Inside: Stay-at-home-mom depression is very real, but it’s rarely talked about. Here’s how one mom chose to fight it.
Being a stay-at-home mom is amazing. It’s also incredibly challenging, exhausting, and just really, really hard sometimes.
The good days outweigh the bad for the most part. Most of the stay-at-home moms I know are so thankful for the privilege to do something that not everyone can, especially since it seems more and more moms are trying to find a way to stay home, too.
Most of the time, a good night’s sleep can cure anything…except when it can’t. And that’s when stay-at-home mom depression becomes very, very real.
Stay-At-Home-Mom Depression Is Real
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Sometimes bad day after bad day piles up on you, and you wake up one day to realize that you’re in a serious funk. You’ve become a walking, talking, real-life Eeyore, and nothing seems to shake it. You hesitate to call it stay at home mom depression.
You’re just really, really negative, right?
You can’t seem to find the upside to anything, no other side of the coin, no silver lining.
You’re tired: tired of laundering endless wet sheets, changing countless diapers, correcting bad attitudes, washing the same dishes again and again and again.
You feel like you’re living in the movie Groundhog’s Day, except it feels a whole lot more monotonous and mundane than Bill Murray’s repeat day (he actually got to drink a hot cup of coffee every day while it’s still hot, which is more than you can say).
Your stay-at-home mom depression starts to affect your entire home. It sucks the joy out of your kids, your husband, and especially you.
I once heard someone say that a mom is the barometer of her home: she sets the tone and the atmosphere. Try as we might, when we’re sad, it’s pretty much impossible for it NOT to affect our family, too. They feel it, even when we try to hide it.
That’s just where I sat a few short weeks ago. And I couldn’t bring myself to call it depression because I’m sure for people who have suffered deep depression, what I felt was nowhere close.
Experiencing SAHM Depression
It was just another hard weekend.
Sick kids, piled up dishes, unanticipated purchases draining our bank account. So many arguments about the basics: which meals to cook, how to handle behavior issue number nine hundred and nine, who should change the next diaper.
My husband was really beginning to believe that he should go to work every day of the week, convinced his presence those extra two days consistently pushed me over the edge. While I insisted this wasn’t true, I could absolutely understand why he felt that way.
I couldn’t remember the last time we had a laid back, conflict-free weekend.
Over and over, until I was out of breath, I poured out my stay-at-home mom woes to my husband.
How much was on my plate.
How I just don’t know what to do about this parenting issue or about meals or about how to fight the endless piles of clutter in our house (I thought I’d decluttered endless times!).
The more I tried to explain, the more frustrated I became.
No matter what I said, he just couldn’t relate – at least nothing he said could cut through my depressed feelings.
Eventually I threw up my hands and stalked out of the room: I would attempt to make a small dent in the mountain of dirty dishes threatening to take up permanent residence on every single countertop in our small kitchen.
Frustration quickly turned to overwhelming guilt, guilt that my perpetual unhappiness was ruining the haven I so wanted our home to be.
And why is it that when we moms feel this way, we believe we are the only ones? We are the only unhappy moms who can’t get it together? Can’t figure out how to do what we think other moms do so effortlessly?
Each dirty dish felt like a crazy high mountain to climb.
My 7 year-old daughter crept hesitantly to my side at the kitchen sink and started unloading the dishwasher.
“You don’t need to do that, sweetheart” I said brusquely.
“I want mama to be happy. If I help with the dishes, mama be happy?” she asked in a quiet voice.
My heart sank even lower.
How I wanted to be happy. I wanted that deep joy I knew I should have, but it felt so out of reach. I tried gratitude, something that had worked in the past. I recited all the things that I have to be thankful for.
My kids are safe.
My kids are fed.
We have a steady paycheck.
My kids are ALIVE – a friend lost her three week old baby early last week without warning.
I cycled through the list over and over in my mind, but it didn’t help. What I knew in my head to be true just couldn’t penetrate the overwhelm and unhappiness in my heart.
After many conversations with my husband and close friends didn’t help, I finally gave up. I vowed to keep silent, to not mention my negative thoughts aloud, to anyone. If it was causing such devastation in my home, I needed to keep it inside.
But for external processors, keeping everything inside just doesn’t work. We desperately need that verbal outlet, some way to make sense of the jumbling thoughts swirling through our minds.
One Way to Fight Stay at Home Mom Depression
Update: If you are struggling with depression and can’t seem to break free, please seek the help of your doctor and/or a therapist
That night, the house quiet, dishes finally done at long last, my gaze fell upon my abandoned journal. It was collecting dust on the shelf: I had no time for journaling these days. There were dishes to be done, diapers to change, mouths to feed, laundry to do.
Journaling was a luxury of a few kids ago.
I dusted off the cover and slowly turned the pages. My last real entry (more than a few sentences) was in March. I used journals for so many things over the years: prayer, recording the highlights of our days, listing things to be thankful for.
I had an idea. I promised myself that I could let my negativity out, but only on the pages of the journal. If I felt negative during the day, I could stop and put it in the journal or wait to write later that day.
But the negativity had to stay in the journal. All those dark thoughts from stay at home mom depression were poured into the journal.
Amazingly, that simple vow broke the back of my long-standing negativity. I poured it all out one night: every ugly thought (the ones you would never want anyone else to read) came out on the pages of that journal, no holding back.
The next day, when life felt crazy again and those negative, depressed thoughts threatened to burst out in front of my kids, I remembered my promise. By the grace of God, my lips stayed shut, and I told myself to wait until later. Save it for the journal.
And guess what?
Later that day, it didn’t seem so urgent anymore. The depression dissipated after I simply refused to give into what my screaming feelings wanted. I made what felt like the hardest possible choice in the moment: to wait.
Isn’t it hilarious how we get so frustrated with our kids for lacking self-control? Self-control is actually pretty dang hard, even when you’re all grown up.
Will SAHM depression come back? Probably.
This stay at home mom stuff with its relentless, never ending flow of dishes and laundry and cleaning and gentle (or not so gentle) correction and teaching can feel very heavy at times. Throw on top of that the hormonal roller coaster of pregnancy/nursing along with the tightrope we walk as a single income family, and I can guarantee there will be similar low moments in my future.
It comes with the territory, and no one talks about it.
We hesitate to use such a strong term: stay at home mom depression. Again, comparison kills. There are other people who are far more depressed than me, whose depression doesn’t break as easily.
What’s the line between temporary depression and clinical depression? I don’t know. Thankfully, I’ve never been clinically depressed (at least, not that I know of), and my heart goes out to those who are.
But what I do know is that giving it a name helps.
I originally called it “negativity”, but really it is so much stronger than that. Calling it depression legitimizes your struggle, especially when you know others are going through the same thing.
Thanks to Google (what ever did we do without Google?), I know that I’m not alone. Other moms feel the same way, and knowing that you are not alone is a gift, one I give back to you, dear reader.
If you reach a point where the depression is way beyond this solution, please pursue professional help. I agree and urge you to pursue treatment if your depression is unrelenting no matter what you try to do.
As for me, when those negative thoughts come, when they come in a flood with the dam ready to burst and make my home a place where no one wants to be, I know what I’m going to try first.
I’ll try my very best to save it for the journal.