Stay-at-home moms are not OK

The Covid pandemic has taught us as a society so much: we’ve learned about public health and safety; we’ve seen how isolation affects mental health; we’ve experienced the direct impact of supply chain issues; and those of us who didn’t already realize just how much work stay-at-home moms do got to see firsthand. (It’s a lot.) 

Our fifth annual State of Motherhood survey found that millennial and Gen Z SAHMs are feeling more worn down than ever, and stay-at-home moms actually reported higher levels of burnout than working moms.

Out of the 17,000 people who took the survey, 55% of SAHMs admitted they “always” or “frequently” feel burnt out, which is a much larger percentage than their working counterparts (11% and 38%, respectively).

That feeling has resulted negatively in many aspects of life.

Sex and the stay-at-home mom

Gen Z and Millennial moms who feel burned out frequently are having less sex and are less satisfied with their sex life—38% of moms who report feeling frequently burned out are having sex 1-2 times per month.

Expanding family

This year’s survey shows the largest percentage ever of moms who say they don’t want to have more kids. Both working and stay-at-home moms felt this sentiment; however, of those who said they don’t want to be pregnant again, 38% of them are unemployed, and 27% of those who are unsure if they want more kids are unemployed.

So what could be causing this increased feeling of burnout? 

Mom being the primary caretaker

Being a SAHM should not mean all the caretaking falls on your shoulders. In this year’s survey, 71% of Gen Z and millennial moms responded that they felt “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their childcare situation when they were able to outsource it, and 42% of SAHMs report they’re “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with their own childcare situation. On the flipside, 51% of non-employed moms say “more help” would improve their positive feelings around motherhood.

“On the weeks when everything works out with getting help I’m a better mom, I’m more patient and forgiving, my fuse is longer and tolerance higher,” Ibis T. tells Motherly. “I don’t rely on screen time for help and so my kids benefit tenfold!”

“Childcare, of course, would be a very impactful solution to burnout, but that’s the crux of the problem for many stay-at-home moms: We rarely utilize outsourced childcare, whether it’s because of financial restraints or because we feel like we don’t ‘deserve’ childcare because we’re not earning an income for our family,” explains Kelsey L. “So while stay-at-home moms need and deserve to have access to regular childcare—for all the same reasons that employees in the workforce deserve to come home at night and sleep, or get a few days off per week—society doesn’t yet value mothering in the same way.”

Aside from outsourced childcare, many SAHMs would benefit from a better split of household duties with their partner. When asked what would most decrease their feelings of burnout, 22% of non-employed mothers said “cultural shift around the expectation that women ‘do it all.’”

The phrase “stay-at-home mom” has become more literal than ever

Sure SAHMs take care of the household, but those with an infant and/or toddler rely on things like play dates, activities, and child-friendly appointments in order to stay sane. Though some of those things have reopened in 2021, not everyone feels comfortable bringing their little one out in public (and many medical offices don’t allow the patient to bring their kiddo).  

Jes W. stayed at home for nine months between 2017-18, and again during the pandemic; however, the second stint came with a higher feeling of burnout. “For so much of that time the things that made it feel more varied and supportive (library times, classes, visiting indoors, co-ops, mom-kid exercise classes, etc basically were all off the table,” she tells Motherly. “And I couldn’t take kids to doc appointments or other public places I could before, so the chiropractor-with-toddler visits that I did weekly [before] weren’t available.”

In addition to less social activities, the pandemic has also hindered social interaction, period. When asked what has contributed most to their feeling of burnout, 24% of non-employed mothers said “no village to call upon/lack of support from local community.”

Does working part- or full-time benefit a mother’s mental health?

Though Ibis T. believes being a SAHM is what’s best for her family, she still thinks back fondly at her career before kids. “I often crave my professional self who could hold it together and not feel on edge all day. Looking back I was really good at my job, which boosted my self confidence and my energy,” she says. “And, I know I’m a good mom, but it doesn’t always feel like it since the target is constantly moving (hello threenager energy!), not feeling confident at your work every day because your supervisors (they’re 3 and 5) don’t like the way you do things is pretty demoralizing after a while. It definitely makes me question my worth and contributions to the greater good.” 

Other moms agree, but without universal pre-K and subsidized child care, that option just doesn’t make sense financially. “Part-time would be nice to give me a sense of identity outside of motherhood. I feel like my sense of self is so tied to that role and it’s who I am to others,” admits Jenna B. “However, I have no idea how I’d fit that in, especially since a part-time salary wouldn’t cover the necessary childcare to make it worth doing.”

Related: Why is childcare so expensive when childcare workers make so little?

There are so many factors that contribute to an individual’s self-worth and mental health, and that’s different for everyone, but there’s one thing that’s universally true: It takes a village, and SAHMs need theirs now more than ever.

Methodology Statement

Motherly designed and administered this survey through Motherly’s subscribers list, social media and partner channels, resulting in more than 17,000 responses creating a clean, unweighted base of 10,001 responses. This report focuses on the Gen X cohort of 1197 respondents, millennial cohort of 8,558 respondents, and a Gen Z cohort of 246 respondents. Edge Research weighted the data to reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the US female millennial cohort based on US Census data.

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