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ParentingSAHMs Deserve Childcare, But Many Are Too Afraid to Ask- Motherly

SAHMs Deserve Childcare, But Many Are Too Afraid to Ask- Motherly

Being a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) is a full-time job, and then some. You’re on-call 24/7. You work mornings and nights. You don’t get holidays, vacation or sick days. Oh yeah, and you don’t get paid (but if you did, you’d make $184,000). It’s an underappreciated, often thankless job. And it’s one that not every mom gets to choose for themself. But it’s a job, and most people with jobs are supported with childcare. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for most SAHMs.

Mother Untitled recently published a study about SAHMs called American Mothers on Pause, which collected answers from 1,000 members of the general population and 1,200 mothers who considered themselves part-time or full-time SAHMs, or were actively leaving the workforce to become a SAHM. The findings shine a light on many struggles at-home mothers face and prove that SAHMs deserve childcare too (among many other things).

Eighty-three percent of participants told Mother Untitled that their reason for leaving their job was to spend more time with their child(ren), but for a lot of people becoming a SAHM also means shouldering the overwhelming majority of round-the-clock childcare and running a household—without outside help. 

Juniper J., a SAHM with a 2-year-old, takes on 90% of both childcare and housekeeping in her family. “Every three weeks I break down and feel like I’m barely holding my head above water. I will beg my husband to be a team player and actively participate, which he does for about a week and then the cycle begins again,” she tells Motherly. “Women throughout history have been conditioned to believe that we are the ‘caregivers’ and men are the ‘breadwinners,’ placing more importance on the money maker, which creates a toxic cycle of unrealistic expectations… There are some days where I have thought, ‘Maybe I should just go back to work so the roles can be more balanced,’ but this isn’t how it should be!”

“SAHMs are doing the hardest work and most are doing it without a village.”

-Juniper J.

Stephanie S., a SAHM to a 3-year-old and 18-month old, shares a similar sentiment. “I often get told how lucky I am, and that it must be nice to be ‘taken care of’ but I often feel like I’m the one taking care of everyone,” she tells Motherly. “I’m up all night with the kids, take care of them all day, clean and meal prep for everyone.”

“I feel like I’m a supporting character in everyone else’s life and never a main character in my own [life].”

-Stephanie S.

For the modern mom, burnout is real. In Motherly’s 2023 State of Motherhood survey, 51% of participants reported that they had not gone out with friends or their partner without their children in the past month, which was a significant increase from 38% last year. Perhaps even more troublesome is the fact that the majority of moms (62%) also admitted to getting less than an hour to themselves each day.

“I’ve had to work hard to create goals and activities that are mine, as well as create time to actualize those goals,” Stephanie S. admits. “I ran a marathon last year and that was the first time I felt like I was more than a mom.”

Erin G., a SAHM to a 5-year-old, can relate. “Almost nothing about my life now looks like what it was before having a child,” she tells Motherly. “I used to be an artist with an active social life centered around art events in the city. I haven’t created a single piece of artwork since my daughter was born.”

For Tessa R., a SAHM of three kids, ages 10, 5, and 20 months, just “taking an exercise class or going to therapy can be difficult.”

These anecdotes are in line with Mother Untitled’s findings, which report that 38% of SAHMs worry about losing their sense of self. Despite that concern, 54% measured success in terms of their kids’ mental health. Women’s own physical health was the least popular response, with only 4% choosing it as a measure of success.

It’s clear that SAHMs deserve childcare (and need it desperately), but that doesn’t mean they ask for it. Half of American Mothers on Pause participants said they feel guilty for leaving their children with someone else, and 37% feel guilty paying for childcare because they don’t earn their own salary.

“There is some judgment of why you would need childcare if you aren’t going to work,” says Erin G. “I think there is also the judgment that you chose to have children and stay at home so why do you need a break if this is what you wanted.”

Maya C., SAHM to a 6-year-old and 3-year-old, feels similarly. “I didn’t want to send the kids to full time preschool or daycare because of this stigma,” she confesses, “but it came to the point where it was the only way that I could guarantee myself some time to reset and to engage in the things that are important to me.” 

According to American Mothers on Pause, there is no form of childcare that the majority of SAHMs utilize: 39% rely on grandparents or other relatives, 17% use an in-home babysitter, and 16% use daycare; however, perhaps more enlightening is the fact that 29% of SAHMs surveyed have never used childcare, not even family assistance. Though 59% of participants cited cost as a factor when it came to childcare, there’s also a stigma against SAHMs asking for extra support.

“It’s hard because you worry about judgment from other people thinking that you aren’t a good parent,” Erin G. admits. 

“I also think sometimes you don’t even know what to ask for. When you’re really burnt out it feels like you need a shower, therapy, a sandwich, a hug, a nap and a clean kitchen simultaneously.”

-Erin G.

“I struggle to ask for help, because I feel like I should be able to do it on my own. I sometimes feel like I am having a harder time than my peers juggling it all—some moms just make it look so effortless,” Whitney M., SAHM to a 3-year-old and 4-month-old laments. “[People think] it is ‘our only job’ and therefore we should be able to manage it alone.”

For some, that stigma isn’t just a generalized idea. “Even my dad has told me that I’m in over my head and should’ve thought about this before having a second child,” Nadya L., SAHM to a 3-year-old and 8-month-old tells Motherly. 

 “I feel like I’m expected to have it all together.”

-Nadya L.

The modern SAHM is in a tough position because of the stereotypes created by former generations, but this generation of mamas is striving to change that narrative. There are factors, like the cost of childcare, that are out of our control, but there are ways that you can shift the societal mindset: like breaking generational cycles; modeling with your partner what equal participation, healthy boundaries and self-care looks like; and proving that a person’s worth doesn’t have to be measured by monetary contributions. You can also use your voice and reach deep down to recognize, and express, your wants and needs to your family.

“We as women need to advocate for ourselves and communicate our needs and feelings,” Juniper J. says. “Normalize not feeling guilty for wanting to be away from your children; normalize not being able to care for your family 24/7—it’s just not possible.”

There’s also the feeling of wanting to be with your children all the time, which isn’t always healthy. “For me, it’s acknowledging that while I don’t ‘want’ to be away from my kids, I ‘need’ to do it to prevent burn out,” Lena C., SAHM of a 3-year-old and 9-month-old tells Motherly. “Also, upholding the rhetoric that I am a better mother when I prioritize myself and doing things I enjoy. 

My favorite saying is, ‘Sure, you’ll die for your kids, but will you live?’ I think it is so important as parents to model a healthy lifestyle with boundaries and self care.”

-Lena C.

At the end of the day, SAHMs deserve childcare,  just like any other professional. And if your family is able to make that work financially—or you have loved ones who are willing to step in for free—it could work wonders.

“I was able to see that someone can come in and help out for a few hours a day and I can still be a great mother to my children. No one is going to come in and take that away from me,” Katie T. says about her decision to hire a part-time nanny. “I always feared that I would be less of a mom if I wasn’t there for every moment. But having support is so helpful for me to be a better mom when I am with my children. Everyone deserves a break.”

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