I have been a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom) for 8 months and was a working mom for almost 4 years beforehand. I have held both titles and have experienced the blessings and challenges of each. My experiences in being both a SAHM and a working mom have sparked my interest in the experiences of other SAH and working moms. This is why I’ve conducted a survey of SAHM’s and working moms to gather information about the particular blessings and challenges of each. I will get to the survey responses in a bit, but want to flesh out the topic a little further with some information and statistics I’ve gathered after doing a little research.
I am a firm believer that both working outside the home and staying home with one’s children are both hard, just in different ways. I also know that as a mother in American society, either choice can lead to “mom guilt.” In the article, “Surprising Facts and Research About Stay-at-Home Moms,” author Apryl Duncan states it this way: “The Mommy Wars pressures make stay-at-home moms feel like they’re not a worthy member of society while making working moms feel like they’re not spending enough time with their children…Societal pressures make moms feel like they can’t win if they’re carrying a diaper bag all day and they can’t win if they’re carrying a briefcase all day either (very well family.com).”
Being that it’s now 2020 and long gone are the days of the 1950’s “Leave it to Beaver” mothers, I was curious to know approximately what percentage of moms stay home today. According to a statistic from a 2014 study, approximately 29 percent of mothers stay home and 71 percent of mothers work outside the home. To give you some frame of reference, in 1967, 49 percent of women were SAHM’s with a working husband (very well family.com). According to a 2019 article titled “The Rise of the Stay-at-Home Working Mom,” “…43 percent of women quit their jobs when they have children…of those women, 70 percent eventually return to work, but only 40 percent come back full-time.” Additionally, 40% of mothers who work outside the home are the family breadwinner (money.com).
Author Jessica Grose wrote the following in her New York Times article titled, “Working Moms and Stay-at-Home Moms Are Not at War”: “As they always have, parents are making decisions about working or staying home for a wide variety of reasons: because they’re breadwinners and have no choice; because child care costs are out of control; because they really enjoy and find meaning in what they do; because raising kids feels more valuable than sitting in airless conference rooms; because they have spouses whose work is all-encompassing, and someone needs to keep the children alive.”
I want to acknowledge that regardless of the choices a family makes to have mom stay home or work, not everyone has the luxury of choosing between staying home or working. This was my case up until my husband started working a new job and we could afford for me to stay home with our children. Before staying home, I didn’t feel I could relate to SAHM’s because I felt like our lives were so totally different. While day to day life can look different for SAHM’s and working moms, I think we have more in common when it comes to raising our children than not. Being a parent is challenging no matter which way it is done, but I wanted to survey both SAHM’ s and working moms to raise awareness of the similarities, differences, and real-life experiences of 26 different women ranging in age from 24-41 with kids ranging in age from 10 months to 12 years. These ladies have anywhere from 1-7 children each and have experience either staying home or working outside the home for 4 months to 12 years. I ran a survey on Facebook to gather the answers I was after. First, I will begin by sharing the results of the SAHM’s that answered my survey, followed by the working moms’ answers.
I asked SAHM’s to answer the following 3 questions:
1. What is a misperception you had about what it was going to be like staying home?
2. What was the hardest thing about leaving your workplace to stay home? If not hard-please explain.
3. What is one thing you’d like the world to know about the reality of staying home?
Question 1 resulted in a myriad of different responses from SAHM’s. Overall, the most responses seemed to center around the misperception that if you stayed home, you could get so much done, the house would be cleaner, and you’d have more “me-time” for things like working out. One mother, age 30 who has been staying home for 5 years with her 5 year old, 3 year old, and two 1 year old twins put it this way, referring to believing it would be easier to keep the house clean: “…it’s not, because you’re home all day and the house is very ‘lived in.’” She notes that there are naturally more dishes and toys to pick up. Another mother of 2, age 27 says that she thought she’d have “a killer bod” due to having so much time to work out, but that in reality, you get interrupted so many times as a mom and there is not as much time and freedom she thought she’d have. She continued by saying of staying home,” I imagined a clean house, fun with my quiet kids while I snuggled them and did art projects with them, etc.” I can relate to this thought, as before I actually started staying home, I pictured baking cookies with my well-mannered children and having so many cherished memories versus trying to discipline and keep the peace while trying to figure out ways to entertain them that didn’t involve screens. Not to mention the dishes and laundry that are so daily as a SAHM.
