Picture this: It’s just shy of your first-year job anniversary; it’s review time. Some of the feedback you’ve gotten so far from your boss has been pretty negative, and you’ve had to pull more all-nighters than you can count. Oh, and you haven’t actually been paid—at all—yet. But you are, ‘sooo grateful’ to have this job.

That’s because the job is being a stay at home mom.

Or as one woman on a Facebook thread described it, you’re in a “wartime hellhole with four hours of peace in between.” Yet, for all of the dark moments, SAHMs almost always agree, they’re fortunate to be able to be home. Their raves, complaints, and confessions often punctuated with a, ‘Granted, I’m lucky.’

But it might just be that inner voice chirping on about how grateful you should be that’s contributing to the depression wave among stay-at-home moms. According to a recent Gallup poll of more than 60,000 U.S. women, non-employed moms of young children are more likely to report anger and sadness, and they are also more likely to have been diagnosed with depression than their employed counterparts.

Even when controlled for age, stay-at-home moms were still emotionally worse off than employed moms. They were less likely to describe themselves as thriving or to say they smiled a lot or laughed a lot yesterday.

The Actual Job Is Really Demanding

“Being a stay-at-home mom can be very stressful,” says Laurel Mellin, PhD, Associate Professor of Family and Community Medicine at the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and the author of The Stress Overload Solution.

Stay-at-home moms often not only take on the bulk of childcare duties, they’re also doing more of the errands, housework, and handling repairs by default since they’re the ones who are home. And when chores pile up, the partner who is working sometimes doesn’t understand why. SAHM report hearing, ‘But you were home all day.’

Structure is a big challenge too, and you’re not always in control of when things will happen. Trying to stick to a schedule might make you feel in control when it works; but when a tantrum or a nap or the dryer breaking throws everything off, your whole day can go into a tailspin. Being flexible will help you recover.

There’s Virtually No Break From The Routine

Not only is there so much to do, it’s often the same tasks on repeat, making one day feel almost exactly like the next without a break. And, there isn’t the kind of distraction that a job brings says Dr. Mellin. For working mothers, there’s the challenge of juggling these two major tasks, but the advantage is each gives the other some perspective. Stay-at-home moms don’t have that kind of ongoing context.

You Work Alone

From one standpoint, it can be perceived as a privilege to stay at home, notes Dana Dorfman, PhD, a New York City psychotherapist and co-host of the weekly podcast, Two Moms on the Couch. Moms who juggle jobs and childcare may even be a bit jealous of their stay at home counterparts, she says.

“But moms who stay home fulltime tend to report feelings of isolation, a loss of identity, and a loss of social interaction,” Dr. Dorfman says. “It can be hard to feel a sense of accomplishment when this is not always observable.”

Choice Is An Illusion

The most unhappy stay-at-home moms are those who want to work but are not working, says Kristin Calverley, PhD, a psychologist and clinical assistant professor with the McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and UT Physicians in Houston. “Some women who want to work may not work because of family or cultural pressures to stay home, out of a sense of duty, or because they cannot afford the cost of childcare,” she says. “These women tend to be more depressed than the women who choose not to work and who elect to stay home.”

Signs You Might Be Depressed

While there are many types of depression, they share several recognizable symptoms.

Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, or emptiness

  • Irritability, frustration, or restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that used to be enjoyable
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty thinking clearly, remembering, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
  • Headaches, stomachaches, or back pain

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Six Steps To Feeling Better

There are a few things you can do to make your work environment more friendly and to ease anxiety and isolation.

  1. Make plans. If you’re at home fulltime with your children, reach out to other moms to deliberately make time for activities that don’t involve the kids. Playdates with kids are great, but adult time is just as important.
  2. Remember what you’re passionate about. It’s so easy to get sucked into the quicksand that is laundry, grocery shopping, bottle preparing, story time; but there is a you in there—that person you knew before kids who loved going to the movies, who read every Elena Ferrante book in English and Neapolitan, who wouldn’t miss a PINK concert.
  3. Screw social media. Those posts with the spotless kitchen, happy children reading by themselves in a living room deplete of toys while your own home looks like a special season where Hoarders meets Fisher Price, they’re not helpful. And, 90 percent of the time, they’re BS. “Tune out messages that tout the idea that all moms should have a spotlessly clean house and want to be with their children 24/7,” says Katherine Foss, PhD, associate professor of media studies in the school of Journalism and Strategic Media at Middle Tennessee State University.
  4. Pencil yourself in. Schedule predetermined, designated times when you get some alone time. “If you know you are going to yoga at 4 o’clock, this can be tremendously helpful,” says Dr. Dorfman. Can’t afford the cost of a sitter? Consider a babysitting swap with another family.
  5. Make a date.It sounds cliché, but it’s true.
  6. Join a moms’ group.“Developing some kind of a community with other stay-at-home mothers can be so helpful because you get to compare notes with other moms and just share some of the feelings that you are experiencing,” Dr. Dorfman says.

Stay-at-home mom depression is real. It’s tempting to blow it off as just being tired or frustrated, or to think you really shouldn’t be complaining and that other moms have it a lot harder. But, go into any SAHM chat room and you’ll see thread after thread of similar voices.

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Last Updated: Aug 17, 2020