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1/30/12 – Do Stay-at-Home Moms have a Job?
Last week my colleage Marisol and I attended a two day training called Perinatal Mood Disorders: Components of Care. The training was led by four professionals including Birdie Gunyon Meyer and Pec Indman, whom are both well-established experts in the field, and who are also on the Board of Directors at Postpartum Support International.
During the training, the facilitators discussed the role that perfectionism, and the myths that we all believe before becoming mothers play in contributing to Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Naturally, this discussion led to the topic of mothers who return to work vs. stay-at-home moms. I found this topic to be of great interest, because it is highly relevant to our client population. This particular topic creates a great deal of stress for the women we serve in our program, because A) Even if they wanted to, many of our participants would be unable to return to work after birth of a new child (due to financial restrictions and role expectations), and B) What constitutes “Work” is often hotly debated among our clients and their spouses.
In my opinion, one of the main factors that contributes to the development of depression and anxiety in many of our clients is that they have an overwhelming un-met need for free time away from their children and household duties. Many are not granted any opportunities to be away from their kids because they “don’t work,” and their spouses wrongly assume that they don’t need (and perhaps don’t deserve any) time away from their children.
I have often found myself in discussions with both men and women (usually those who have never cared for children for long periods of time) who assume that being a stay-at-home mother (SAHM) is a very joyful time filled with fun and relaxation. Having been a live-in nanny in a former life I firmly believe that caring for children is the most demanding, exausting, and difficult work I have ever done. And when I think about tripling the work I did (since I was only working with the kids 1/3 of a 24-hour period) it sincerely makes my head spin.
Raising children is an unfathomably difficult task. The thing that SAHM critics don’t understand is that your shift never ends. You never clock out at the end of the day. You don’t get paid. You don’t get sick days or vacation. And, what hurts the most is that (if you’re like many of our participants) you probably don’t even get an hour a day to grab a cup of coffee or chat with one of your adult friends. You might not even have 30 minutes to take a shower.
Imagine this: You wake up at 5am to one of your young children crying, and you must respond because it’s your job. You’ve only just fallen asleep at 3am because you had to feed your baby. Your entire day starts in that moment. You have no guarantee that you will sleep more than 3 hours the following night. Your energy reserves are already beyond depleted because you have been doing this routine (without a break, not even on weekends) for five or more years. Every single one of your days consists of grooming, dressing, feeding, soothing, entertaining, transporting, disciplining, teaching, nurturing and guiding your children. If you turn your back for more than 5 minutes at a time, your children could easily hurt themselves or one another, or undo the cleaning you just completed, or break something, or eat something they shouldn’t. Not only must you be vigilant of the children’s whereabouts and wellbeing at every moment, but you’re also responsible for cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, etc. All of this, and your spouse gets home at the end of the work day, asks for dinner, watches some TV, and goes off to bed. If you ask your spouse for help, he or she might say, “I’ve been at work all day. You’ve been with the kids relaxing around the house. I make the money and you get to stay home, so no, I won’t help you. This is my time off.”
What about your time off? In the eyes of those who don’t understand, you simply don’t get to have any. But as a human being, you still have basic physiological needs for adequate sleep and relaxation. You still need to indulge yourself in activities that fulfill yourself as an individual. And you still have emotional needs to feel understood, to have time to connect with other adults, and most importantly to have your partner value your hard work enough to know that you deserve time to dedicate your beautiful, hard-working self.
This discussion reminded me of a very clever article I saw making the rounds on facebook a couple of years ago. It was an advice column titled, “TELL ME ABOUT IT: Why Don’t Friends with Kids Have Time?” An anonymous writer asks the columnist why her friends who work as stay-at-home moms don’t have time to call her, and whether being a stay-at-home mom is “an excuse to relax and enjoy.” The columnist’s response is so spot-on it’s unbelievable. You can read the full article below. And if you know someone who doesn’t understand how hard the job of a stay-at-home mom is, share this with them!