Another SAH mother, age 33 with 7 children ranging in age 11 months to 11 years puts it this way, “I had no idea how hard it would be, and how those first five years are what I now call the ‘identity crisis’ stage. Your kids are all so needy and so young and dependent, and you’re exhausted all the time, but you also don’t really know why you’re so tired. No amount of time away, number of date nights, or sympathetic friends ever seems like enough to compensate for how draining it is. No one seems to fully understand.” One mother, age 24 with 2 children says that she thought that she’d have a never ending supply of energy “stemming from the well of love I had for my children and husband!” She continued saying that she thought her days would be smooth because it was what she’d always wanted, but didn’t realize how often she’d feel weak and under equipped.
Question 2:What was the hardest thing about leaving the workplace to stay home? If not hard, please explain, also generated a variety of responses. Several of the responders said that they missed the social interaction with other adults during their day, and then some. One SAHM, age 33 with 2 children, ages 4 and 16 months, put it this way: “I used to work part-time and it felt like a vacation with uninterrupted conversations, the ability to focus on one task, to have a complete thought, to go to the bathroom by myself, etc. A positive about staying home is that I get to have slower mornings where I can drink coffee in my pj’s, eat unhurried breakfast with my kids, and have access to activities that working moms do not-this is a privilege.” Another mom, age 24 with children ages 1 and 2 said, “Leaving work was a super hard decision. I felt like I was giving up on my dreams of having a successful career, but ultimately it is right for the season of life we are in.”
A few other SAHM’s mentioned missing making money and contributing to the family financially. A 38 year old mom of 3 with one on the way mentions missing her identity she had as a nurse and the structure it gave her day. Yet another SAHM, age 33 who has been staying home for 7 years notes that staying home can be lonely and that one must learn to have a grateful heart as it can be easy to be jealous of one’s spouse for “having a life outside the home.” A few more mothers mentioned missing the break work gave them from being on the mommy clock 24/7 and said since staying home, they have little free time. A third mother, age 27 and mother to 3 notes a positive of her leaving the workplace, saying that it was hard getting out the door on time in the morning with the kids and this was frustrating because it wasn’t making her look good in the working world. Being a former working mom myself, I can attest to the struggle to get the kids to daycare and myself to work on time. I was almost always late for work! Another SAHM of 3 mentioned that she remembers having to pump breast milk in a closet as a former teacher and that this was not fun for a teacher who needs planning time. She also mentioned the frustration of not being able to stay home with her sick child due to having meetings and that her husband couldn’t either due to mandatory meetings as well.
A 30 year old mother of two girls, ages 4 and 3 with a baby on the way mentions what her days staying home in her children’s early years felt like: “The first few years at home were very lonely and I felt of little worth/value, felt under appreciated, and had no motivation. I was more exhausted staying home than I was working. I had no social life and 2 kids under 2. I felt like all I did was change diapers, try to eat or sleep when I could, and somewhat keep functioning.” Now that she has stayed home for a few years and her girls are older, she’s doing better. She continued to say, “Everyday is hard and challenging for sure, but I have learned more about myself and God more in these last few years than I had in my first 25 years.” She said she had to put herself out there to make friends but that it was worth it.
Moving on to question 3: What is one thing you’d like the world to know about the reality of staying home? While some moms responded with a positive note, saying things like “I love being home with our 3 kiddos,” and “I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” one mother wrote matter of factly, “Staying home is isolating and exhausting being home all day with kids. It’s hard to have conversations with other moms when little children are around.” I personally answered this question by saying that staying home can feel very mundane, so it is helpful to break up the daily routine by attending things like mom’s group, story hour, Bible study, having play dates, running errands, and going to the grocery store. I also noted that it can be hard in the winter to come up with endless activities for your children to participate in that do not involve screens. I also included that sometimes as a SAHM, I can feel even busier than I did when I was a working mom; I’m just busier with different things.
In continuation of the responses to question 3, one mom, age 24 with 2 children said, “Just because you are a SAHM doesn’t mean you don’t still have goals, dreams, and ambitions for your life…I experience a lot of mom guilt for wanting to accomplish something with my life and not just be a mom, but it’s something all moms want. Staying home everyday, it’s easy to lose yourself.” On the same note, another SAHM, age 24 who’s been staying home for 2.5 years said, “I want others to know that we mothers who stay home with our children are dreamers. We have dreams for ourselves (spouse too!) and our children. We want to bless our children and believe in what we are choosing to invest our days in, even though we doubt ourselves so often.”
