9 Reasons I Regret Being a Stay at Home Mom


The most expensive decision of my life I made alone. There was no realtor, no car dealer and no travel agent when I chose to leave the paid workforce and become a stay at home mom. There was just me looking at my husband, my children (those inside and outside the womb) and the chaos that was our lives. At no point did I calculate the lifetime impact of diminished earnings and prospects.  I looked at the year we were in and the following year, and I bolted.  No part of my brain sat itself down and thought, what is the price both in both this year’s dollars and my lifetime earnings, to leaving the workforce and is it a decision that a decade or two from now I might regret?  At no point did I examine the non-monetary cost which would loom just as large. At the time it seemed forgone, two demanding careers, two small children and another on the way, two adult lives hopelessly out of control.

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One day I was working on the massive trading floor of a London bank, the next I was on the floor of my children’s playroom.  And while it meant I would forgo a paycheck, not once did I think, at age 33, of what the job market would look like for me in years hence and therein lies my most expensive mistake.

I stayed home with my kids because I wanted to be with them. I had a job that allowed me very little time with them on weekdays and I felt our time was short. I did not stay home because I believed they needed me or that the nanny I had hired could not do a great job.

Now, on the downslope of parenting, I have misgivings about my decision to stay home.  It would be far too strong a word to say I have regrets. I don’t know any parent who regrets time spent with their kids, especially kids who have moved on to their own lives. Although I am fully aware that being a stay at home mom was certainly a luxury, staring at an empty nest and very diminished prospects of employment, I have real remorse.

1. I let down those who went before me. In some cosmic way I feel that I let down a generation of women who made it possible to dream big even though I know the real goal of the Women’s Movement was to be able to dream anything.  One summer in the 1970s, I read The Feminine Mystique curled up on a couch in my grandparents’ home. The book spoke to me, and my mother and grandmother spoke to me warning me not to tread the path they had taken, leaving the workforce after their children were born.   But the book and my mother spoke to a young ambitious preteen, not a young mother.  Betty Friedan or not, I stayed home for almost two decades raising three sons.

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2. I used my driver’s license far more than my degrees. I got my driver’s license after a short course and a couple of lessons in 11th grade.  My post secondary education took six years of hard work and yet, for years, I used my driver’s license far more than my formal education.  And on one level I felt like I was short-changing myself, those who educated, trained and believed in me by doing this.

3. My kids think I did nothing. They saw me cooking, cleaning, driving, volunteering and even writing, but they know what a “job” looks like and they don’t think I had one.

4. My world narrowed. During the years at home with my children I  made the most wonderful friends, women I hope to know all of my life.  But living in the suburbs among women of shockingly similar backgrounds, interests and aspirations, narrowed the scope of people with whom I interacted.  In the workplace my contacts and friends included both genders and people of every description, and I was better for it.

5. I got sucked into a mountain of volunteer work. Some of this work was deeply meaningful and some of it trivial in the extreme. It is very easy to feel as though you are doing something whether it is sitting on a hospital board or raising funds for a nursery school.  Volunteer activities involve a flurry of activity but, at the end of it, those who are running the organization carry on and your job is over.

6. I worried more. Being around my children so much of the time gave me the chance to focus on them at a granular level. And I feel fairly certain that neither they nor I benefitted from the glaring light it shone upon us. Helicoptering takes time, and I had the time.  If I had worked outside our home I would have still worried about them but might have confined my concerns to more substantive matters.

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7. With my husband I slipped into a more traditional marriage. Before our children were born and when they were young, my husband and I did the same job. We left in the morning together and came home together to stare at each other and at our small children through a blinding haze of exhaustion. In every way my husband sees me as his equal but in the years that I have been home our partnership has developed a faint 1950′s whiff. He doesn’t ask me to run to the dry cleaners or fish store, but let’s be fair, they are both closed by the time he gets home.

