Are Stay-at-Home Moms Really That Unhappy? We Asked One.

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Trading Diapers for Digital Ads: Are Stay-at-Home Moms Really That Unhappy?Eight years. I’ve spent the last eight years of my life as a stay-at-home mom.

The thing is, I didn’t quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom. I was pretty happy as a working mom. My two young children spent their days with a lovely nanny, and my husband was doing more than his share of helping out with the kids and the house.

I really just wanted to see what it was like to stay home with the kids–take a few weeks off to rethink my marketing career and re-energize myself as a working mom.

My, how time flies.

Now, a new survey has found that non-employed women with young children at home are more likely than their working counterparts to report experiencing sadness and anger.

This, of course, has me thinking back on my own situation, and realizing … I totally fit that bill.

What My Stay-at-Home Life Looks Like

As a stay-at-home mom with the heart and soul of a working mom, I made it a priority to weave “professional” me time into my busy days filled with housekeeping and child care duties. I found time for freelance writing, and tried to nurture my love of fiction writing. But no matter how much I tried to squeeze out more time for me, I always seemed to come up short–and found anger and resentment tugging away at my happiness.

The worst part was I couldn’t figure out why I was so angry and bitter. I found myself short-tempered with my kids constantly, overreacting when my two-year-old age appropriately spilled juice all over his brand-new shirt, or when my nine-year-old daughter would forget to brush her teeth. I was frustrated with all the housework that seemed endless, no matter how hard I worked, organized and planned. Sure, my husband contributed to the housekeeping, but it was never enough. Like many couples, we found ourselves playing the “who does more” game, and had to carefully manage the resulting friction.

I didn’t have to be a stay-at-home mom. I could have gone back to work. But as I got more involved with the stay-at-home mommy culture (meeting friends at Starbucks for coffee after drop off, helping out during bake sales and other fundraisers, volunteering my time to help out in the classrooms, etc.), I was plagued with the guilt that staying home with my kids was the “right” thing to do. I told myself how lucky I was that our family was fortunate enough to live comfortably on a single income. I should seize the opportunity and enjoy it.

Plus, how could I go back to work in marketing or sales after having been out of the workforce for so many years? I felt stuck–like I was falling deeper into a hole I’d never be able to escape.

How I Hid It … Well

But that was me on the inside. I suspect there are loads of stay-at-home moms who appear perfectly happy on the outside, but secretly wage internal battles with anxiety and depression.

On three different instances I was offered a Xanax by a mom to go along with our glasses of wine while accompanying my child on a playdate. I wouldn’t say stay-at-home moms are handing out Xanax like candy–but it’s definitely carried around in more than a few handbags.

Fortunately, I never allowed my spirits to fall too far, and I was able to ward off full-blown anxiety and depression when it beckoned. I made sure I went to the gym a few times a week, and hired a babysitter for a little “me” time here and there. I refused to feel sorry for myself for too long, despite the fact that my plan of staying home with the kids for only a few weeks had turned into a few years. After all, I was choosing this.

Of course, there were many days I wondered why I was spending so much time folding laundry and organizing cabinets of sippy cups. After all, I had an MBA from NYU and had most recently held a senior management position at one of the most well-known publishing companies in the world. I just couldn’t believe how much I’d changed as a person–from the go-getter career woman that I once was to the tired, bored housekeeper that I felt like I’d become.

The frustration nagged at me, but mostly, I ignored it, distracting myself with volunteer work and other commitments that allowed me to interact with adults and made me feel like I was using my brain.

Deciding to Make a Change

Yes, I love my kids more than I ever imagined possible. I am grateful for each and every 9 a.m. school concert that I was able to attend, every 4 p.m. Brownies meeting I was able to lead and every weekday class trip I was able to chaperone.

There is no happiness substitute in the entire world for making my two-year-old son laugh hysterically as I chase him around the playground, or playing catch with my son in the backyard afterschool. I savor these moments every day and know, without doubt, that these are the childhood highlights that I will look back upon fondly 20 years from now.

But all moms know there are times in life when something’s gotta give. When you have to listen to your inner voice that tells you to make a change. To just go for it.

I felt stuck–like I was falling deeper into a hole I’d never be able to escape.

Baby Steps

Of course, change is never easy, and deciding to dust off a résumé and actually send it out with a cover letter was a daunting task, to say the least.