One SAHM of 7 who has been staying home for 11 years writes that the long term benefits of staying home “have been so worth it. The best things to invest our limited time into are things that make memories (which allow us to take time with us into the future), and things that last for eternity. Every moment I spend investing my time in my kids is an investment in eternal relationships with eternal people…being their mom cannot be outsourced. I will not regret spending my life on them.” Another mother of twin boys says of staying home, “People think, ‘it must be nice’ to stay home. It definitely is! But I don’t think they realize how much you truly do all day. It can be exhausting and I look forward to going to the grocery store one a week or so, LOL! I feel lucky I can stay home. I think more people should if they can. Money isn’t more important than this time with my boys!”
Yet another SAHM of 3 shared that she has worked part-time jobs on nights and weekends as long as she’s been home with her kids. She notes that it has been really good for her mental health and temperament as she can feel overloaded by constant “mom brain responsibilities”. She also likes getting out and talking to other adults. She says there is a different sense of purpose when working outside the home, but it doesn’t replace her sense of purpose as a mom. A 30 year old mom of 4 who has been staying home for 5 years shared that the most difficult thing about staying home is making sure that she is spending intentional time with each child as this is more difficult to remember to do because she is with them all the time. She added that she is thankful she can stay home because with the young ages of her children (ages 5, 3, 1 & 1), they couldn’t afford daycare with any amount of money she could make. One SAHM says, ”I see the change I’m making in them and can’t imagine not being with them and caring for them in these few years I have to influence them.” She feels she has more time to invest in her marriage and relationships and be intentional about things that matter.
A 27 year old mother to two and former teacher who has been staying home for 4 years said of staying home, that it is “harder than teaching ever was and I constantly question if I am doing the right thing or if I’m ruining my kiddos.” She feels blessed and loves it, but still grieves “the loss” of her career and independence. This SAHM said, “It’s ok to feel both happiness and sadness about being a SAHM.” Lastly, a 38 year old mother to 3 with one on the way says “…even as a mom of little ones it was good and necessary to serve outside my home so those opportunities shouldn’t be held back from moms with little ones. Serving others is a perspective changer-it helps us to remember that there is life outside our 4 walls, nighttime feedings, diapers, and so on. She concludes by saying, “I have the amazing opportunity to teach my kids the value of hard work and provide ministry opportunities for them that we wouldn’t have if I was working. It’s pretty awesome!
I asked the working mamas the following 3 questions:
1. What was the biggest misperception you had about what it was going to be like as a mom working outside the home?
2. What was the hardest thing about returning to work after maternity leave? If not hard-explain why.
3. What is one thing you’d like the world to know about what it is like being a working mom?
Question one for working moms yielded several different answers. Two working moms mentioned that they thought they’d have a routine down and stick to it, but commenting on this, a working mom of 2 said, “My misconception was that I could create this routine and stick to it. Boy was I wrong. Trying to juggle everything gets chaotic between home stuff and doctor and dentist appointments and school stuff; I feel rushed all the time.” Another mom said ”Routine? What routine?!” To add to the thought of establishing a smooth routine, one mother, age 30 with a 10 month old said, “…I thought I would be able to work, make dinner, clean up, bathe my daughter, and get her to bed, like all the other moms I see. I don’t know if I’m just really low capacity, or if I’m mistaken about what other moms accomplish, but I cannot do this. My husband makes all the meals and cleans up. I really don’t know how these moms do it with multiple kids and a full time job and still somehow manage to work out. Give me your secrets! So I guess this is possibly still a misperception, ha!” Similarly, a 41 year old mother of 3 who has been working outside the home for 12 years writes, “Perhaps, my biggest misconception would be that it would be relatively easy to have the time and energy to feel like cooking a well balanced meal and tidying up and cleaning up my house and yet still have time to exercise and have time for myself every evening after work. The reality is many days I do not have the energy to do these things ‘well’ after working 9-9.5 hours a day and I often times feel guilty for not being able to ‘do it all.’ I constantly feel like I neglect my own needs for the sake of my children and my profession which often bothers me.”
On the other hand, one working mother, age 38 with two children ages 11 and 7 says, “I thought it might be more stressful on my family than it actually is working. The reality is that it is a blessing to my husband that he sometimes has primary responsibility for the kids because they learned to trust him as well as me.” Another working mom of 3, 26 years old, says that she thought she would hate going back to work but that she loves her job, despite missing her kids. She says that work has given her confidence, feelings of accomplishment and pride, and opportunities to learn and excel at skills. Being away at work has helped her be a better mom and appreciate her time at home even more. She added that is has strengthened her husband’s relationship with their kids and has helped him grow as a husband and father.
