The Emotional Challenges of Being a Stay-at-Home Mom

Mom-tested strategies for managing the frustrations of life at home with kids

Posted Nov 03, 2015

ArtMarie/GettyImages
Source: ArtMarie/GettyImages

By Erica Kain

As a mom home with three kids, over the last 10 years I've experienced everything from insecurity about not bringing home a paycheck to loneliness so intense I started having conversations with stuffed animals. And at those times, other moms are my salvation.

Here are some ways my support group of stay-at-home moms found to handle four common frustrations that come from the emotional challenges of caring for kids full time.

1. Why can't I just finish one thing?
"I'm always juggling way too much stuff. There's always something that comes up that shifts the hierarchy of the priorities list," says Kristiana Tom, 36, a mom to two young girls in the San Francisco Bay Area.

What can help:
Team up. "Work with friends on larger projects. You help them, and then they help you," suggests Janna Lipman Weiss, 43, and mom to 12-year-old and 9-year-old daughters in Oakland, California. "In addition, working in tandem with other mothers helps with the pervasive loneliness of at-home parenthood."

Go it alone. More than one mother I talked to mentioned the satisfaction of grocery shopping alone. For me, it's the best, most peaceful hour of the week: I get a coffee in the café and walk slowly up and down the aisles while my husband is home with the kids.

Get up early. Many moms wake up early to have time alone to focus on something important to them – meditating, reading, writing – anything counts as long as it's quiet. (Of course it also means getting to sleep early so you have the energy to get up before the rest of the family.)

2. Feeling a lack of accomplishment
"Since having kids, I no longer feel the sense of accomplishment I did professionally," says Jennifer Wolf, 36, mom to two sons younger than 10 in the San Francisco Bay Area. "I can never seem to fix the 'problem' – whether it's a behavior issue, progress in school, or helping my sons make friends and become good people. Instead of feeling accomplished about mothering, it really takes a lot out of me."

"Endless days in which every single task is immediately undone or needs to be repeated within hours can be soul-sucking when you are used to overseeing projects with a very tangible and rewarding end result," says Karen Porter, 49, a Boston-area mother of a 15-year-old and a 13-year-old. 

What can help:
Get involved outside the home. Now that her kids are older, Porter has found satisfaction creating costumes for her local school theater productions. "It's been rewarding on a number of levels. I enjoy making the actors feel confident on stage and [helping them] find their characters."

Do something for you at home. Wolf finds satisfaction in working on projects around the house. "I'm constructing a mirror for our living room and working on benches for our garden. Something hands-on that I can actually complete helps me feel accomplished."

Redefine accomplishment. For me, just making it through the day with everyone alive at the end can feel like success. My kids are still relatively young, so I've accepted the idea that I am not going to write a book, start a website, or create a charitable foundation until everyone is older and can reach the milk in the refrigerator on their own.

3. Feeling lonely and bored
"Stay-at-home parenthood can be so isolating," says Heidi Doggett, 32, mother to an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old in Lafayette, California. "[When they were babies,] I was so used to just doing groceries and diapers and dishes that whatever social instinct I had previously atrophied completely."

What can help:
Take a class. Doggett took a kung fu class several days a week, which "helped a lot."

Plan a regular grown-up gathering. Karen Saller Dielke, 39, mother of three in Pleasant Hill, California, joined a group of women who get together on the third Friday of every month to craft for a few hours.

For me, finding a book club of like-minded moms helped me get out of the house at least once a month and spend an evening drinking wine and laughing about many topics (not just the book and not just the kids).

4. Questioning your parenting decisions
Along with the feeling of being less than accomplished, can come the question: "Am I even doing this right?" I have often fantasized that a woman who actually knows what she's doing would come in and fix all of my mothering mistakes.

What can help: 

Create a parenting network. "I have a small, private group of parents online from when our first child was born. We come from different parts of the country and varying backgrounds," says Weiss. "As our kids grow, we periodically toss group think questions to solve privately and with all our collective fierce love of our kids."

Keep the big picture in mind. "[I think] constantly questioning your own parenting style and methods is, in itself, a sign of great parenting," says Lana Blank, a 40-year-old mother to two girls in Dallas, Texas. "That's what I keep telling myself to help me sleep at night!"

"When I find myself thinking critically about my parenting I try to step back and ask, 'Is our family happy?'" says Nikkie Wolcott Brickman, 45, mother of a teenage son in of Moraga, California. "The answer is usually yes. And if my critical feelings were brought on by socializing with competitive parents I also ask myself, 'Do they seem happy?' If so, that must be what works for them."

In the long-term, it's helpful (though not easy) to remember that there isn't one "perfect" way to parent. The idea that you're falling short of an ideal can add to the stress you already feel. And if you find yourself focusing on what you're doing wrong rather than celebrating what you're doing right, try a little self-compassion and these tips to stop beating yourself up. As we tell our kids, working hard and doing our best is what matters most.