8. I became outdated. Through the 1980′s and into the 1990′s, I worked in banking on Wall Street in a technologically cutting edge department. Just as I mastered every new computer it would be whisked away and replaced by newer faster models.  I was au fait with software the public wouldn’t see for years and anything I didn’t understand was explained to me by MIT-trained analysts. I have kept up with technology but not in the aggressive way I once did in my job.  In my world I often use my young adult kids as tech support and endure their snide remarks and eye rolling, knowing deep inside that at one time it was very different.

9. I lowered my sights and lost confidence. But far and away my biggest regret about my years at home was that I lowered my sights for myself as I dimmed in my own mind what I thought I was capable of.  I let go of the burning ambition I once held because I didn’t feel as though I could hold it and three babies at the same time. My husband did not do this, my children did not do this, I did this.  In the years that I was home I lulled myself into thinking that I was accomplishing enough because I was.  I was raising my children and, as any parent who had spent a day with a child knows, that can fill all of the hours in a day.  What I hadn’t realized was how my constant focus on my family would result in my aspirations for myself slipping away. And despite it being obvious, I did not focus on the inevitable obsolescence that my job as mom held.

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If I could wind back the tape, have a do-over, what would I have done differently? Looking on at my grown and nearly-grown sons, I am grateful for the gift of time we had. Yet, I wish I had tried to keep a finger, a toe or a hand in the working world to ease an eventual return. I did not have a job well suited to part-time work, and work at home was technologically impossible at the time. But, the solution required imagination, not capitulation, and with hindsight, I would have recognized that over time, my parenting and career would both ebb and flow, but neither would — nor should — ever end.

About the writer

Still licking our wounds from middle school, Mary Dell and Lisa stared into the jaws of high school and did the only thing two moms could - we started a blog.  With two families, five children and 92 years of parenting, we may have learned nothing but that doesn’t stop us from sharing it with you on Grown and FlownFacebookTwitter, The Atlantic, Forbes and the Huffington Post. 


Kevin Knox 2 months ago

I am a retired Father and an At Home Dad if you may, of two young ladies.
I wouldn’t trade this for all the gold and credibility in the world. I savor everyday together like it’s our last. Life is short, embrace what you have, so many would trade places in a second. I was disappointed in your lack of awareness and blessings. Careers mean nothing, unless you enjoy impressing the easily impressionable. A glass half full, or half empty, is still a vessel w/which to enjoy. Wake up and smell the roses, tomorrow is not promised to anyone.

Lizzie Hunsaker 2 months ago

Having grown up with a stay-at-home mother, I’m beyond grateful for my mom’s decision to leave the workforce to focus on raising her children. She might not have had a “real” job in the world’s eyes, but she worked hard to keep our family on track and our house a pleasant place to be. If I got sick and needed to be picked up from school, she was available to come get me so my dad didn’t have to leave work early. She made a lunch for me every day from first through ninth grade, allowing me to sleep a little longer in the mornings. Because she chose to be a homemaker, she made not only my life but the lives of my siblings and my dad much easier. On weekends when my dad didn’t have work, we had time to relax and enjoy each other’s company instead of having to rush around and do errands before Monday came again, because she was able to get everything done during the week. If she’d had a regular job, the cleaning and errands she usually took care of would’ve had to be crammed into the evenings or weekends, when she’d probably rather be resting. After seeing how things were in my home compared to those of my friends whose mothers worked during the day, I hope to be able to be a full-time mother to my future children, as well. To me, motherhood is a very noble, fulfilling job.

blessed 3 months ago

I made the choice to be a stay at home mom and completely forgo my career. In the beginning it was busy and fast paced and several mothers at home too so I wasn’t alone. As the kids got older many of the mothers I got close to either went back to work or we just didn’t have anything in common, etc… Now that my twins are seniors in high school I feel like an empty nester at home and find myself staring at the walls and not knowing what to do with myself. All of the Moms I knew are working or moved away, etc… I miss the workplace and will go back in some way shape or form, eventually. I truly did lose a bit of myself in the decision I made because I didn’t do much for me. I have worked for my family and wouldn’t trade my decision but would advise to anyone to keep your foot in the door of your career somehow so you don’t lose yourself. You will also have something to fall back on when you are ready to go back to work. I don’t feel sorry for myself and I am not saying I’ve done anything the right way or the wrong way. I have just know I have found myself feeling vulnerable and inadequate as the nest empties and my job is almost over. I need to recreate myself and it isn’t any easy thing for me to do. I find myself very anxious and depressed about what to do. With Gods guidance I will find my way.