Last summer, I wasn’t ready to just jump in full-time right off the bat, so I searched for a “baby step”–something part-time or freelance to get me going in the right direction. After a few weeks of scanning the web for job postings, I found a maternity fill-in position that fit my job experience and skills perfectly–Sales Director at a digital media company.

I applied for the job, got the interview and managed to deal with the stress of how I’d explain the gap on my résumé. I took the questions (and resistance) in stride, not ashamed to admit that I’d been a stay-at-home mom, but at the same time making a point of explaining how I’d kept abreast of the digital media industry and was very enthusiastic to start working again. I knew the most important thing was finding the right employer fit–someone who was able to look at my past accomplishments and realize that I’m extremely capable if given the opportunity.

I was offered the job a few days later.

When that position ended in December, I was a new person. Boosted by the confidence gained in my temporary job, and the surprising ease with which I’d been able to transition back to life as a working mom, I began to look for a full-time, permanent opportunity. My husband, who works in finance and is feeling the squeeze of the bad economy, was thrilled at the idea of adding another income stream.

From Full-Time Mom to Full-Time Job

Now, after eight years of devoting just about all of my waking hours to raising three kids (and after five months and 20-something interviews), I’m trading in my days filled with diaper duty, clothing struggles and mealtime disaster cleanup for a working mom’s life of meetings, commuting and occasional missed bedtimes.

Yes, as of this past Monday, June 4, I’m working for a digital media company as a sales director.

Will I be happier with my new life as a working mom? According to the Gallup Poll, the odds are in my favor. In addition to the sadness, anger and depression that stay-at-home moms allegedly feel, the poll also found that employed moms are about as happy as working women without children.

No study such as this would ever convince me that work is the answer to every woman’s happiness. It is a personal choice, and one that I’m approaching with my eyes wide open.

Am I excited to start my new job? Heck yeah. Nervous? Heck yeah. Is going back to work full-time really the answer to my ultimate fulfillment and happiness as a mom? Time will tell. I would have preferred to find a part-time job that offered me more work-life balance and the same upside potential and benefits that a full-time position does, but those gigs are about as hard to find as Barbie’s earring in a bucket of Legos.

In today’s economy, I’m just thrilled to be able to actually land a good job. And, hey, what do I have to lose? If this job doesn’t work out, I know my current employer will be happy to take me back.

  • Azecher

    Good luck going back to work, it seems like you really didn’t like being home with the kids.

    • Mom_morning_and_night

       I feel like you are being unnecessarily snarky. This woman got an MBA from NYU. While being a mom, stay at home or not, is very emotionally challenging, young children are not intellectually stimulating. I completely understand that. And I don’t think she’s prescribing her course for every mother, but giving a voice to those women who liked working and feel marginalized and guilted by snarky people that out-datedly feel that a woman’s place is in the home. She’s presenting an option supported by a study that that women who feel this way are not alone and are not terrible mothers. And I feel that your comment is the type of thing that perpetuates those feelings in women. Women need to support other women in making choices for themselves.

      • Unsympathetic_Realist

        It is definitely important to accept what will make a person happy.  In the author’s case, it’s going back to work.  Great, fantastic.  But I think there’s something to Azecher’s post – you have to accept, too, that maybe having kids isn’t for everyone.  As for those who find children to be lacking in the intellectual stimulation they offer, I would like to suggest that perhaps those parents are instead a bit intellectually lazy :-p  Life is what you make it.

      • Sjdemo

        hmm, i guess the snarky font doesn’t work on my browser. i agree with azecher, and i don’t see why you jumped all over that comment. the author was pretty honest with her feelings about being home. echoing that shouldn’t be read as rude.
        i too wish her luck in her new job, and as it is part time hopefully this will bring her the happy work-home balance so many of us desparately crave.

      • ZsMama

         I beg to differ, I find my 3 1/2 year old quite intellectually stimulating. He amazes me every day on what he learns/comes up with. He seems far beyond his years and this has made me quite interested in learning all I can about childhood development. So much to learn and understand. They discover new things every day and it offers opportunity to expand your own horizons.

