By Amanda Idleman, Crosswalk.com
The life of a stay-at-home Mom is a beautiful disaster!
The days are packed with noise, chaos, tenderness, precious shared moments, and gigantic messes. The job of stay-at-home-parenthood is a mixed bag of tricks. The job is an honor and the time to invest into your kids is the biggest gift.
Yet, becoming a SAHM is joining the ranks of the unseen, the lonely, the overworked and never paid, and is a job that you never master (no matter how hard you try).
Over 8 years ago I welcomed my first baby boy into our home. As soon as I met him, I knew I wanted to be home with him. Unexpected circumstances plus several answered prayers we worked it out to have me home during the week while I worked retail on the weekends to help make ends meet. Little did I know I was stepping into the chaos of motherhood on a level I had not yet experienced as a full-time working mother.
My story of growing into my role as a SAHM is one of gratitude, learned-the-hard-way humility, and an ongoing battle against anxiety and depression.
I am not sure what exactly about becoming a stay-at-home-parent that makes anxiety and depression such a common companion. Partly, it's a toxic and potent combination of post-baby hormones and sleep deprivation.
Although, even as my kids have aged and I am no longer birthing babies; I still have to beat away the tendency to get locked up in my own mind.
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What Can Cause STAHM Depression?
My best guess is it’s all the things.
It’s the struggle to feel seen, productive, it’s the constant worry you are doing something wrong, it’s the unending need for more and more patience, it’s the lack of understanding from those that aren’t living the same life, and the severe lack of societal appreciation for the effort and talent it takes to run a home well.
It could be the long hours with few real mental or physical breaks. It might be the guilt you have for expressing anything but gratitude for your job; even though in other roles it’s okay to love what you are doing and also get worn out from it sometimes too.
It’s possible that the break-neck pace of keeping up with kids all day long may leave you mentally and physically depleted and more susceptible to mental illness. These are just a few of my guesses… even acknowledging all the ways the job isn’t easy, the guilt for not loving every moment at home with my kids with perfection is still real and relentless.
Let’s explore what anxiety and depression looks like and how we can overcome as stay-at-home parents.
What Is Stay-at-Home-Mom Depression?
According to Parents.com about 27% of moms choose to stay home with their children and about 25% of these Moms report feelings of loneliness, isolation, loss of purpose which has come to be known as Stay-at-Home-Mom Depression.
Some other “signs or symptoms” of SAHM Depression are feelings of sadness, stress, anger, and persistent worry. Generally, just experiencing less happy emotions than your working counterparts.
Many moms feel concerned about sharing their struggles with these negative feelings (me included) because the cultural idea that being a SAHM is a “gift” or “easy job” has made reconciling feelings of anxiety and depression difficult.
Not to mention the mountains of media on Instagram and Pinterest that paint only joyful and perfected pictures around what stay-at-home-parenting should look like.
It can be easy to feel like you are just doing this thing wrong if you don’t wake up every day with a motherly spring in your step and are unable to daily dress your children in matching clothing.
Honestly, it can really just feel like the world doesn’t get it. But I do, other SAHM's do, and most importantly God does.
Here are 4 ways to overcome SAHM depression.
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1. Share Your Struggle with Someone You Love
I was not the one to discover that I was drowning in my job as a SAHM--my husband was. I overheard him calling my mom lamenting his heartfelt concern for me as he could see I was depressed.
Honestly, hearing him say those words out loud to another person hurt but mostly because my pride wanted to hide my struggle at all costs. I felt that sharing the truth about how I was feeling meant I was a bad mom.
Depressed moms are not bad moms and actually are probably overachieving moms that need help balancing their lives.
If you are feeling dread for the day, if your mind is being constantly bombarded by negative or anxious thoughts, your mood could be generally characterized as “grouchy” on a way too regular basis, or just feel like you don’t feel much of anything then you are probably struggling with depression.
Share this with your spouse, close friends, mom, go to a counselor, mentor, or if you are like me you can do all of the above.
Once I realized that my heart was lacking the joy it so yearned to be feeling during this truly precious time of life, I started to talk to everyone and while my friends may get sick of hearing me mention that I am going through a funk, I feel better being known by people who love me.
Talking to other moms who understand your struggle of being unseen and underappreciated will help you get much-needed validation and lift a weight off your shoulders. Expressing your feelings to your husband can also help him to understand why this situation—while a blessing—might be hard on you, and he can step in to show more gratitude and understanding.
