What Life Is Like as a Stay at Home Mom
If there was a job listing for a SAHM, it’d go something like this: Seeking a self-starter who can motivate a charming but sometimes unhinged team, cook nutritious meals and snacks that might not get eaten, manage never-ending household operations, provide constant entertainment, chauffeur everyone everywhere, wipe tushies and catch vomit with their bare hands. Ability to maintain an upbeat attitude under pressure required. (Bonus points for reading with silly voices.)
Yes, there’s no rest for the weary, and a stay-at-home mom’s work is never done. It can be amazing, but it can be incredibly challenging too—and it’s definitely not the right role for everyone. Suffice it to say, if you’re thinking about becoming a SAHM, there’s a lot to consider, from finances to personal fulfillment to daily responsibilities.
Ready to get the scoop on what life is really like as a SAHM? Read on for the lowdown from real moms, and get tips from mental health experts on how to survive and thrive in this roller-coaster role.
The acronym SAHM stands for “stay-at-home mom.” It describes someone who doesn’t work a traditional job, but stays home to care for their children and manage other household duties. And while it’s an unpaid position, it’s far from easy. Being a SAHM comes with major responsibilities—not least of which is keeping little ones happy and healthy!—and there are loads of monotonous tasks that go with the territory (laundry and dishes, anyone?). It’s a round-the-clock role, and it’s not for the faint of heart.
It’s also important to note that while SAHM is a popular term frequently used online and in parenting forums, there are stay-at-home dads too. In fact you might see the acronym SAHP pop up from time to time (it’s short for “stay-at-home parent”). Of course, historically, more moms fall into this role: According to data from PEW Research Center in 2016, only 7 percent of dads stayed home to take care of the kids, compared to 27 percent of moms.
That said, COVID-19 (and the subsequent work-from-home movement) may have shifted the dynamic a bit. It’s also altered the conversation, shedding light on just how hard it is to find balance and fulfillment as a stay-at-home mom.
There’s a misconception about what being a SAHM means. Many people picture a woman who, in between trips to Starbucks and Target, lounges on her couch. This is far from the case. Being a SAHM is actual work; the hours are long and the bosses (aka the children) can be ruthless.
Of course, the role of a stay-at-home mom might differ from family to family, based on number and ages of kids, household size and support system available. “I often feel like I’m always on the clock, taking on the next task and request, or chauffeuring kids around. It is definitely a full-time job and way harder than any work I’ve ever done, but I do love it,” says Amanda Lovett, a stay-at-home mom of two.
Traditionally, a SAHM is in charge of the following:
- Childcare. SAHMs are their children’s primary caregivers, ensuring they’re fed, bathed, entertained and otherwise cared for. This also includes taking them to sporting practices, school events, doctor appointments and everywhere in between.
- Financial responsibilities. Although SAHMs aren’t paid, they’re often the ones who manage money, budgets, bills and accounts. In other words, they keep the lights on and the water running.
- Home management. SAHMs are often in charge of appointments, grocery shopping, home repairs and more, ensuring everything around the house is handled.
- Cooking and cleaning. Because they’re home most of the day, SAHMs often clean the house and cook the meals. This includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and all the snacks.
Suffice it to say, there’s never a light day, and you can’t phone it in. In fact, a 2019 survey from Salary.com determined that if SAHMs were paid, the median salary for the role would be $178,201, based on the daily workload.
What Are the Challenges of Being a SAHM?
The role might sound easy to naive ears, but it’s far from a relaxing gig, and you’re rarely off duty. SAHMs face challenges and struggles big and small. Below, a few of the more common grievances of SAHMs:
Putting a career on hold. Some moms are happy to pause their career momentum to raise a family. Others are forced to do so for the sake of logistics and finances. This can lead to feelings of resentment or low self-esteem. At the very least, it can create a resume gap that can be hard to explain later on, if and when you return to the traditional workforce. Moreover, some moms may feel guilty for wanting to do something other than full-time parenting, says Darlene Taylor, MSW, CPC, a parenting coach and former gender studies professor at the University of Cincinnati.
Financial challenges. Many families struggle to live off of a single income. Getting used to the drastic difference between two income streams and one can be a major adjustment (and a source of tension), says Kelsey Rehome-Peymann, MA, LPCC, a licensed mental health therapist. Of course, for some, there’s a trade-off: Staying home now means you don’t have to pay for childcare for the next few years.
Feeling isolated. Many SAHMs feel alone. It’s a long day to be cooped up in the house with babies and toddlers, and the lack of social interaction can take a toll. “While parenthood is wonderful, we also need connection and stimulation that only comes from quality time spent with other adults,” says Taylor.
Lack of fulfillment. SAHMs often don’t get enough credit from their partner—or others, for that matter. “The transition from working-woman to SAHM can cause a loss of identity… and it can be incredibly difficult to mentally and emotionally navigate,” Taylor adds. Many begin to question their self-worth, and these feelings can lead to depression and anxiety.
