Why SAHMs Get Depressed

by Megan Paonessa
sahm depression
monkeybusinessimages / iStock

Life as a SAHM can be a silent one—even with all the toddler-screaming going on around you. Before I became a mom, I worked a fancy, downtown job that pushed me to be better every single day, and I excelled. Before that, my parents pushed me to get into a good college, and to do well in said college, and to find that great, good-paying, downtown job that I would eventually score. In fact, all my life I’ve been pushed, encouraged and shown what doors ambition can open, and though it was hard work getting to where I was, my accomplishments were rewarding. Motherhood isn’t like that.

I’ve always enjoyed being on my own, running by the lake, writing in journals, doing small projects here and there—individual, quiet tasks. So I didn’t think quitting my job to stay home with my children would be too big a change. I had gotten used to the writer’s solitary life, and I thought I’d be able to keep up on some of my writing projects even with my toddlers at home.

But, no. No, I couldn’t—not at all. And that’s part of it, losing that identity I had as an adult, at a job, a person co-workers went to for advice and help. I no longer had the identity I had created for myself—that I had worked hard to create for myself—but there’s also something else about being at home alone with my children that makes me feel so incredibly lonely. It’s a mix between losing oneself and being in this grey mushy place. It’s in this grey space where the lonely creeps in and starts messing with your head. For me, it’s where my anxiety and depression take over.

Being a SAHM is hard because there isn’t a break from the child-speak, from the children’s world. Many days, there isn’t an outlet other than your spouse, and if you’re like me, you start feeling the need to stop complaining, because, really, what are you complaining about? Isn’t this what you wanted? Asked for even?

My guilty conscience reminds me that my husband is the only one pulling in a paycheck now, who’s going to a stressful job and feeling the weight of his responsibility. What if he were to lose his job? Or, crazy thought, what if he stopped liking his job and wanted to change course? Choosing to have a spouse stay at home traps the both of you into your roles. Does my spouse really want to hear how awful it was trying to set up a playdate today? So I close off that outlet.

When you’re a SAHM with toddlers at home, there aren’t as many activities and playdates to go to as one may think. When the kids are newborns, they sleep a lot, so it’s hard to get them out and about, and you feel like shit anyway, so why bother. When the kids are in their terrible twos and threes, sometimes your child is the crazy child that you’re embarrassed to take places because of the scene most likely to happen (he bit someone, hit someone, threw something, screamed for an hour straight).

The friends you grew up with, who know you for you and love you anyway, they don’t have kids the same ages as yours, so they either don’t get it yet, or are too busy with carpooling to help out. And without family around, there aren’t many sanity breaks, because even if you find a babysitter you trust with your newborn, paying $12 an hour to go buy stuff I think will make me feel more like me just doesn’t make sense.

I’m told it gets better once the kids go to school, once there are sporting events to attend, once you get some free time to yourself. I can see how meeting other moms helps, as long as you can keep the judgments aside. Basically, once your kids grow up, it’s a whole other ball game, which is great and fine and makes this SAHM-toddler time rather short, and I know it will get better.

One day, I’ll look back on it and wonder what the hell I was worrying about. I’ll probably even miss it. So I keep telling myself to enjoy the small stuff, to pay attention to their cute round faces learning how to speak and laugh and use a fork correctly, because they can be pretty darn cute.