Me 3 months ago

Gosh, this article should be titled “why I think money, greed, and getting street cred with my feminist friends is more important than giving my children the best childhood possible”

Samantha 3 months ago

Hi, thanks for the article. I stumbled upon this read because I’m considering being a stay at home mom.
I grew up in a home with 2 working parent, as I was growing up I remembered being jealous of my friends whose moms pick them up from school and made them lunch. I don’t want to have my children feel the way I do. Perhaps, you feel discouraged because the grass is always greener on the other side. Also, I think you might not be appreciated enough by yr sons, sounds like they took you for granted because they haven’t got to experience coming home from school to and empty house. :)

Sarah 6 months ago

This article is selfish and whiny,

You can learn any technology in a day. Volunteer work is worth what you put into it. All mothers a lot worry regardless of whether they’re working or not. A driver’s licence is often worth more than a degree these days anyway – and you can count your degrees as back up in case something terrible happens to your husband. Your world is only as narrow as you choose it to be. Your marriage doesn’t have to become old-school because you stay at home. If your kids think that cooking and cleaning isn’t work – put them to work cooking and cleaning. This is an outlook problem, not an “I chose not to work and ruined my life problem.”

My advice, “GET A LIFE.” (and I mean that in the best possible way… go out and DO SOMETHING!)

Tiffany 6 months ago

Thank you for such a well written, thoughtful article! I don’t know that I’ve ever read something on the topic of staying at home regrets that was so well done and so balanced. Yes, time with your children is invaluable, but being a SAHM isn’t as simple a choice (income vs time) as it is often made out to be, if it’s a choice at all. I’ve stayed at home, I’ve worked outside the house, I’ve been self employed at home, and when I’ve chosen to work, it’s because I can choose, and I’m grateful for that.

Veritas 6 months ago

After reading the main text and a few of the comments, I have just a little to say. I chose to stay home with my children. They have both become very successful in academia, and though, that is only due in a very small part to my own actions, I take some pride in that. I realize that I, too, let myself down when it came to my personal ambitions. I did, at one point, return to school myself, earning a master’s degree from a prestigious institution. I worked a bit in my field and hoped to return for a doctorate. I followed a different path for awhile, because of my husband’s work. Now, after 3 years of illness I still hope to follow what was always my academic dream. It is up to me at this point to continue with that dream, if I want to, one way or another. I may not be able to do exactly what I had planned, but I plan to get close to it. I have no regrets about being a stay at home mom.”Misgivings” is the better word. My advice to future generations of women would be the same, “Keep a hand in your chosen field and your knowledge current”. Maintain that thread of what is your sense of self.

Katherine 7 months ago

Wow. I love your honesty. Thank you. I’m a FTM and have been home… LO is 3 months. I am battling going back to work in my mind… Staying at home just seems so wonderful and I don’t want to miss milestones etc. I love spending this time with my baby – so much. But the other side of me wants the office again. I love what I do/did – and I don’t want to lose it. I really appreciate this article a lot. I have not read one like it yet. Thank you so much!

Jacqueline 7 months ago

Staying at home is best job in the world, and the only job that truly pays you. At the end of the day, you all you have is family- your career achievements won’t matter one bit. I think though you must have been writing from your heart, your heart must be severely misplaced. How dare you accuse stay at home moms of letting down those who went before them. Those women were fighting for the right to choose. Women who stay at home just have a different set of priorities than those who go back to work. Perhaps the writer was simply not suited for it and should have made a different choice. That gives no license to belittle those who are fully capable and devoted.


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