When I finally revealed to my family and friends that I was quitting my job to become a stay at home mom, I got a mixed bag of reactions. Some of my friends told me I “deserved a break” and that “it would be easy and fun.” Others told me it’d be the hardest thing I’d ever do. What nobody told me was that I’d deal with depression, all while loving being home with my son.
Stay at home moms (and dads alike) come from a multitude of backgrounds. Some are highly educated people who chose to prioritize raising kids over careers, other’s see it as a cheaper alternative to daycare. Some work from home or are growing businesses while raising their children, while others are caring for children or family members with special needs. Regardless of a stay at home mom’s “why,” somehow we’re all stuck with the same expectation:
Stay at home moms are somehow not allowed to be depressed, because you gotta “enjoy every moment” with your kids.
Why Are Stay At Home Moms Experiencing Depression?
According to a Gallup poll of more than 60,000 mothers, 28% of stay at home moms reported experiencing depression, as opposed to 17% of working mothers. This could be for a myriad of reasons, but one of the main ones is the negative stigma that stay at home moms need to always be grateful and never sad.
Why is that? I can’t speak for all stay at home moms, but I can speak for myself.
Being a stay at home mom is the only job I’ve ever had where I’m expected to work 24/7 with no pay, no breaks, no thanks, and no complaints. It is the only job I’ve had that I’ve had that I had to know exactly what to do all the time, and to ask questions or make mistakes meant potentially damaging my child for all time. Being a stay at home mom has meant that societally I’m looked at as a hero and a freeloader at the same time. Don’t get me wrong, I chose to be a stay at home mom, and I would choose it a thousand times over, but the expectations of the job would mentally mess anyone up.
The truth is that stay at home moms are the only ones out there working 24/7 with no pay and little to no help, and are expected to “enjoy every moment.” The truth is that it’s a tough job, and many of us are experiencing depression on top of it. We need help, and we need to know what to do when the pangs of depression hit. My hope is my tips I’ve learned along the way would help.
Recognize That You’re More Than Just A Mom
I’ve met many stay at home moms (and a handful of dads) and almost every single one of them when I ask them what they do for a living respond with, “I’m just a stay at home mom/dad.” Even I have said that from time to time. But when you really think about it, saying you’re just a stay at home mom is depersonalizing yourself terribly. Even the title “stay at home mom” screams “I am not my own person anymore.”
Just because you’re a stay at home mom doesn’t mean you’re not you. Taking care of you will not just help you be a better parent, but it’ll make you feel better. Remembering you are an actual person with likes, dislikes, desires, dreams, and needs will make taking care of yourself feel more like a necessity and less like a luxury. Remembering you’re more than just a mom will make you remember that you don’t come secondary to everything else in your life.
Just Because You’re A Stay At Home Mom Doesn’t Mean All You Do Is Stay Home
One of the worst things you can do as a stay at home parent is stay at home all the time. I know, “stay at home” is literally in the job title, but it shouldn’t be. When you don’t get out of the house on a regular basis, you are setting you and your kids up for a cabin fever disaster! I think the entire world experienced this problem during COVID.
Make it a point to get out of the house at least once a day, even if its in the backyard or a walk around the neighborhood. Take advantage of parks and libraries. Even a leisurely stroll around Target is better than nothing!
Getting out of the house without your kids is also necessary for your own sanity. Being a stay at home parent is one of the only jobs in the world that you’re expected to be doing your job duties 24/7. So you as the parent need to absolutely get out of the house alone occasionally. Whether that be to run errands, drink some coffee in silence, visit friends, go to the gym, or just sit in your car alone, getting out of the house is good for your mind. Occasionally I treat myself to a fast-food-parking-lot date where I take myself through a drive thru, park in the parking lot, listen to a podcast, and eat alone. Yes, sounds goofy, but it is wonderful for me!
Take Advantage Of Your Village
Ever heard of the phrase, “it take’s a village to raise a child?” If we were to go back in time to some of our ancient (and some not so ancient) ancestry, we’d discover that it was common for children in communal living communities to be raised by not just a nuclear family, but also with assistance from the community. Whether that be grandparents and siblings, friends, or other community leaders. Though most of us don’t live in communities like that anymore, it doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from the past.
Take advantage of the people around you who are willing to watch your children for you while you take some time off. If you don’t have family or friends available, find daycares that have drop-in services for when you just need a break. Some communities have “Mom’s Day Out” programs available that may be worth looking into. Regardless of how you take advantage of the “village” you’re given, realizing you are not alone in raising your family is empowering.
Create Regular “Mom Time Off”
Like I stated earlier, being a stay at home mom is one of the only jobs where you’re expected to work 24/7 and never complain about it or want time off, because “you should want to be a mom.” Of course you probably enjoy being a parent, but nobody enjoys 24/7 work, even if it’s a job they love. Everyone needs time off, including moms!
