Stay-at-home moms might struggle more than working moms, according to a Gallup analysis of more than 60,000 U.S. women between the ages of 18 and 64 (before retirement age) interviewed in 2012.
The study found that 28 percent of stay-at-home moms reported depression a lot of the day when asked how they were feeling the day before, but only 17 percent of employed moms did. Of the group, 26 percent of SAHMs said they experienced depression, vs. just 16 percent of working moms. And 41 percent of the at-homers reported worry, compared to only 34 percent of their counterparts.
What women say
“Stay-at-home moms” are defined as women who are not currently employed and have a child younger than 18 living at home with them. “Employed moms” are defined as having a part- or full-time job and having a child younger than 18.
The study also examined employed women (without any kids under 18 at home) in comparison with the SAHMs and working moms. In this “no-kids-at-home” group, 17 percent reported feeling depression, 16 percent sadness and only 31 percent worry. Those stats are much closer to – some the same as – the ones reported by the employed moms.
Why are SAHMs sad?
But why do stay-at-home moms experience more negative emotions?
Many adults aren’t prepared for the immense amount of change in their lives that a child can bring. Reproductive health psychologist Sara Rosenquist says that when someone has a baby in our culture, or even adopts one, they can lose status, income, friends and the life they knew and were used to.
“They also gain the wonderful thing they had sought after oftentimes,” says Rosenquist, “but the loss is every bit as real.”
One reason stay-at-home moms might feel more down than working moms is a lack of appreciation – or a missing sense of accomplishment. At the end of the day, working moms can list a set of tasks they conquered, explains licensed counselor Erika Myers. But it can be difficult for a SAHM to pinpoint what she did during the day, even if she’s been busy the entire time.
“Moms do a lot of work but don’t get paid for it,” therapist and psychology professor Diane Lang said. “They work 365 days a year with no sick time, vacation time or time paid off.”
The isolation factor
Another aspect of being a stay-at-home mom that might contribute to anger and depression is isolation.
Working moms get to be “real” people with interests, skills and relationships outside of the home, Myers says. A stay-at-home mom must work hard to maintain relationships that aren’t about being a mom, because that’s what her life is focused on. Many SAHMs find they are friends with people they have nothing in common with – except their homemaker status.
Some days, a stay-at-home mom may not interact with any adults at all.
“Kids are great, (but) having conversations with children only over the course of the day can be isolating,” says Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, a psychologist and mother of two. “Social isolation can often lead to feeling sad and resentful.”
Combating the bad feelings
To help feel more accomplished at the end of the day, a SAHM can make a list of the tasks completed. Myers also recommends talking with a partner about the challenges of staying at home – and how the partner can help meet the stay-at-home mom’s needs for appreciation, understanding and connection.
Another crucial step? Take some time for yourself. Personal development and continued learning greatly boosts happiness. Lang says that many moms take classes at local libraries or adult education centers on cooking, scrapbooking, languages, etc. This helps with both social and intellectual stimulation that women might lack from staying at home.
Or consider joining a moms’ group, club or other social activity. If you’re concerned over the cost of childcare, there’s also the option of joining a church group or gym that has a nursery.
“Doing a childcare swap with another stay-at-home mom to allow some personal time each week, and filling that time with things that are personally satisfying – not just errands – can help the stay-at-home mom feed some of her own needs,” Myers says.
The results of this study don’t mean that women can’t enjoy being stay-at-home moms. Some moms find it very fulfilling to stay home and raise their kids. Heather St. Aubin-Stoutauthor, an author born in Detroit, left her career 25 years ago to do just that.
“I struggled with this, as I had been raised to be a career woman,” she says. “In hindsight, I’m glad I stayed home, because I won’t get those years back.”
This post was originally published in 2012 and is updated regularly.