Reddit Thread Inspires a Conversation About the Internalized Pressures Of Being a Stay-at-Home Parent—We Need To Normalize Supporting Them
For parents who do not work for pay, fielding questions like "so what do you do all day?" and comments along the lines of "it must be nice not to have to work" are the norm. Few people seem to realize that feeding, teaching, and caring for children, making and serving multiple meals and snacks, cleaning and tidying constantly without outside help is all hard work. But since we don't view the labor at-home parents take on for what it is, we've created these incredibly damaging standards for them. Because if they're not heading to the workplace all day, they should be doing all the other stuff to perfection and without any help, right?
Except...that's not right.
If a recent Reddit post is any indication, at-home parents are internalizing these external ideas and the pressure they're placing on themselves to meet those expectations is affecting them in serious ways. The post in question comes from an at-home mother of three who is finding herself "constantly on edge," angering easily, and feeling completely exhausted.
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"I internally feel like I should be super mom (never yells, manages daily stresses normally, and is present in the moment for her kid/s), freelancing to the point where I'm making good money, keep a clean house (major source of my anxiety), and still 'value' myself...I realized it's just too much FOR ME! And admitting that outloud is really embarrassing," the mom writes.
The mom adds that her social circle is made up of parents who work outside the home and have successful businesses—and clearly, she's fallen into the comparison trap. "Why are they able to do it and I stress over smaller mundane things? I'm embarrassed to tell my partner that I can barely manage being a mom," the mom writes, adding that her mental health is suffering. Several commenters weigh in to say they can relate.
It's inspiring an important conversation about the pressures at-home parents, especially at-home moms, place on themselves, and what it's really doing to their well-being.
As a freelancer with two young kids who stay home with me, I relate to so much of what this mom is feeling. On the days I take on lots of paid work, I accept that maybe I have to serve a PB&J for lunch, or let my kids have extra screen time, or neglect the growing pile of laundry...but on the days I'm not doing as much paid work? I beat myself up if I lose my patience or don't live up to that "supermom" standard, or even think, wow, I really need a minute to myself.
We, as a society, place impossible standards on all mothers, but for moms who don't work for pay, the expectations of how they should parent, how they should run their homes, and how easily they should manage it all are so heavy, and that's something we rarely discuss.
I spoke to other at-home moms to see if they're feeling the same way.
"There's just a lot of external pressure," says Samantha Nelson, a mom in New Hampshire. "At first I felt embarrassed to tell people that I stay home with my child because I feel like people look at stay at home moms as 'oh well you don't have to go to work so it's easy'. [I put pressure on myself] to do all the things. Homemade baby food, home cooked meals, everything perfect, but I've definitely realized it's all too much."
Nelson is right: We talk a lot about employee burnout, and we encourage people to take sufficient time away from their jobs; we've even built two days off a week into our workplace structure. Yet when it comes to parents who stay home, there's very little grace extended. When they talk about how exhausted they are, or how badly they need a break, we tend to shut their valid feelings down, as though you can't possibly be burnt out unless you're making money. But that's just not the case.
Khloe Kuriatnyk, a Wisconsin mom who publicly shared her thoughts on why we need to start recognizing stay at home parenthood as a job, worked outside the home for her first four years of motherhood before becoming an at-home mom at the start of the pandemic. "I would definitely say that I put more pressure on myself to parent perfectly as a stay-at-home mom," she says. "[When I worked outside the home] I felt like I had so much to do outside of the home that it was more acceptable if I wasn't 'perfect.' But as a stay-at-home mom, since you don't have these direct roles of employment, I definitely feel I put more pressure on myself to be a perfect parent."
All parents need breaks from the labor of parenting, but when parents who work for pay seek out this help, it's accepted. We need to normalize the need for at-home parents to have support, too, whether that means paid help or unpaid assistance from partners, family members, or friends. We need to create a culture where at-home parents feel like they're entitled to and deserving of that support. If not, their mental health could suffer—and the barriers they face when seeking out mental health care are also very real.
"I always feel like [I'm] falling behind [in some area]. I'm sure anxiety medication would help lessen that feeling, but then that brings on all new challenges: Finding a babysitter to watch my kids while I go to the doctor and paying for the medication (at least whatever state insurance doesn't cover) when I feel like maybe that money could go towards something else," says Nicole Caulk, a mom of twins in Illinois.
She adds, "I think the support for moms is an embarrassment and something needs to change...And I say [this as someone who has a] very, very supportive husband who makes sure to do morning routine with our kids every single morning so I have 30 minutes to myself [and] helps me clean up before bed at nighttime, and always praises me. [I'm] lucky compared to so many who don't get the same kind of help."
We've discussed stay-at-home mom depression before. Now, it's time to start talking about what our world expects from at-home parents, and what it's really doing to them. Let's adjust our expectations for them and normalize their need for support. At-home parents don't need to have perfect homes or make gourmet meals three times a day. They don't have to handle every interaction with their children perfectly. They don't need to compare their contributions to those of parents who work outside the home—they're neither better nor worse, just different.
At-home parents are allowed to mess up. They're allowed to make time for themselves. They're allowed to talk about how hard it is (without any pushback, please). They're allowed to take breaks. And they deserve more support.
As somebody who has done two 14-month maternity leaves, to be at home with my children and now works full time, I can say that being a mom is way harder than my office job. I remember my first day back at work, I was like, "wow! This is so relaxing!" I love spending time with my children, but being a mom 24/7 is definitely no picnic!Read More