husband, an award-winning science writer, did get recognition for his work.

And Amato, who lives in New York, was excited when her husband won an award from a chemistry association. She joined him at a banquet in California where he was praised for his work.

Mary Amato encountered her unsung hero at a banquet celebrating her husband's accomplishments.
/ Mary Amato
/
Mary Amato
Mary Amato encountered her unsung hero at a banquet celebrating her husband's accomplishments.

It was a pretty typical night, the room was filled with a lot of scientists, mostly men. It was a celebratory affair and the couple dressed up in a tuxedo and a formal black dress.

Eventually, the host introduced her husband with a very long list of his accomplishments. Then, he turned his attention to Amato.

"After this long list," she recalls, "the host gestured to me, 'A homemaker and mother of two.'"

Amato was mortified.

"This was the first time I ever heard myself defined by those words," she said. "And I remember feeling a sense of shame, and I thought they must either see me as clueless or as a traitor to the cause."

Amato became very self-conscious, too embarrassed to mingle with people after the speeches wrapped up. So she just sat at her table staring at her dessert plate until an older female scientist walked up to her.

"She said, 'I just want you to know that what you're doing is so valuable,'" Amato said.

Those simple words were exactly what Amato needed at that time and they completely changed her perspective.

That moment happened years ago, but it still has a big influence on Amato.

"Now, when I see a woman or a man during the middle of a workday pushing a stroller, I will often stop and say what you are doing is so valuable," Amato said.

To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.