Staying at home all day with your kids could easily seem like the dream job. Many think that, in comparison to going to work every day, it’s easy. With no daily commute, no overbearing boss and no annoying coworkers…why are so many stay-at-home parents depressed?
A recent survey of 60,000 women determined that stay-at-home mothers are more likely to experience depression, sadness and anger. Stay-at-home fathers are also not immune to this phenomenon. So what is going on?
Many jobs out there are mind-numbing, soul-crushing dead ends. This isn’t a comparison of “Who has it harder?”. This is however, an explanation that should bring to light how our beliefs regarding parenthood are largely false.
Without further ado, here are the reasons stay-at-home parents may become depressed.
Stunted personal/spiritual growth.
With a husband in the Coast Guard, I find myself alone at home managing the house 50% of each year. When he returns from sea, he shows me pictures of polar bears, whales and unbelievably beautiful landscapes of Canada’s north.
His job is not easy. He comes home with fingernails falling off and black bruises all over his body. That being said, he is living his dream. He was born to be a sailor, and his adventures and experiences are constantly changing with each trip out.
I find myself jealous of his photos and his stories, and hate myself for it. As I look around the house, I know that each day will be exactly the same as the last.
Before kids I knew I was moving forward, evolving and growing as a person. The moment my kids were born, my own growth became stunted in order to support their growth. I can feel it right down to the bones.
It feels like a complete loss of who I was before my kids.
Stay-at-home parents can have a slower pace of personal or spiritual growth. Focus lies on the growth of their children as dreams, ambitions and adventures are put aside. This can easily lead to depression.
Free Time = Zero.
Staying at home does not mean “staying at home to have fun all day, doing whatever you want”. The sheer amount of work it takes to manage the house with a toddler or two attached to your hip is no easy feat. It leaves no free time for yourself what-so-ever.
Trying to relax, take a break, paint or write is impossible. One child will scream, the other is hungry. Both need exercise and sunshine. Both need lunch, and my undivided attention every waking second.
During naps the laundry needs to be done, the wood stove needs wood for a fire and I need to scramble because time is limited. Many things that cannot be done while they are awake need to be completed while they sleep…
There is zero free time. Unless I ask for a couple of hours from my in-laws (a once every 3 month occurrence), I work around the clock without a break when my husband is gone half the year.
Absolutely no time to relax or recharge can quickly cause all-over burnout. No free time to yourself leads to depression and anxiety because there is never any time to simply rest.
There are almost no breaks, no days off and a work-load that does not ever stop.
When my husband goes to sea, the work piles up in the matter of hours. If I have to cook dinner for my two children, one will destroy the living room while the other dumps out the bag of sugar onto the floor.
As I leave dinner on the stove to stop their destruction, dinner burns. Water boils over the pot, the fire alarm goes off and my daughter screams her head off. The dog has to be let out, but my daughter will run up the stairs with a bottle of toothpaste. I chase after her, and the dog pees in the hallway.
Going to the store involves hiding at the end of an aisle because my 1.5 year old daughter is screaming bloody murder because I didn’t let her rip open a bag of chips. My son is angry because he doesn’t want to be there.
When a mess is cleaned, another emerges in the span of minutes. As I cook dinner my daughter colors on the walls and chair because my son wasn’t watching her.
The wood stove needs wood but I can’t run to the pile across the lawn because my daughter is still screaming her head off. Dinner burns again…
All I desire is a break. I anxiously await bed time, put them to bed and try to work on painting and writing but I am so exhausted I just drone out to the TV.
Despite being so productive, every single day feels unproductive somehow. Stagnant. Exhausting. I know that the next day will be the same thing all over again.
A loss of identity and meaning.
Nearly one hundred percent of all focus goes to your children when you are a stay-at-home parent. Having kids means sacrificing almost all things you enjoyed doing before they were born for some people.
The music you hear is children’s music, the books you read are children’s books and the events you go to are full of other children. Every moment is meant to support the growth of your children.
A loss of identity happens when every single moment is devoted to the happiness of your children while you neglect the things that spark fire in your soul.
Not only that, but to say such things causes feelings of added guilt. We feel like we shouldn’t feel this way, but some of us can’t shake it. This immense guilt can lead to depressive symptoms.
No free time, no breaks and no time for the things you love outside of motherhood makes it feel like being a parent is who you are. It makes it feel like you are not a human being outside of your role.
Never feeling like you are doing enough when you are stretched to your max.
You know you’re doing it all. You know it’s enough. Still, there is this aching feeling beneath the surface like it’s never enough.
When my husband returns from sea, I feel obligated to “do more” so that he can relax and not stress. I feel the need to continue managing everything because of a deep-seated belief that tells me I “have it easier”. That I am not entitled to time.
I become the Energizer Bunny, only my batteries aren’t charged.
This happens because even though I know these thoughts are not true, the general belief is so ingrained into my subconscious, I still end up believing it. Regardless of how hard I work, I will always think I have it easy, simply because I am a stay-at-home parent.
On top of this, the pressure to do the absolute best for our children under such circumstances is high. Many times the guilt of not doing enough for them overwhelms even the best of us.
Feeling depressed or anxious when you’re a stay-at-home parent does not mean you lack love for your children, or gratitude for having them.
Too many times I hear, “You just have to realize how lucky you are to have your kids”. Let’s get one thing straight here…we know we love our children. At the end of the day, regardless of how hard this all is, we love them fiercely.
Lacking gratitude is not the problem. The problem lies in the idea that we are not human beings outside of parenthood. The very idea that we feel this way can even make people think we don’t love our kids or appreciate how special they are. Believe me, we do.
No one ever said we felt unlucky. We simply feel exhaustion, a loss of identity and a desire for the things that spark life within us once more.
Stay-at-home parenting with depression can be equally as hard as working a paying job.
Looking at things from an alternative point of view: My husband doesn’t experience the loss of identity like I do, but he does sacrifice time with his children to do what he does.
He works long and hard, and despite following his dreams he still has to pay a price for it. He misses out on birthday’s, Christmases and important milestones with his kids to work his job.
Perhaps it makes sense that he would also envy me, because I get to see every moment of our children’s growth and be here for it all. At the end of the day, we are all working hard. Stay-at-home parenting is not outside of this.
Depression causes lethargy, apathy and exhaustion. Running at full speed as a stay-at-home parent with depression is one of the hardest things a person will ever experience. Some days my depression is so severe I can barely muster the energy to shower.
Sometimes I think I won’t even make it through another day. Through this, we keep going. We keep going because we love our children. Stay-at-home parents need to be given the opportunity to express their pain without being made to feel guilt for that pain.
We need to remember as stay-at-home parents that these years will not last forever. It is completely normal to feel overwhelmed, depressed and anxious as Hell. Believe me, I’m in the thick of it as we speak. That is because this is hard work. Don’t let anyone try and tell you otherwise.
There are moments that make it all worth it.
I know that it’s not always miserable. Many times throughout the day I find myself singing and acting goofy with my kids – and loving it. Other days, I don’t want to get out of bed.
“Just look at your kids, what do you have to be depressed about?,” does nothing but dehumanize someone who has mental illness. It isn’t our lack of love for our kids causing depression – it’s our exhaustion, workload and never-ending guilt in the idea that we aren’t doing enough.
That being said we love our children so much we’d die for them. Stay-at-home parents, even with depression, know they love the Hell out of their kids.
So here’s to all the stay-at-home parents. Keep up the good work, because you are amazing. One day, these hard years will be over and you will see the light again.
Books on parenting with mental illness for those who are lost in the darkness.
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