Above all, talking to someone will help you realize where you’re at and what support you need going forward.
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2. Find a Better Work/Life Balance
Motherhood can become an all-encompassing job. Literally there are seasons or even years that a child literally is by your side 24/7.
That is draining on even the most motivated, loving, and strong momma! For me, realizing that my ability to love well has real limits was a game changer!
My pride wanted to feed me the lie that I could do it all for my kids every day, all day, and I would be fine! Turns out God is the only one capable of dispensing 24/7 love well. I am most definitely not able to do what only He can.
Enlist the support of your spouse, family, hire a part-time babysitter, enroll your kids in preschool, get a part-time job, schedule playdates with people who you like, take up a hobby- whatever you do just take time to invest in you!
And do it more than you think you need to or feel is reasonable for you (we always love to overestimate our abilities and underestimate our needs as moms).
Have you ever met a working mom that took a day off work but still sent their kids to daycare just so they could catch up on tasks or maybe just do something they love? It seems working moms tend to do better at seeing their own need for an identity, independence, passions, and time away from their children.
We can learn from them and see that there is value in balance! If we want to do our jobs well, we have to be systematic, unapologetic, and protective of time that we use solely for the purpose to replenish our tired hearts, minds, and bodies.
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3. Create a Routine for Your Days
One of the challenges around being a SAHM is that there are no rules (apart from keeping the little people alive and generally happy).
In some ways, this can be exciting! Any Tuesday can become an adventure to the zoo with ice cream and so many smiles--but other times this lack of structure can be overwhelming and hard to manage.
Create a routine that helps keep your days structured. A great tip is to start your day with a shower! As simple as that may seem, if you are in a funk, preparing and dressing for a purpose-filled day can be powerful.
When my kids were young, we divided the day into breakfast, outings, lunch, rest, play, and prep for dinner. In addition to creating a general rhythm, I also decided which days certain tasks were assigned to.
As your kids get older, this rhythm may change some but your days still require a predictable pattern. It can be very hard to feel a sense of accomplishment when at home because the tasks are never-ending and no one is there to take account for all the work you are doing!
Don’t get lost in “task mode” make a checklist of when you want to generally accomplish certain things. For example, assign a chore to each day of the week or during certain nap times, set aside time for exercise or another important task you want to complete.
Make sure you schedule things into your week for you to look forward to! It could be setting up childcare so you can attend a special class at the gym, attending a moms support group, or signing up for something like Community Bible Study.
You are there to take care of your kids but also prioritizing things that bring you joy is important too! During one dark period for me, I remember dreading Mondays because I knew it was going to be days until I could look forward to an adult conversation (my husband worked late several evenings a week) or until I had something to look forward to doing.
I had to change up our routine so my Monday through Friday also had things for me to look forward to as well.
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4. Evaluate Your Mental, Physical, and Spiritual Health
First of all, anytime you experience troubling emotional symptoms it is important to check in with your doctor to rule out other causes and get their professional advice on ways to treat how you are feeling.
Therapy and medication can be amazing game-changers when struggling with mental health issues. These are tools you should explore with the guidance of your physician.
Taking a mental survey of your overall health and wellness can be effective in improving your mental health!
Are you sleeping? This is HUGE in staying sane. I battled severe anxiety and depression after my second son that almost entirely went away once he began sleeping for longer than 2-hour increments.
What are you eating? Moms are pressed on time and even getting 3 square meals a day can be a REAL challenge. Make feeding yourself nutritious meals a priority.
I had to cut out coffee, gluten, cut back on sugar, and add in a lot of veggies to get to a place where my body felt good. It can take some trial and error but investing in your health is investing in your family’s health!
Are you moving your body? Exercise is hugely beneficial in combating anxiety and depression. All those big feelings need a place to go and exercise is a great way to literally help work the negative feelings out of your body.
What is the status of your spiritual health? Having a healthy diet of scripture, prayer, and praise is powerful in helping raise your spirit! Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.”
Meditating on God’s good Word can lift the weight of depression from your mind.
Thinking through all of this can be overwhelming, so just start small and commit to taking the one “next right step” towards health and wellness. You deserve it and the work you are doing is so very meaningful!
Galatians 6:9 encourages us to not grow weary in doing good. In order to stay joy-filled through the work of stay-at-home-motherhood, we have to invest in our own minds, hearts, bodies, and dreams as well as rely on God to fill in when we fail.
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