Feeling the burden. It’s easy to feel like everything depends on you when you’re the one in charge of everything kid-related. And this can get overwhelming and heavy very quickly. What’s more, SAHMs may feel like they can never get a break if their partner works outside the home and isn’t physically around as often. “Many SAHMs feel as if they need to be ‘on duty’ all the time, leaving no time to recharge their batteries. This day-to-day process makes it very easy to feel as if they are drowning in their role,” says Taylor.
Stereotypes. Although it’s improving, there’s still a stigma that being a SAHM means you lack drive and ambition, says Rehome-Peymann. “There’s the implication that it’s a luxury,” she says, when, in fact, it may be a necessity.
The tedium. Let’s be honest, the tasks associated with being a SAHM aren’t always riveting. Cooking, cleaning, changing diapers and playing peek-a-boo can get monotonous, especially when there’s no definitive clock-out hour.
What Are the Benefits of Being a SAHM?
Every job has its downside. And while being a SAHM certainly has some hearty challenges, many moms thrive in the role—and there’s no doubt that it comes with some innate rewards and benefits.
SAHMs can be more present (literally and figuratively) for the big and small moments of their little ones’ lives. You get to watch them learn and grow, and bear witness to those all-exciting milestones. What’s more, there’s no balancing act of figuring out who’s going to watch the kids when you get the dreaded sick call from school. You’ll be there to help nurse them back to health, guide them through homework struggles and listen to the latest preschool drama.
“I feel like I don’t miss out on a single thing and get to watch my kids grow in real-time. Although it’s by far the toughest job I’ve ever had, it’s also the most rewarding, and I know I’ll never get this time back,” says Lovett.
Is Being a SAHM Right for You?
Being a stay-at-home mom is a really difficult job, and it isn’t the right fit for everyone. Whether you’re considering leaving your full-time role to spend more time with your littles or contemplating making the switch once baby arrives on the scene, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons and discuss the options with your partner. “Try not to let the opinions of others steer your decision-making process,” says Rehome-Peymann.
- Your partner’s work schedule. Will they be home at the end of the work day, or do they work nights and weekends? When can you depend on them for help with the children and household duties?
- Expectations. Rehome-Peymann recommends asking your partner to share their vision of your role as a SAHM. Discuss the timeline. Will you be a SAHM for now, or is this a permanent role? What would happen if you decide it’s not the right fit for you?
- Finances. Being a one-income family can drastically change your family’s finances. “Decide with your partner if this is something you, as a family, can afford to do—or if there’s a standard of living sacrifice that needs to be made,” advises Taylor.
- What support will you have? Being a SAHM can become isolating quickly. Taylor urges prospective SAHMs to consider who they can depend on when life gets hard. Do you have family or friends nearby? There may be times when you’re unable to care for your kids. Who can you depend on when you’re sick or in an emergency situation?
If you’re considering the SAHM life, we’ve got some tips to make the transition a bit easier:
- Find your people. Look for parenting groups in your area. Many of these groups offer regular play dates and parent meet-ups. Find out if your library offers free classes. Put yourself out there; community, friendship and interaction are all important. Taylor says that making new friends in this new season of life can help you build strong and lasting friendships. “You don’t need to do this alone. Ask for help. Get a babysitter. Have your family and friends take turns watching your kids, even if only for a few hours.” says Lovett.
- Prioritize me-time. Your job as a SAHM can feel endless, but you can and should take breaks. Taylor suggests spending time away from the house, so you’re not tempted to slip back into mom mode. Remember, this is your time! “Make you a priority. You can’t take good care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first. This is a hard one, but I’ve found it to be one of the most important,” says Lovett.
- Find a hobby that fulfills you. “It’s important to remember who you are outside of being a [SAHM],” reminds Taylor. “Make space in your life to do the things that fill your bucket and connect you with your inner joy. Pouring into yourself will ensure that you have the emotional energy to pour into your family.”
- Communicate with your partner. It’s impossible to have everything figured out right away. Plan regular check-ins with your partner to discuss what’s going on, good and bad. A daily or weekly debriefing can help you sync up to make sure you’re not carrying the full load of child rearing responsibilities.
- Create a schedule. Most children thrive with routines. Creating a daily or weekly plan will make the days go smoother, and it helps you feel more productive. Schedule trips to the library, park, the zoo or other local kid-friendly spaces. Have a set time for certain activities at home, like learning, pretend play, reading and games. “Every day is going to be different, so be prepared for things not to go as planned, make lists to help you with your day-to-day things, and get your partner involved to help you with the transition so that you can ease into it,” says Amela Nela, a SAHM of one.
- Slowly transition. Abruptly leaving a structured work environment to be a SAHM can be jarring and stressful. Rehome-Peymann recommends picking a specific date and scheduling a slow transition so you can adapt and prepare before taking on this full-time role at home.
Remember, being a SAHM doesn’t have to be a lifelong commitment. It’s wonderful if you love the role, but it’s okay if you don’t. Continue to communicate with your partner, and check in on your mental state regularly. You may not feel the appreciation every day, but your job is incredibly important. You keep things running at home—and you’re doing stellar work.
Kelsey Rehome-Peymann, MA, LPCC, is a licensed mental health therapist in Minnesota and the owner of the Counseling Collective.
Darlene Taylor, MSW, CPC, is a parenting coach and former gender studies professor at the University of Cincinnati.
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