As Mary Chapin Carpenter says, “the stars are stacked against you, girl.” But unlike the woman in the song, you can’t get back in bed, and you don’t feel lucky. Because you’re a stay-at-home mom. Someone wants breakfast, someone wants TV, someone wants cuddles and someone doesn’t know what they want but they already peed on the floor. You haven’t even opened your eyes and you’re already confronted with multiple disasters.
But you should be grateful. You are with your children. Most women would give anything to stay with the people they love the most all every day. Your children are happy. Your house is (somewhat) clean. Your kids are (mostly) fed healthy food. You are (mostly), objectively, doing a good job at this mom thing.
It’s all you wanted for so long: to stay home with your children. You quit your job. You gave up an independent income. You were so happy to have the ability to be home with your kids. You wanted this SAHM gig. You grit your teeth and tell yourself, it can’t be that bad.
Or can it?
Why the hell are you so sad?
In a recent Gallup poll, 41% of SAHMs reported experiencing feelings of “worry” the day before. 26% reported “sadness,” compared to only 16% of working moms. Scariest of all, a whopping 28% of SAHMs reported experiencing feelings of “depression” the day before. Only 17% of working moms reported the same thing, in line with women who don’t have any children at all. Glamour reports that one in five US parents stay home with their children full time.
28% of SAHMs.
You are not alone.
The stars are truly stacked against you, mama. You left a job for a world of — at least in the beginning — puke, poop, and a paralyzing terror this tiny being might suffocate on any given object. As your kids grow, they evolve into humans with more complex needs, like potty training. Like battles over broccoli. Like how much Daniel Tiger a human can watch before their eyes roll out of their heads and over the living room floor. You have to feed them and change them and clean up after them; you have to wash their clothes and sort their clothes and match their clothes and attempt to put them away. You have to change their pee-soaked sheets. You have to wipe down sticky tables. You have to stimulate their minds, take them on adventures, make sure they get enough fresh air.
And at the end of the day, you have nothing to show for it.
You have essentially accomplished nothing but tending to the basic needs of a child, and you can’t exactly point to that as a tangible, concrete accomplishment.
“The loss of the identity and self-worth a woman’s career provided to her is a form of loss, which is a trigger,” Susan Silver, a psychotherapist in Illinois, told Glamour. “When we think about loss, we usually think about death or divorce, but any major change can be a source of depression.”
I ditched a Ph.D. program to stay home with a baby. I was used to writing papers and grading papers and spending hours deep in research. Suddenly, I was reduced to folding diaper laundry that just got pooped on. Again. Sisyphus was the SAHM of a toddler.
And when you left that job, you also left human companionship. Scratch that. You’re around humans all damn day; you fantasize about pooping alone. You left adult human contact. Your only companions are under four feet tall and think the Paw Patrol cast actually exist as real, semi-human entities.
“Kids are great, (but) having conversations with children only over the course of the day can be isolating,” Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, a psychologist and mother of two tells Metro Parent. “Social isolation can often lead to feeling sad and resentful.”
Moreover, the friends you do make? You probably have nothing in common with them but the fact that you both happened to reproduce. Your old friends probably drifted away (mine did). Your new friends — you don’t talk about your favorite bands, your political beliefs, your favorite TV show, or that time in college you did — well, a lot of things. No one cares (it seems, anyway) that I like the Velvet Underground, am obsessed The Magicians, and did lots of things in college I’m not talking about in case my mom reads this. They only care that my kids are the same age as their kids and how did I teach them to read and are they in 4T or 5T and has the baby started solids yet?
They’re sweet, really. Nice, good people. But not real friends you can spill your heart to or share your secrets with. As Metro Parent admits, “Many SAHMs find they are friends with people they have nothing in common with – except their homemaker status.”
Then everyone gives you this pat advice about how to feel better. Like, if you just tried hard enough, you could magically un-depress yourself. Get a hobby! Join a moms’ group! Find a sitter once a week to get some “me” time! (You try to find a sitter for three young boys with ADHD and tell me how that works out for you). Exercise and get outside and eat healthy and most of all, make time for yourself! The guilt you face, Glamour says, can be overwhelming.
After all, you think, you should be able to fix this. You’re the fixer.
I needed chemical intervention, a therapist, and a job (I became a writer). Literally, I wrote my way out. I am not meant to focus solely on being a stay at home parent; I need something more. I also need meds to manage my mental health.
But if you’re determined to stay home, because you want or need to, there are things you can do. You can get help. Real help, like doctor-help. You can set tangible goals for yourself, goals you can see, check- off lists. And yes, you can get a damn hobby. My writing started as a hobby. You can find some friends — maybe who exist only in the virtual world — who you have more in common with than the fact that you spawned during the same timeframe. My internet little sister probably can’t tell you the names of my kids. I’m happy with that. So is she.
You are not alone.
Your feelings of guilt, of shame, of isolation and despair are not unique.
Turns out being a SAHM isn’t the dream job you thought it would be? Honey, you aren’t alone.
That doesn’t mean you have to quit.
It definitely doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom. (You’re not!)
But it does mean you can look in the mirror and realize you are not the only one.
You are not crazy.
You are not ungrateful.
You are normal.
And we see you.