Question 2 asks, What was the hardest part about returning to work after maternity leave? If not hard, please explain. One mother, age 30 with a 1 year old stayed home for 16 months and recently went back to work. She mentioned feeling isolated staying home as she was in a new town far from family with very little to do in their community and very few other SAHM’s. She spent a lot of time solo parenting at the time due to her husband’s job and felt deeply unhappy about staying home and guilty for feeling that way. She adds that she felt like she was “drowning and didn’t know how to say so.” Her husband encouraged her to try something else and she says after one week back at work she “felt more like herself than she had since before pregnancy.” She adds, “I think any mom who is taking care of herself and ensuring her child is well-cared for is doing the right thing.”
Several working moms mentioned that the hardest part about returning to work was that they miss their children while away. Two working moms mentioned the sheer exhaustion that goes into being up with a baby at night and getting up for work early the next day for work. One of these two mothers said that after work she just wanted to hold her babies but couldn’t because there were things like supper, laundry, and dishes to tend to. Two mothers mentioned that nursing was hard as they would have to pump at work. Experiencing lower supply of breast milk due to being away from children was mentioned and the fact that you have to basically relearn your job after being away on maternity leave. One working mother, age 38 who has worked 10 years part-time and one year full-time stated that the hardest part about returning to work for her was “developing a realistic routine that allowed me to get work and home stuff done” and also “being ok with leaving a crying kid with colic with someone else; I felt sorry for anyone else that had to deal with it.”
Another working mom, age 33 with 3 children ages 8, 6, and 4 has been working outside the home for 8 years and said the “hardest part about going back to work was leaving behind the freedom of just chill’axing with my baby at home with time to clean here and there.” She also notes that her schedule “became more intense at times.” A working mom age 31 with 3 children works the night shift and says, “Working as a full-time mom is not hard, but working as a full-time mom on night shift where your kids are in school during the day is extremely hard because you’re missing out on so many memories.”
Furthermore, a working mom of a 10 month old said “The hardest part about returning to work is leaving my baby, of course! No one will care for her the way I will, and it’s hard not knowing exactly what’s going on with her all day. How long did she nap? Was she cranky? What did she play with? Did she do tummy time? Also, the days I work, I hardly get any time with her before and after work, so I really cherish the days in between when I get to see and know her personality. Also, pumping sucks.” To add to that note, a working mom of 2 said, “The hardest part of returning to work was bringing along the breast pump and finding storage for breast milk at work until you left work.” She adds, “A big thing for me as well, is I missed out on that first step, or first word, and so on.” A third working mother of 3 can attest to the challenges of pumping at work as well; she said, “…I hated pumping. Not only pumping itself but being made to feel bad by coworkers for doing so and doing it for over a year with each child.” She also says, “The hardest part about going back to work was 100% leaving my tiny baby in someone else’s hands (even if totally capable) when he/she had relied on me completely the first 3 months of his/her life. I constantly wondered if the baby wondered where I was and it killed me inside.”
In one unique situation, a working mom I surveyed, age 41 with three children ages 12, 9 , and 7 said that she works as the director at the childcare center her children attended and that “It was difficult for me to return to work after maternity leave because it was very challenging to hear them cry and not be able to comfort and hold them. My ability to focus on my work was compromised many days because of this. As my children got older in the childcare center, it was even more challenging as they would often times want to be in the office with me. I constantly felt torn over how to best direct my attention without being judged by my fellow coworkers or other parents coming in to the center. Being I was at work, ultimately I was a Director first and a mom second which was so incredibly hard and it just felt so unfair. I sometimes wonder if I would have been able to spend more time with my children by being a SAHM, if they would have less behavior struggles and be better listeners at times. I feel like my dedication and focus on my work/job may have somehow influenced my children’s negative behaviors. I guess you could say I experience a lot of ‘working mom guilt.’”
On a positive note, one working mother of 2 said, “I feel like I get a break 3 days/week out of the house by myself. I love that my daughter gets to spend the other days at home, with her dad, or with her good friend.”
