All new moms tell you how motherhood is the hardest job in the world. But no one tells you how it can be one of the most depressing ones, too.
Close to 30 percent of all mothers stay at home with their children. The number of mothers opting to stay at home is becoming more and more common.
In popular culture, motherhood is represented as the most joyful event in a woman’s life. But despite the advertisements that show happy moms and easy, breezy mothering, the harsh realities of the job are evident to those who stay home with their kids.
Many stay-at-home moms are struggling with mental health issues, including depression. A 2012 Gallup poll surveyed over 60,000 American working moms and stay-at-home moms. The poll found that stay-at-home moms were more likely than working mom to report feeling recent negative emotions, including anger, depression, worry, and stress.
Stay-at-home moms were also less likely than working moms to report feeling happy, and more likely to report having ever been diagnosed with clinical depression.
If you’re struggling with stay-at-home mom depression, you’re not alone. In this article, we are going to explore why stay-at-home motherhood may be making you depressed and four things you can do to make motherhood more joyful.
Why Does Stay-at-Home Mom Depression Happen?
The stakes for mothers in today’s world are high. The job of being a mom carries high expectations along with it.
Being a “good” stay-at-home mom (we’ll use SAHM for the remainder of this article) involves a near complete devotion to your kids. SAHMs are expected to make child care their primary responsibility.
SAHMs are also expected to make childcare all about the child, leaving no room for a mother’s needs or desires. The value of children in American society is very high, and SAHMs are expected to view their children as special and priceless.
Anything that carries such high expectations is bound to have detrimental effects. The SAHM is faced with a job that can completely dominate her life and subsume her own needs and desires. Because of the high expectations and stakes, a SAHM may be asked to make sacrifices that no other job would require her to make.
To make matters more difficult, SAHMs are generally isolated, unassisted, and unpaid. Unless you are proactive, it can be easy to go for days without having a significant conversation with another adult, even if you live with a partner. The demands of motherhood might mean that you are too tired or distracted to carry on a conversation with them or anyone else. If you do get to talk, you may find that your life has been so consumed with parenting that it’s all you can talk about.
Unless you are fairly wealthy, SAHMs are unlikely to have help with their responsibilities. Getting a break from the kids is difficult; even daycare is very expensive. The average cost of placing a child age 4 or younger full-time at a child care center in America is $9,589 a year. This leaves a lot of moms feeling overwhelmed with all of the demands of children with little outside help.
The Job You Can’t Quit
On top of child care, there is an endless list of cleaning, cooking, errands, family finances, social events, and more. While the father often gets to disappear back to the safe and familiar world of paid work, SAHMs need to adapt to a completely new paradigm of work where there is no pay, vacation, sick days, or pension.
You can’t get fired, but you can’t ever quit either. And you’re evaluated constantly, by your family, society, and your own internal voice.
With all of that in mind, it’s easy to see why many SAHMs suffer from depression. Women are generally more prone to the depression than men, with up to 17 percent of women experiencing a major depressive episode at some point in their lifetimes. This rate is three times higher than in men.
In a sobering study published by the American Psychological Association, 1,364 mothers were interviewed at regular intervals starting from the child’s birth and up to 10 years later. The study found that SAHMs had higher rates of depression compared to other women. The study also found that SAHMs scored lower on general well-being and health than employed mothers.
4 Things You Can Do to Alleviate Stay-at-Home Mom Depression
You may feel mom guilt — feelings of shame surrounding being depressed about caring for the people you love most in the world. But the bottom line is that SAHM depression is completely understandable and fairly common. It’s nothing to feel guilty about.
Here are four things you can do to help make things better.
1. Take Time for Yourself
If you feel that 100 percent of your time is going towards being a mom, it’s time for you to take a step back. Just like with any other job (even one you love), breaks and vacations are necessary to recharge, rejuvenate, and take care of yourself.
Working long hours can lead to depression. In one study conducted in the U.K., men and women who routinely worked 11 hours a day or more had more than double the risk of developing depression compared with those who usually worked eight hours or less.
SAHMs work around 14 hours a day, with moms reporting that they only get an average of one hour and seven minutes to themselves every day. Just like other workers who put in longer work hours, they sleep less, exercise less, and experience more stress.
Taking time for yourself might mean hiring a babysitter once a week and taking a much-deserved break or getting friends and family to step in regularly to relieve you of child care. It can also mean having someone else do the housework or cooking. This means that you don’t have to do it during a child’s nap time or when they are away at school, and you can use that as “you” time.
It might also mean lowering your expectations. Does your 7-year-old daughter really need to go to three different instructional classes? And maybe you can do take out for dinner more often. If you do laundry one day, that might mean putting off the house cleaning for another day.
2. Get a Part-Time Job
There is good evidence that having a part-time job aids in mothers’ mental and emotional health. Mothers working part-time report being less depressed than stay-at-home mothers when their children are very young.
They also reported feeling more secure within their marriages and were actually observed to be more attuned with the emotions of their preschool-aged children than SAHMs or full-time working moms.
It seems that working part-time can have great effects for mother, child, and family. Getting a part-time job might mean putting your little one with a babysitter or in daycare for a few hours a day, but with the extra money, this may become a net positive for your income.
Having a part-time job will allow you to use a different set of skills than in parenting, widen your social network, and boost your self-esteem. It’s a chance to get out of the house and rejoin the wider world. This regular break from parenting may be just what you need to cure your mothering slump and feel better.
3. Practice Self-Care
While you may be very busy, it’s important that SAHMs re-prioritize their own self-care. This means making sure that regular and sustained stress management and hygiene is integrated into your life.
Don’t let the demands of motherhood stop you from getting regular exercise and eating well. When kids are young, getting enough sleep can be particularly challenging. Make it a point to sneak in a nap whenever you can.
Taking care of yourself means that you can take better care of your family. It’s always a good investment to hire someone to help with the kids if it means that you are able to get the self-care break you need.
Another element to self-care is mental health care. Consider integrating meditation into your daily life. Meditation teaches you to better manage stress and stave off depression. It can help you put things in the right perspective and refocus on the joyful aspects of motherhood instead of the less glamorous ones. A great way to integrate meditation is with the Spire Stone. The Spire Stone sends you notifications for when it’s time to relax, at which points you could sit down and do your meditation practice.
4. Find a Support Group
Being a SAHM can be lonely. Make it a point to find a support group. This could be as simple as reaching out to existing friends and making sure you are regularly catching up with your social circle.
It could also mean making connections with other stay-at-home parents. Create a circle of stay-at-home parent friends who share a similar schedule and set of worries — it can make a huge difference to the sense of isolation that may be driving your stay-at-home mom depression. These are people who know where you are coming from and can offer advice based on real lived experience.
There are always social gatherings of SAHMs planned and advertised on places like meetup.com and through Facebook groups.
Make Stay-at-Home-Mommying Joyful Again
Being a mom is a hard and underappreciated job. But it can also be the source of intense joy and some of the best moments of your life. The key to battling depression is constructing a SAHM lifestyle that doesn’t just work for your child — it also needs to work for you. You’ll likely find that such an approach to mothering not only makes you happier but makes your whole household happier as well.