  • Sjdemo

    as a working mom (working away from home at that), it’s hard for me to imagine being at home and wanting to go back to work. then again, i don’t love my job the way you seem to love yours. the only time i was even close to stay-at-home was on maternity leave. for me, possibly for many others, it’s about needing a purpose outside the home, and not just the need for adult conversation, but conversation about a topic that has NOTHING to do with my kids.
    mine are younger than yours and i’m about to try that stay-at-home gig, hopefully for more than a couple months this time. i’m also going to make sure the toddler has at least a couple days in preschool though so i can have time to find what else i was meant to be. 
    i may end back to work part time as well.

  • kris

    I hear a note of defensiveness in the comments here from the stay-at-home moms as well as working moms.  I appreciate that Marissa wrote this article so that others could see her perspective on being at home all day after years as a working woman.  

    Some women must stay home, while others must work.  Some women enjoy being at home and have the opportunity to do so, and other women enjoy working and have the opportunity to do so.  There are moments of great frustration, great joy, and great satisfaction in life’s experiences, no matter what path you take.  I don’t understand why some women feel they must shame other women for their choices and their experiences.  

  • Jetson10

    Thank you for writing such a wonderful, insightful essay on your journey. Every woman’s decision is different but your honesty about your experience makes you a wonderful role model. I think that the reality of raising kids – that it is sometimes the most transcendent, happy experience ever and then it is sometimes the hardest, Sisyphean task ever – is often downplayed. Being a mom is challenging – whether working from home and trying to balance your own fulfillment and those of your children, or working outside home and trying to do the same. Best wishes on your next step!

  • Yesimbeautyfull

    Thank you so much for this article. I have been home with my kids for Ruhr years as well. Like yourself, I am career driven and no longer choose to be home. I have noticed a difference in me for some time now. I googled the title of this article because I knew I wasn’t alone. I received so much therapy while reading what was shared. Hey…to each it’s own! I love my family very much and have enjoyed being home. Now it is time for me to began a new chapter in my life called ” personal growth.”

    • Yesimbeautyfull

      Excuse the auto correct when you least expect it to but in!! I have been home for eight years…

  • JanDan

    I agree with every word that Marisa says and it is liberating to hear someone else say it. I’m at 7 years as a SAHM and just starting to dust off my resume and start looking for something else.

    It is so refreshing to hear someone else say this – its almost like a taboo to admit that looking after children 24/7 doesn’t fulfil you.  

    As a graduate who had a good career before children, I just have never found SAHM completely fulfilling – I didn’t get a degree just to end up loading the dishwasher and washing machine endlessly.  The children bit is lovely, its the rest of it that bores me to tears!

    I sacrificed my needs for the sake of my children – I wanted to be the one bringing them up – but now its my turn.

    • Elizabeth

      please. the whole world is saying it… the entire feminist movement screams it…so it’s not like she’s saying something new. Face it. Moms don’t want to be home with their children. Frankly, it makes me wonder WHY do they HAVE children in the first place?

  • Bestmommyever0111

    I’ve been a stay at home mom for a little over a year now and looking to start working again. Thank you so much from sharing your story. You have really motivated me to get back out there. I’m relieved to know I’m not alone in my struggle.:)

  • Pipper

    I would be shocked if someone who had a degree from a top school and enjoyed their career-oriented life, actually liked and felt fulfilled staying home with their kids. It’s like a completely different world and I’m still waiting to meet someone who thrives in BOTH situations. I just picture them sitting around feeling bored and resenting everything because there’s no glory or pay or even appreciation or respect most times….and I would think that that would be precisely why they chose to go to college and climbed the corporate ladder in the first place…to get those things.

    I always knew that I would only have kids if I was able to stay at home with them. There’s no dream job that I could possibly have that could make up for not seeing my 2 toddlers all day. There’s literally nothing I’d rather do. But that’s just me. I enthusiastically applaud ANY woman who knows what she wants, knows what will make her happy/be the best mom she can be, and goes for it. Let’s get on the third wave of feminism and be happy for everyone’s individual choice.