I attempt give myself Mom Time Off every day for at least a few minutes. Whether that’s by going to the gym, running an errand (and by errand I mean leisurely strolling in Target with Starbucks in my hand), or even sitting in my room with noise cancelling headphones on. Regardless of what my time off looks like, it is a set time in my week when I am off Mom duty, and I am enjoying what it feels like to be an independent human being.
If prioritizing time for yourself is difficult for you, I got just the blog post for you right here!
Assess Your Expectations
Mothering in the 21st century is a massive comparison game with literally every mom on the internet. When we’re living our life sizing our lives up to every influencer that exists, that is a recipe for depression. The problem with that kind of life is that you’re only looking at the side of life that the internet wants you to see. You don’t see that life happens to every parent, not just you. Those influencers with the good filters have toddlers who also throw tantrums and throw their food on the floor. The mom at the library you envy probably also struggles with finding time for herself. The perfect family in the drop off line at school probably also has plenty of arguments and struggles too. That child psychologist influencer with the make-your-kids-stop-crying-course probably also has mental health struggles. We’re all human on the other side of the screen.
The point is that if you’re expecting your life to look Instagram worthy, then you’re setting your expectations way too high. Setting those expectations at a reasonable level may bring you some relief from the perfection.
Pick Up A Hobby
One of the best things you can do for your mental health is to have an activity you really look forward to doing. What I’ve found in my stay at home mom journey is that there are tons of moms out there who used to have fulfilling hobbies in their pre-kid life, but the moment they became parents their hobbies collected dust in the closet.
Hobbies often become more than something we do to pass the time. Hobbies can help us connect with new people, start small businesses, get out of the house (alone) more often, and they can often give us a healthy outlet for stress. For me, exercising has become my way of relieving stress and giving me something to work my body and mind outside the house. Honestly, the sky is the limit when it comes to what you can do for a hobby.
Feed Your Body And Your Mind
I once read an article (written by a man) that said that stay at home moms have more time to make healthy meals for themselves. I literally laughed out loud while munching on my son’s peanut butter and jelly crusts! Never, not once in my life, have I met a stay at home mom who remembers to eat every meal!
What we feed or don’t feed ourselves can absolutely affect our moods. Many studies show that high intakes of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods was apparently associated with a decreased risk of depression. More often than not, I meet moms who simply forget to eat throughout the day. Doing this can lead to the “hangry” feeling we all get when we’re incredibly hungry. It can also lead to nutrient deficits that can make us feel drowsy and weak. When many moms do remember to eat, it’s typically whatever is the quickest for them to get their hands on. Making what you eat a priority can absolutely do wonders for your mood. Even something as simple as remembering to eat at each meal, or eating more fruits and vegetables can ward off feelings of depression.
Don’t just remember to feed your body, but also feed your mind. When we spend 99% of our day talking over the latest Bluey episode with our kids, it can leave us feeling as if we don’t have anything intellectually stimulating left in our brains. Giving yourself a chance to learn new things, practice new skills, and be creative can make us feel so much better. Even taking some time every day to read a book can make a difference.
Don’t Be Afraid To Rest
Sleep can be a triggering topic for moms, especially moms whose kids don’t sleep through the night. In fact, sleep deprivation is shown to increase postpartum depression risks in new moms. This is why I was careful to say that you need to rest and not just sleep.
The recommendation for nightly sleep is somewhere around 8 hours a night. For many moms, 8 hours of sleep sounds like a pipe dream. For other moms who are able to sleep through the night, 8 hours still doesn’t feel like enough. That’s because what we genuinely need is rest.
Sitting on the couch is not a luxury you have to earn. Taking a break while your kids sleep is not a sign of laziness. Giving yourself time to do nothing can be exactly what your mind needs. Take the guilt out of rest, and give yourself the time to just relax.
I give many more tips for handling sleep deprivation as a new mom right here!
Recognize When It May Be Time For Professional Help
Experiencing depression, especially chronic depression, should never be something we chalk up to just being a mom. One of the best decisions I made in my parenting life was getting professional help for the depression I was experiencing. For many of us, going to therapy and/or starting medication seems like failure. The truth is that we all need help along the way, and therapy and medication is just some of the ways we can receive that help.
If you’re in need of professional help for depression, I highly recommend checking out these professional resources:
- Postpartum Support International
- American Psychological Association
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- National Institute of Mental Health
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
It’s Possible To Enjoy Motherhood, Even When It’s Hard
Depression doesn’t have to get the last word in motherhood. Even when society says we have to “enjoy every moment,” even when sometimes it sucks, depression doesn’t have to get the last word. There are ways we can cope with the big feelings motherhood tosses our way. When we begin mastering these coping mechanisms, we realize that not every moment of motherhood is enjoyable, but we can still enjoy our life.
Below I have a free sign up for my “Calm Down Checklist for Overwhelmed Moms.” There I give you even more ways to cope when the big feelings of motherhood come flooding your way. Sign up for free below!