When it comes to having and caring for children, there’s a ton of resources and advice – both unsolicited and invited – for how to raise happy, healthy kids. But when it comes to guidelines for being happy, healthy moms, those resources tragically come up short.
And why SHOULD there be guidelines, do some of you ask? After all, it follows that if somebody’s able to care for another, tiny, brand-new human being, she should be able to care for her fully-grown adult self, yes?
What that assumption forgets, though, is how easy it is for moms to entirely subsume their own needs, however basic and necessary, to those of their children, and how our world today actually encourages this self-sacrificial behavior. It forgets that the “mommy wars” are still raging, and that when our society isn’t harshly judging mothers for going back to work, it’s wagging its finger at stay-at-home moms, accusing them of “playing” all day and questioning their parenting choices.
And while we’re all finally catching on to the importance of recognizing, identifying and helping postpartum depression, our world is still woefully behind on appreciating the reality of another important mental health crisis: stay-at-home mom (SAHM) depression.
While it may not be a separate condition recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, it is a very real phenomenon, and an important one. If you’re a stay-at-home mom or if you know and love one (or many!), it’s time to start paying attention to the high propensity for depression the choice to stay home can create.
And if you recognize yourself in the description? We want you to know you’re not alone.
If your or somebody you know is suffering from depression, anxiety, and/or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or visit them online here to chat. Help is available 24/7, 7 days a week.
Basically, across the board, SAHM “report more depression, sadness, [and] anger” than any other group, according to a Gallup poll of adult women between the ages of 18 and 64:
Gallup looked separately at non-employed moms who are looking for work and those who are not looking — to distinguish between those who may not be employed because of circumstance rather than by choice — and both groups are more likely to report anger, sadness, and depression than are employed moms. It is also important to note that these findings are not related to age — that is, even when controlling for age, stay-at-home moms are emotionally worse off than employed moms [. . .]
Stay-at-home moms also lag behind employed moms in terms of their daily positive emotions: They are less likely to say they smiled or laughed a lot, learned something interesting, and experienced enjoyment and happiness “yesterday.” Additionally, they are less likely than employed moms to rate their lives highly enough to be considered “thriving.” [. . .]
Stay-at-home moms at all income levels are worse off than employed moms in terms of sadness, anger, and depression, though they are the same as other women in most other aspects of emotional well-being. Employed moms, however, are doing as well as employed women without children at home — possibly revealing that formal employment, or perhaps the income associated with it, has emotional benefits for mothers.
Gallup also reports that this depressed tendency recurs higher in women from low-income families— and somehow, we’re not surprised. Motherhood’s hard enough without adding economic insecurity into the mix!
It’s not that SAHM regret their decision; oh no. Of course we’ve never met a mom who regretted her children!
It’s more that when we all talk about how difficult motherhood can be, we focus mostly on logistics and how to balance the needs of home and family. Somehow, we never talk about the emotional and psychological toll it can take on moms themselves, or how to balance THEIR needs with the needs of all the people in their care. We never talk about the loneliness, the isolation, the monotony, or the sense of being overlooked.
But we should! Feeling alone in these feelings only makes them worse. As Wendy Wisner says on Mom.me:
Gallup doesn’t explain why this was the case, only that it was a very real trend they saw. They suggest that perhaps mothers who feel depressed may find more fulfillment by working. But they also acknowledge that SAHMs might feel more happy and fulfilled if their roles were simply more acknowledge and celebrated.
“For those who choose to stay home, more societal recognition of the difficult job stay-at-home mothers have raising children would perhaps help support them emotionally.”
I think that might be the bottom line here.
We agree with Ms. Wisner. Moms need recognition of the work they do – and we’re not talking proforma Mother’s Day stuff, either – and they need people to realize that what they do IS, indeed, work. And when it all gets too hard? They need support and acknowledgement of their sadness, their anger and, yes, sometimes, their depression.
But that doesn’t mean we all have to wait until the world catches up to our reality. Paste Magazine and Family Life have lots of great suggestions for finding your happiness and keeping it. Some of our faves are:
- Always take a shower and get ready for the day. You don’t have to get dressed up; just let yourself feel clean and like a real adult human.
- Create a schedule. Not only are they good for kids, they’re good for YOU. A schedule will help you build in some rest and recreation without guilt, and you’ll have a better sense of attainable goals.
- Get some sunshine and fresh air. This advice is good for anybody and everybody.
- Talk to your friends. Whether it’s a quick text or a coffee date, having somebody who understands and can commiserate will make ALL the difference.
So let’s do that last one right now! Have you heard of or experienced SAHM depression before? Were you surprised by the results of the Gallup poll? Do you have any advice for or stories to share with your fellow moms?