  • Steph

    I am going through this now and actually just realized that this has been a big part of not unhappiness or anger but just a lack of fulfillment. I feel guilty about it as can be explained by many of the comments left because as much as women get angry for the kind of box men try to put us in, we perpetuate those same boxes among ourselves. As a result, I thought it was bad and selfish of me to feel not so overwhelmed with joy that I was a stay at home mom. But I also thought it was strange that my desire to fulfill the dreams I had before I ever became a mom were seen as me somehow not loving my children or not loving being a mother. There is and I guess has always been this choice between being a mom and still being yourself when I don’t think having children means you give up your identity to them. Anyway, I love my children God knows if I didn’t I would have left them on someone’s doorstep a long time ago (joke…you know the statements that you’re supposed to laugh at the end of.) but the fact of the matter is that being a mother does not completely fulfill me. It does in some ways but not at all in others and the part of me that is left unfilled, is constantly being suffocated or ignored in favor of being a stay at home mom. For myself, I am just coming to terms with this like I said in the beginning and have yet to figure out how to resolve my very new realization and dilemma, but as of now the idea that I will never be able to accomplish my dreams in life is downright depressing. I hope very soon I find the kind of balance and answer that I need to be able to do a very controversial or magical thing called “both”.

    • justdontunderstand

      As a man I don’t really understand as my wife is going through this. In fact, I would like to have more children but my wife will not. She would like to go back to school and change careers, spending $$$$$ on a second career. All I can think about is short term pain long term pain. Yes the kids are difficult at 5 and 2 but later, but when their older and in school fulltime it would be easier. I would love to have that free time and be my own boss, not answering to anyone. I can’t understand why my wife wants out of being a SAHM. I don’t personally think anyone really loves what they do but positive thinking and making the best of things are necessary. Dwelling on how #$$%^ things are is not the way to live life. When your 80 years old you will think back to the time spent with your kids and remember that and not the day in, day out repetitive crap of a full time job!!!!

      • Steph

        I don’t know your wife but the first thing you have to do is try to understand how she feels. Maybe try staying in the house with kids for a week straight the way she does and maybe you will have a better sense of how she feels. It’s quite hard to simply explain it to someone on the outside of it. But as for me, I have always been a highly ambitious person with lots of goals and dreams. As a man, maybe you can understand that part. However, my ambition did not cease just because I had kids although it was surely put on the side lines and treated by my husband as if that side of myself didn’t exist. And even though I tried to smoother it for the sake of my family, it never went away and began to make me feel bitter even though I didn’t initially realize where my bitterness was coming from. I felt like I was expected to make the very essence of who I am disappear in order to be a glorified maid and slave for probably the next 20 years with very little appreciation. And wen you think about it who would make such a trade? However, I would say most women feel like this due to a lack of understanding, help, and acknowledgement from their husbands because at the end of the day even before the kids wives (we) are making such huge sacrifices for you (our husbands) and when those same husbands don’t give us even half of the stuff we need and denies our own individuality its hurtful. Have you ever seen war of the roses, that women suddenly became bitter because she realized her whole life had spent doing nothing but being a maid, servant, and caretaker to her husband and his needs. She had smothered herself which might seem noble on the outside but inside its quite dangerous. However, if men helped us when we needed it. Acknowledged and showed appreciation for the fact that we could do other things with the one life we have beside being bound to a house and kids but instead have chosen to dedicate it to our family, and then understood how hard it is, identity wise, to have no outlet for who were are or were before we had kids, it would make a world of difference and did make a world of difference for me when my husband started doing this. Not to mention giving us attention, affection, and romance to let us know that the love that drew us into such a commitment in the first place was not in vain and is still there. But besides our relationship to our husbands we genuinely need time and space to still be the person we were before we started a family. Always smothering or putting yourself, your needs, to the side for others and then not having space to be yourself and do some of the things that you enjoy and make you feel fulfilled in life feels like the equivalent of the real you being suffocated with a pillow and the part that’s left is nothing more than a machine. Even you telling her how she should feel about her situation instead of giving her permission and space to have her own feelings and be her own person and then you guys start working things out together from there to see what can be done to make sure you both have at least some of the things you want can be unintentionally contributing to her sense of suffocation and or losing her own identity. Since I have recognized my own issues about being a stay at home mom, I am sure to make time for myself. I am a writer so I try to write something whenever I get time. Or join book clubs to have the same deep intellectual discussion I use to have before I had kids. I take a break from the kids when I know I needed it instead of constantly pushing myself to the boundary like a lot of mothers feel they have to do to be good moms. Also, with my husband finally understanding and sympathizing with me he also looks for ways to help me have time to myself and pursue some of the things I love. Now, it doesn’t feel like my life is just for him and the kids but also that its for me to and we are working together to make both of our dreams happen not just his. Last but not least having a relationship with God has given me great peace about it even though I am still at home. God has let me know that I will get to do what I desire to do and that he will reward me for all the sacrifices I have been making to be a good mother and wife. With all these things combined a situation that seemed to be pushing me over the edge finally feels tolerable and even normal and I have accepted it for what it is good and bad. I know this was long reply but I hope it helps. :-) My husband also wants more children and now that I have a little more space to breathe and peace, the idea does not seem so scary to me anymore.