Question 3 to working moms was, what is one thing you’d like the world to know about the reality of working outside the home? A working mom of 3 said, “The thing I wish people knew would be that being a working mom is HARD. Being a SAHM is EQUALLY as hard. I have been on both sides of this and they are each just as challenging as the other. Mom life is hard no matter what way you look at it and I wish moms wouldn’t judge each other for which way their families choose to live their lives.” To that same point, a 30 year old working mom of a 10 month old writes, “Being from the demographic of white, middle-class, Christian-which I’m sure many of your other responders and readers would fit-I feel that the SAHM is still the more glorified choice over going back to work, within that culture. I wish people knew that it’s just a choice. The choice to go to work and have someone else care for your baby during the day has both positive and negative consequences. The choice to stay home with your baby to care for them full time has both positive and negative consequences. It’s just a choice. Both are hard, both are imperfect.”
Another working mom of 3 writes, “It’s really hard not seeing the kids all day long, having some kind of activity in the evenings and only being able to talk to them for 10 minutes at bedtime. We really look forward to weekends as a family. One of the hardest things I do is juggling everyone’s schedule, homework, school needs, meals in a rush, work, bills, housework, volunteer commitments, church activities, etc. …Working outside the home, I often feel disconnected from our church family and other women because to make time for fellowship would take away from the precious time we spend with our kids, as little as that is. One thing I wanted to add is that I struggle with mom guilt. It’s hard to be away from my family but I love my job and look forward to going to work. The mental health field is really rewarding.” On the same note, a 26 year old mom of 3 says that her reluctance to take on any extra commitments is justified because she feels she is at the maximum amount of time she feels comfortable being away from her family.
A working mom of 2 wrote, “The reality of it all, if you can afford to be a SAHM, do it! And if you can handle it. Daycare is so expensive that you may actually save money by staying home. I found at one point my whole paycheck was going to daycare, so I stopped working for a little bit and stayed home with my kids.” On another note, a 41 year old mother of 3 writes about working outside the home, “It is so incredibly challenging and chaotic at times. The time passes by so quickly. In a blink of an eye, your children are in school already and then your oldest child is almost a teenager and you ask yourself, “Wow, how did that happen? Sometimes, if feels like you cannot even catch your breath before you are on to the next task or the next activity. Your time is just torn in so many different directions and you are just juggling so many different responsibilities. Many times I feel like I don’t even get the chance to enjoy life or reflect on what is truly important to me. Vacation time with family is so welcomed so you can just slow down a bit and enjoy.”
Three working moms wrote that financially staying home for them is not an option but mention feeling mom guilt. One of these moms, age 29 with two children writes that she loves being able to see and talk to other adults but misses her kids. She also noted that personally, she is a better mom if she can have some space from them, which working provides. A working mom of 2 says, “The mom. Guilt. Is. Real.” She mentioned that it’s very hard to hear your child cry that first time you drop them off. She says that alternatively, some days her children are getting on her nerves and she feels like she can’t wait to drop them off, only to miss them afterward. The third working mom says, “The reality of being a working mom full-time and working night shift is the hardest, most challenging thing I have ever had to do in my life emotionally…I don’t like leaving my kids because it’s so hard on my heart how much it hurts me everyday having to leave my kids, but I do it so that they can have a better life, so that they can have all the things my husband and I didn’t have growing up. I have considered being a SAHM and making just one income work for us, but there’s no way at this time our family could make ends meet.”
One 38 year old working mother of 2 says that her family works together to make her job happen because they believe it is what God has called her to. She says, “I enjoy my job and it brings me life. My husband wants me to be able to do my job as well so he is willing to take on things like taking sick days to stay home with kids and clean the kitchen. It’s possible!” On another positive note, one working mother of 3 writes, “I think working outside the home gives me the opportunity to have my own social aspect, show my kids a different way of serving/loving/meeting their needs by working at my job, and creates plenty of opportunities for all of us in the family to get out of our comfort zones and work on building relationships (babysitter, friends, playmates, fellow employees, etc.).
Well, there you have it-a post about the ins and outs of staying home and working as a mother. I hope the information I’ve shared with you has helped to better inform you of the challenges and blessings both, that moms experience. I hope it has also opened our eyes to the world of other women who may not live life as we do, and to appreciate them in a new light. Whether you’re a SAHM or working mom, what you do is so important and can never be replaced. I hope this post can inspire us all to love the different moms in our lives and to see value in what they do-whether different than ours or not.
A huge thank you to all my survey responders! The information you provided me was eye opening, humorous at times, and so relatable. Thank you for helping make this post possible. 🙂