We let them eat the last chicken nugget on our plate. We wear last year's shoes because they need new ones. We spend hours brushing down cowlicks and braiding little pigtails, and then 2.5 seconds on our own top bun. There are so many, many ways we put our children first, but stay at home parents also need to prioritize their own mental health.
Stay-at-home-mom depression is a real thing. While devoting one's self to parenting can be a dream come true for many people it is also very hard. Harder than a lot of people who haven't done it can understand. And it can also be isolating. The pandemic made that isolation worse for many stay-at-home moms, who now can't even go to mom and tot time at the library.
This is really hard, and it's totally normal if you feel down right now, mama.
Even before the pandemic, polls found stay-at-home moms reported more depression, anger and stress than and smile less than moms who worked outside the home. There's a lot of complicated reasons for this, but one of the biggest is because being a stay-at-home parent is exhausting.
A few years ago a Gallup analysis of more than 60,000 women in the U.S. revealed that more than a quarter of SAHMs report feeling depressed, and the researchers hypothesized that "societal recognition of the difficult job stay-at-home mothers have raising children would perhaps help support them emotionally." It gets worse for lower-income moms, because the stress of being a SAHM on a limited income can be extreme.
In the years since that Gallup analysis, America's mothers have continued to say that society is not supporting them. Motherly's first annual State of Motherhood survey in 2018 found 74% of respondents felt society was not supporting moms. In 2018 that was up to 85% and this year it's again increased: Now, 89% of mothers do not feel society is supporting them and 97% report feeling burned out by motherhood at least some of the time.
It's time for society to support mothers. SAHMs need recognition of their unpaid labor, emotional and physical support and access to childcare should they choose to renter the workforce. Some childcare experts say we should even consider paying stay-at-home parents, because the financial stresses of being a one-income family for the third of kids that have a stay-at-home parent are also hurting child development.
We can't give them all of that today, but everyone can give SAHMs the respect they deserve, right now.
SAHMs have so much on their plates and it's easy to put one's own mental health on the back burner from the very beginning. Prenatal depression is the most under-diagnosed pregnancy complication in the U.S. As many as 1 in 5 new moms in America suffers from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (including depression), but a survey by Maven, reveals that more than half of new moms don't get mental health support during or after pregnancy.
New mothers (and fathers—dads can have postpartum depression, too) often struggle alone, sometimes for years, prioritizing everything else before their own mental health. Maven's survey suggests some moms feel they can't take time away from their parenting duties, while others feel the cost of therapy would be a burden to their family.
Other things take priority: Our children, our to-do lists, our day-to-day struggles. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Research indicates that there is a relationship between children's behavioral disorders and parents' mental health, and it makes sense. Parental depression can take many forms that impact our kids. When we don't put ourselves first and get help, we can have a hard time sticking to routines, we can become too tired to do the things we once loved, and, as a study on parental depression proves, we can overreact to little things.
Parents, we need to take care of ourselves. We need to put ourselves first. We need to get help when we need it even if we've got pigtails to braid and groceries to get and ballet lessons to drive to.
You are worth it, mama. You are so worth it.
If you need help today, click here.
A version of this story was originally published August 2020. It has been updated.