The Unexpected Loneliness of a Stay at Home Mom
There’s no doubt that our country has benefitted from women becoming more involved in the workforce since the 1940’s. However, this cultural shift has created some difficult challenges for families on the home front. There are several factors that make having a parent at home the right choice for many families. But because many of today’s women pursue career endeavors before becoming mothers, they may feel a deep sense of loss and loneliness when they leave the workforce to focus on motherhood.
The grass is always greener
For new moms, one of their hardest days may be that first day back to work after their maternity leave. Leaving your home and dreading the next 8 hours away from their fragile little peanut is tough, and although they’ve worked hard to achieve their career, the grass starts to look a lot greener for stay at home moms.
Just another mundane Monday
When a mom leaves the workforce to be at home, there is usually some excitement about not having to wake up as early, miss meetings for sick kids, or having to use a breast pump in the janitor’s closet. However, once she’s been at home for a while, the excitement may start to wear thin when she realizes how much she misses the intellectual stimulation of adult interaction. She begins to feel lonely and that she’s missing out on the outside world. As much as all moms love their kids, there are only so many episodes of Paw Patrol a grown woman can take.
I love my kids, but…
A study by behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman showed that when women were asked to rate activities that gave them pleasure, child care was very low on the list. Of course, mothers adore their children, but childcare does not offer the same level of stimulation as many academic or career pursuits. Working moms have a ton of stress as well, (heads up to all you working supermoms, your blog is coming soon!); but employment often provides breaks from childcare, adult interaction, and intellectual stimulation. This helps to alleviate the feelings of tension and isolation that can arise from around-the-clock childcare.
BAE just doesn’t get it
One of the toughest issues for stay at home moms is that their significant others often just don’t get it. They don’t understand that the house is actually messier when you don’t work. They don’t get how running your kids around to school and activities leaves almost no time for grocery shopping. They can’t comprehend why you feel so bored and depressed when in their mind, you “could do anything you want all day.”
The world doesn’t get it!
Society tends to look at stay at home moms as being privileged, assuming they don’t need to work or don’t have a job because they lack work ethic. This makes stay at home moms feel like they can’t complain about their struggles, as they don’t want to be perceived as entitled or inadequate. Society doesn’t give these moms the credit they deserve for the sacrifices they make to stay at home, nor does it acknowledge the immense level of work it takes to tend to a family’s needs 24 hours a day.
I wish I got paid for this
Another element of SAHM life that is hard to come to terms with is the lack of an income. Society teaches us that income is a large indication of our personal value. It’s tough to know how to place value on your daily work when you’re used to assigning a dollar amount to measure your progress. There have been several estimates at what the income value would be if moms got paid for all that they do, and they usually are in the 6-figure range; after all, being a housekeeper, chef, chauffer, teacher, and life manager for several people goes way beyond a traditional 9 to 5!
I can’t have “me-time,” who will make dinner?!
Stay at home moms are often viewed as being solely responsible for the needs of their children. This attitude not only trivializes the immense amount of work it takes to manage the needs of a family and household, but also guilts women from prioritizing their own intellectual and recreational activities. They fear that in focusing on their needs, they are compromising the needs of their children or spouse.
Why it’s a problem
Being a stay at home mom is challenging, and as they strive to be the perfect mother, the guilt and pressure that many moms feel can end up straining their relationships. Stressed or depressed moms may be more prone to reacting to their emotions, causing them to be frustrated and less affectionate toward loved ones.
What’s a mama to do?
With the right perspective, life as a stay at home mom can be incredibly rewarding. Here are a few tips for finding contentment and fulfillment at home:
1. Energize your endorphins
For a mom with young kids, it can feel like an act of congress to leave the house, discouraging many moms from joining a gym. Luckily, there are tons of at-home exercise options, such as running with a jogging stroller or streaming workout videos. Exercise increases endorphins, reducing depression and anxiety. Plus, you can model healthy fitness for your kids – taking care of yourself and modeling good habits – it’s a win-win!
2. Master mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness can help you improve your mood and model healthy coping skills to your kids. Mindfulness refers to being aware and accepting of your thoughts and emotions without judging yourself for them. Research shows that mothers that practice mindfulness have reduced stress, depression, and anxiety, as well as improved relationships with family members.
Follow these tips to become a more mindful mama:
- Take a few minutes every day to practice mindfulness by finding a quiet place to sit and focus on your breath
- Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts come to mind; accept that feelings aren’t facts and whatever you are thinking is normal and temporary
- Have compassion for yourself
- Take a “Mommy-Time-Out” - When you feel like blowing up, that would be the perfect time to step away and meditate on regulating your reactions
- Keep your thinking in the present moment; don’t dwell on yesterday’s mistakes or worry about the future, focus on the good in the here and now
3. Connect with other SAHMs
#SAHMlife! There is a whole community of women experiencing life as stay at home moms, and there’s no reason for you to go through this alone. No one will better understand the struggles and blessings that you’re experiencing like other women who are going through the exact same thing. Finding a mom’s group can help you connect with like-minded women and increase your adult interactions.
4. Have them iron their own underwear
Don’t be afraid to ask your significant other for help with the kids or household duties. As women, we sometimes feel like we need to be everything to everyone, but let’s save that for Wonder Woman (and by the way, when have you seen Wonder Woman doing laundry or balancing a budget? Twenty bucks says her apartment is a mess too). If you need a break to window shop or get a manicure, leave the guilt at home and allow yourself to do it.
Dr. Daniella Davis, specialist in Women’s Issues at Variations Psychology, recommends at least 15-20 minutes of “me-time” per day to keep your mind rejuvenated and emotions regulated – doctor’s orders!
5. Rev up your routine
We often think of children needing routines to feel secure, but adults benefit from them as well. While many women love the idea of the flexible schedule of a SAHM, employment provides daily predictability, focused tasks, and a set schedule. When you don’t have a routine in place, you may find yourself procrastinating and having a hard time getting your day going. Defining your routine can improve your mood and sense of accomplishment as you tackle each task you set before yourself. Take time to write down your plans for the following day. Put your most active goals first – bodies in motion stay in motion, and when you get yourself moving early, the rest of the day will fall into place.
6. Ignite your intellect
Employment is not the only means of intellectual fulfillment. Think of guys like Aristotle and Socrates; they spent a large part of their adult lives just sitting around contemplating life, and look how we remember them! Keep yourself intellectually stimulated by reading about topics you find interesting, take up a creative hobby, or get your kids involved in family-friendly volunteer work for a cause that you feel passionate about.
7. Keep an aerial view
When you’re in the thick of all of the time-outs, laundry-folding, and butt-wiping that motherhood has to offer, it can be hard to keep a positive perspective on how rewarding your efforts will be. It’s completely normal not to love every moment of motherhood; it can be tough, maddening, and even painful at times – but the meaningful moments make it worth the difficulty. When you feel yourself losing your mind, remind yourself to take an aerial view of your role as a mother. In just a few short years, all of the poopy diapers and scattered Legos won’t stress you out anymore, and you’ll look back on your title as “mom” as the most rewarding and meaningful role in your life.
Visit Dr. Davis
Dr. Daniella A. Davis, Psy.D., is an expert in dealing with the unique challenges that women face throughout each stage of life. As a former stay at home mom, Dr. Davis knows the struggle of maintaining your identity, keeping your sanity, and working toward your goals while tending to the needs of your family. Whether it be adjusting to life as a stay at home mom, welcoming a new baby, climbing the corporate ladder, life after divorce, or struggling through menopause, Dr. Davis provides women with tools to overcome challenges and lead healthy, empowered lives.
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