When it comes to Stay-At-Home Moms (SAHM), we have all heard some version of the following statement: “I don’t know how they do it. Being a stay-at-home mom has got to be the hardest job.” But have we ever really stopped to think about why that is? Many SAHMs are not only caring for the children but running the household as well. We see this especially with stay-at-home moms (SAHMs) who may report that they are “carrying the mental load” or the “emotional weight of the family.” To illustrate, SAHM responsibilities may include but are not limited to: endless chores, shopping, organizing extra curricular activities, planning and cooking meals, coordinating vacations, acting as the family chauffeur, and the list goes on. Not to mention, at any given moment, they are jumping in as the resident therapist, nurse, teacher, and entertainer when the children need a hug, bandage, or a laugh to cheer them up.
The pressure and responsibilities of being a stay-at-home mom are great, and can become overwhelming. We often associate the word “burnout” with chronic stress in the professional arena, but a recent poll shows that stay-at-home moms can experience burnout just as frequently and intensely as their working counterparts. Burnout is defined as “the mental and physical fallout from accumulated stress in any sphere of life” and this certainly does not rule out SAHM’s. If we dig just a bit below the surface, we can often identify underlying emotions that contribute to this feeling of burnout.
Prior to becoming a stay-at-home parent, these moms may have had thriving careers. Perhaps they were on track to finish their education, or maybe they were in pursuit of a dream to start their own business. Whatever the case, the SAHM could be grieving this part of themselves —their professional identity. Many of my clients, friends and family members who are SAHMs, often report that they do not think people recognize this professional sacrifice and express how hard it can be to see others continue succeeding in their respective professions. While the parent may be grateful for the position as a SAHM, they may very much miss this professional side of their life.
Depression can be common in stay-at-home moms. In fact, in a recent study, 28% of SAHMs were diagnosed with depression compared to the 17% of their professional working mom counterparts. Common markers of depression in stay-at-home parents include sadness, anger, irritability, reported mental and physical exhaustion, feelings of isolation and feeling little joy or pleasure. Depression in stay at home moms can be brought on due to feeling unseen, under-appreciated, or even unfulfilled in this role. Again, this does not mean they are unappreciative but more so that they are overwhelmed and need support.
Many SAHM’s report feelings of anxiety. They may constantly worry about whether they are doing enough, contributing enough, or caring enough. There are near impossible societal expectations put on SAHM’s like having an immaculately maintained home, scratch-made meals, well-behaved children with little to no screen time, and so on. Worrying about all of these things can create some pretty negative thoughts about oneself resulting in a great deal of self-doubt and dwindling self-confidence. Not to mention, social media, the breeding ground for “comparison culture” is constantly feeding us videos and photos of “Pinterest-worthy” stay-at-home-mom moments. These often unrealistic slices of life leave the rest of the SAHM universe feeling stressed and even inadequate. It’s safe to say that SAHM’s are incredibly susceptible to experiencing anxiety on any given day.
SAHM guilt might sound like this: “I feel bad for complaining. I should be thankful I am able to stay home with my kids. I just need to toughen up.” When SAHM’s think and say things like this, it’s no wonder depression and anxiety are present in their lives. The guilt reinforces the depression and stuffs it deeper and deeper. Many SAHMs feel if they express any grievances, they will be criticized or their feelings minimized, because “you get to stay at home with your kids, and what’s so hard about that?” Feelings of guilt are a perpetuating factor in SAHM burnout.
So, what can you do when the walls of stay-at-home motherhood start to close in?
First, ask yourself these 6 questions:
- Am I feeling mentally, emotionally, or even physically depleted?
- Am I grieving the loss of an identity?
- Do I feel depressed or anxious much of the time?
- Do I feel unfulfilled in this role most days?
- Am I spending time on my own dreams and goals for myself outside of being a SAHM?
- Do I feel a sense of appreciation, respect, or support for assuming this job as a SAHM?
How do you feel after answering those questions? So much of being a stay-at-home mom is wrapped up in taking care of others. These questions can help you take inventory of your health and well-being as a stay-at-home parent and assess whether it’s time to clue your partner or other primary supports in on what you are experiencing.
Next, identify what could be most helpful to your well-being:
Think about it, if you were unhappy and burned out as an employee out in the workforce, you may begin to think about what could make this job less stressful and what types of support and resources might be needed in order to create more balance. The same thought process can be true for SAHMs. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Would I like to schedule more “me time” outside the home?
- Do I need some extra help with cleaning, organizing, etc.?
- Should I talk to a therapist?
- Should I ask for support with exploring side jobs or even working PT/FT?
- Do I need help brainstorming on how to continue building skills for when/if I want to re-enter the workforce?
- Are there any hobbies or volunteer opportunities that would bring joy and satisfaction to my life?
- Should I call up a friend to hang out, grab coffee, lunch, etc.?
Finally, ask for support:
You cannot let your guilt take over. We’ve all heard the phrase “it takes a village.” Therefore, when you are starting to feel burned out as a SAHM it may be time to reach out and ask for help. It’s important to let your partner/primary support know how you are feeling and share your needs. It could sound something like:
“I am starting to feel really depleted and overwhelmed from juggling all the kids’ activities and many of the household responsibilities.I know this can make me pretty quick-tempered and irritable — I don’t like feeling this way. I think it’s time for me to make some changes and I need your support and help to ensure I get more me-time.”
Being a stay-at-home mom is hard work, but it’s much harder without the support, respect, and appreciation from your partner or primary support. Being aware of stay-at-home-parent burnout is more pressing than ever before. The percentage of stay-at-home parents has risen nearly 60 percent since 2019, largely due to economic factors brought on by the COVID19 pandemic, and a slight increase in stay-at-home-dads is important to note as well. Nevertheless, these up-ticks in stay at home parenting roles should open our eyes to the possibility of increased rates of SAHP burnout as a whole.
If you find yourself feeling burned out as a SAHP and needing additional help with identifying strategies to cope or how to communicate your concerns and needs, individual and/or couples therapy might be a good next step. If you are ready to schedule an appointment and live in Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas, we can help. Contact us to get started.