_This article is not meant to diagnose or provide medical advice—that responsibility lies with physicians. The author is not a licensed medical professional.
It’s difficult for people to understand how you can be lonely when you’re never alone; how you can want to run away from the people you can’t imagine living without; how doing the thing you think is most important in the world can feel like it’s slowly killing you. These things are not hyperboles. They are real. This is depression and this is life for millions of women who stay home with their children. Whether you’re home by choice or by circumstance, being a stay at home mom (SAHM) is hard and can take a toll not only physically but mentally and emotionally.
And it’s not just me saying all this. This is science. This is real talk. SAHMs are more likely to report feelings of sadness, anger, and depression than working moms, according to a GALLUP survey. People imagine stay at home moms as a clique of Starbucks swilling, yoga pants wearing winos who attend play dates like other women attend staff meetings and get pedicures before wandering the aisles at Target during Mommy’s Morning Out. Basically, Mean Girls all grown up.
And, sure, that may be true for some of the moms some of the time, but the day to day is much different. The reality is never having time for yourself. The reality is frequently feeling like the least important member of your family and not having your needs met. The reality is monotony and fatigue coupled with a(n) (un)healthy dose of poor self-care. The reality is isolation and loneliness. The reality is depression, and stay-at-home-moms are drowning in it.
But why? Why is it so different for women who stay home than for women who leave home to go to work? I mean, we’re supposed to want to be with our children, right? Then why is it wrecking us? Why are we so damned sad? Why are SAHMs less likely to say they remembered smiling or laughing or having good thoughts than women who work outside the home?
The truth is quite multifaceted, but all the reasons I mentioned above: Lack of recognition, lack of respect, monotony and tedium in the day to day, isolation, and lack of earned income are likely all contributing factors. And when you add depression’s BFF anxiety, which is often lurking around when children are involved, into the mix, things get super hairy. Just the pressurs for stay-at-home moms to be perfect peppy parents and partners can be overwhelming and can cause significant anxiety.
The idea that a stay-at-home-mother should have it all together because she’s home all day is outdated and hearkens back to the June Cleavers and Carol Bradys of the boomer generation. A mother’s role has changed in the last 50 years but society’s ideas haven’t, and moms are suffering because of it. And when you consider the impact of social media, it’s no surprise that SAHMs are a collective basket case.
When you scroll through your newsfeed and you see everyone’s best moments presented as if those were their normal lived-in day-to-day moments, you feel it in the gut. The seed is planted that you are less-than and the pressure to have a perfect home and a perfect life and perfect children is compounded. And when you inevitably fall short of perfection? Well, then you just feel like a failure, which adds to your anxiety. Am I ruining my children? Am I failing in my role as their mother? Which leads directly to: how will they ever succeed in life with such a failure of a parent?
Ask any SAHM if she recognizes these feelings, these thoughts and she will—if she’s being honest and not trying to pretend to be perfect—nod her head emphatically. She might even cry, because like I said, this is real talk and real talk is hard and hurts.
There are a few things moms can do to avoid the funk of depression or to help if they find themselves already mired. These are tried and true suggestions, but nothing beats talking to your doctor if you haven’t yet. And none of these will single-handedly fix SAHM depression, but doing even one will lighten the load, and every little bit counts, right?
I know, I know. When, right? Between housework and laundry and taking care of children and running errands who has time for exercise? But you really do owe it to yourself to try. It will help your brain and it will help your body. Just 20 minutes a day can make a huge difference. Whether it means waking up a little earlier or asking your partner to be the homework helper for the night or ordering in dinner, it’s worth it.
For SAHMs, the sun sets before they know it and another day has gone by buried in housework or scrolling Facebook, getting pissed at people and feeling bad about yourself, only leaving to get in the car to drop the children off at school. Try to spend time outside every day. Take the children to the park. Walk around the yard. Just break the cycle of laundry>dishes>cleaning>diaper change, and go outside.
Crappy food makes you feel like crap. You deserve better than half a leftover chicken nugget and some cold mac and cheese. You spend half your life at the grocery store anyway, pick up a few items for yourself. I understand you don’t have the time or energy to cook a fresh organic no preservatives meal every night, but that’s what the occasional Amy’s frozen meal and healthy snacks like carrots and hummus are for. And, healthy meals don’t have to be that hard to cook. Try one of those subscription plans like HelloFresh—they have great deals, so there really is no excuse.
Try to find a mom friend in a similar season of life. Having a friend who actually gets it and doesn’t just nod and cluck is beyond helpful, it’s good for the soul. Mommy boards and Facebook groups come in handy when it comes to finding a friend, but SAHMs are known to frequent daytime gym classes (if they can get themselves out of the house), so try some out and kill two birds with one stone.
Kristi is a freelance writer and mother who spends most of her time caring for people other than herself. She is frequently exhausted and compensates with an intense caffeine addiction.