About 27% of moms choose to stay home full-time, according to a 2016 analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from Pew Research Center. This trend has stayed relatively consistent over the past few decades, showing that stay-at-home moms aren’t going anywhere.
What’s also stayed consistent is the feeling of loneliness, isolation, and loss of purpose that sometimes accompany being a full-time caregiver. This phenomenon, called stay-at-home mom depression, affects more than a quarter of non-working parents.
What Causes Stay-at-Home Mom Depression?
Before your life as a parent, you might’ve been a student, server, banker, teacher, or lawyer. Your passion and work were recognized in the “real” world outside of your home. The moment you entered maternity leave, then transitioned to staying at home with your tiny human, you might’ve felt like your identity was traded over for one word: Mom. This might make you feel confused, angry, sad, and alone.
Rachel, a stay-at-home mom from New York who left her job as an office manager, reflects on this feeling, “I struggle every day trying to figure out where I fit into this world now. My dreams and goals still run through my mind daily and I keep trying to think of ways I can make them work while simultaneously raising children.”
Plus, being a stay-at-home mom is completely exhausting. You spend your days packing lunches, driving kids to soccer practice, entertaining a baby, folding laundry, cleaning bathrooms… the to-do list is never-ending and unfulfilling.
According to a 2012 Gallup analysis, which included more than 60,000 U.S. women, stay-at-home moms reported feeling more sadness, stress, anger, worry, and depression than employed moms. The poll also concluded that stay-at-home moms don’t feel as many happy emotions. They smile less, learn fewer things, and experience decreased enjoyment.
The Stigma Around Stay-at-Home Mom Depression
Stay-at-home parents may hesitate to share their complaints, because society sees staying at home as a “gift.” People might even claim you have an “easy” and “stress-free” life, since your spouse has a large enough paycheck to support you, and you can share every little milestone with your child. (On the other hand, you experience way more temper tantrums, toilet accidents, and crying babies than working parents will ever see.)
Instagram and Pinterest moms don’t help your case, either. They make stay-at-home parenthood look easy and fun, and you constantly compare yourself to them: Should my kids’ lunches look like mini masterpieces, too? Should they only eat all-natural, organic products? Why didn’t I think to DIY a back-to-school sign like everyone else?
The stigma around stay-at-home parenthood might leave you feeling resentful or misunderstood. You might even experience guilt over your feelings of depression. But don’t worry: you aren’t alone.
The Bottom Line
If you desperately miss work, there’s no shame in returning to the office or taking up a part-time gig. But for those who want or need to stay home, there are ways to work through your depression. Talk to a friend, journal, join online support groups, schedule coffee and dinner dates, and work toward a goal—whether it’s a running marathon or completing a DIY project. Having something to look forward to might help you get out of a rut.
You also deserve some time off. Have your partner or a trusted caregiver watch your child while you relish in some uninterrupted “me” time. This can leave you feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and a little more ready to tackle tomorrow’s childcare and housework.
If depression is affecting your everyday life, or if it feels like too much to handle, don’t hesitate to see a professional. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, she might recommend talk therapy, support groups, or antidepressant medication.