        • Nina

          Thank you for this article. It explains exactly how I’ve been feeling the last year. And to all the back and forth comments, it just shows that its a personal choice AND a choice that can change over time. I was one of those in the camp that truly believed that being a SAHM was the best thing for the family and myself and that everybody else should be on board too. And for that time, it was for us, but things have changed inside me and I”m not that same person. Now with different circumstances and one extra child added to my family, I find myself changing and feeling that working is actually going to be the better choice for me. I’m beginning to understand why some moms say it makes them better for their families. I don’t regret or put down my feelings from the past, rather I see that I have different needs now. I also think its only normal to evolve and that this feeling as the author notes, is somethings trying to tell me I need to get refreshed in a different way. So I take this moment to embrace a new chapter in my life.

  • Leanne

    I feel very much the way the author does on some points, but not on others, of course.
    We all have different needs and desires. For myself I just find it hard when others say how fortunate I am that we can afford for me to stay home.
    The reality is that I cannot afford to work and pay full time daycare for two children. I do not have a Masters’ Degree in anything so my earning potential is more limited.
    I am not a mom who can buy new clothes for myself or the children. I cannot afford the gym, babysitters, yoga classes, and often not even gas for the car.
    I do feel very lonely, angry, frustrated with being at home with very young very needy children. I am just tired.
    When my children are both in school, I plan to return to work. I need something outside of the home for me.
    I think we should all strive to not make judgements about other people when we really don’t know what goes on in their lives.

    I have an adult daughter and had a surprise pregnancy later in life. Then we decided to have another so that I would not be raising an “only” child again. This was not part of my plan. My friends my age are sending their kids off to college or having grandchildren, not starting a new family. I feel this contributes a great deal to my feelings of aloneness. No family in the area either. I feel depressed every day.

    So, we all need to just focus on our own families and acknowledge that whether working, or being at home, both are challenging for moms, and dads too.
    Hope you all find happiness and balance in your lives.
    Take care.

    • Nicole

      Here’s something that might tick a few of you off: Go head with your replies…I’m waiting! I’ve been a SAHM for many years now. In no way shape or form do I find it fulfilling. I am depressed, tired all of the time, I have ZERO help. No family lives by us and I have NO friends! My younger boy has autism and does not speak so trying to figure out what he wants everyday is a challenge! I cannot go back to work or find a job because I can’t afford childcare and I need to be home so my child’s teachers and therapists can come over everyday. Me and my husband have a crappy relationship, I haven’t dyed my grey roots in months and I have had just about enough of this staying home nonsense! SAHM’s get NO respect from anyone, They work their butts off and that’s about it. Do I love my kids? YES! But I will never ever enjoy being in this house and looking at 4 walls everyday. I pretty much went to hell after having kids and sometimes I wish they had a better mom. On top of that, no one I talk to seems to understand because they leave their kids with babysitters all day while they’re off making a paycheck. And what cracks me up is they come home, spend maybe an hour or two with their kids and complain that it’s so hard! I quit!!! There just is no happy medium.

    • Laura

      This is my situation. My youngest will be in kindergarten next year and I am looking forward to that so I can work. I have no degree so I’m not sure what I’ll do, I just know I need to work. I said yes to being a wife and mother. I said yes to moving to another state to help my husbands career. Moving away from family and friends. I am miserable but I am trying to figure out how to accept my situation and move on. It’s not easy. I loved finding these posts. Realizing that SAHM and Working moms both have their issues. It’s refreshing and an eye opener. Nicole and Leanne hit some great points for me. I would not trade being home with my kids these last 7 years for anything. But now, I need to balance work and home. Finding a job that I can do only while the kids are in school will be a definite challenge. Paying for after school care is not an option.

  • MATA

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