For those who are full-time caretakers of the household and family, stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) burnout refers to a state of being depleted by this particularly challenging and often isolating role. Mothers are thought to be at higher risk for experiencing stress as they are typically the primary caregivers in family.1 With mindfulness, self-care, and support, stay-at-home-moms can start to cope with and prevent symptoms of burnout.
What is Stay-at-Home Mom Burnout?
Stay-at-home mom burnout refers to a state of chronic stress and exhaustion experienced by moms who have the full-time job of taking care of a home and kids. Burnout can also impact mothers who have careers outside of their home, too. However, SAHM burnout can be more difficult to spot, because of misperceptions that these women have more time, less stress, and an “easier” role than those who have additional responsibilities.
In fact, being a full-time caretaker comes with its own specific set of challenges, including isolation. SAHMs are typically home by themselves or with young children throughout the week. The invisibility of SAHM burnout can lead to moms feeling invalidated by others, as well as by themselves. For example, SAHMs may judge themselves about how they “should” be feeling–”I shouldn’t be stressed,” “I should be enjoying my time with the kids,” “This should be easy,” etc. By ignoring feelings of burnout, many SAHMs become even further depleted and may experience stay-at-home mom depression.
Symptoms of Stay-at-Home Mom Burnout
Stay-at-home-mom burnout causes mental and physical exhaustion, which might manifest as fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and increased substance use.2 Additional signs may include emotionally distancing from one’s children–even leading to neglectful or violent behavior towards them–and a loss of enjoyment in one’s parenting role.3 Parental burnout can also lead to suicide or escape ideations.3 For loved ones, being on the lookout for these and other signs of stay-at-home-mom burnout can help you offer much-needed support.
Symptoms of stay-at-home mom burnout may include:
- Mental exhaustion
- Mom rage
- Loneliness or isolation
- Suicidal or escape ideations
- Overwhelm or feeling like everyone is relying on you
- Feeling like you have no time for yourself
- Substance use
Causes of Stay-at-Home Mom Burnout
The job of being a stay-at-home mom can be demanding and lonely. Managing stress as a mom is important for your own mental health, as well as for the health of your family. Stress that piles up can result in marital problems and can negatively impact children’s emotional stability.(FN4) Besides typical life stressors, other possible causes of SAHM burnout include feeling underappreciated by one’s partner or children; financial struggles in the family–that may be blamed on a stay-at-home-mom, because she isn’t “contributing” in a financial sense; and self-judgment or stigma about the value of one’s role as a stay-at-home caretaker.
Causes of stay-at-home mom burnout may include:
- Financial stress
- Efforts aren’t appreciated or reciprocated
- No one else to share the work load with
- Stigma or self-judgment about one’s role
- Lack of support
- Isolation and lack of connection
- Lack of resources to manage stress
10 Ways to Cope With SAHM Burnout
Being a stay-at-home-mom is a hard job that can quickly lead to burnout, but there are ways you can cope and recover from this type of stress. Adopting healthy self-care routines can be especially beneficial, as they offer you time to decompress from addressing the family demands all week.
Here are 10 tips for coping with SAHM burnout:
1. Create Time for Yourself
Incorporate time into your day that is just for you and not for anyone else in the family. Whether you are exercising, practicing mindfulness, or engaging in a creative outlet, this break is necessary for you to find relief. This might look like taking 30 minutes every day to work out before jumping into the rest of your day. It may seem impossible to do so, but having a routine that includes time for yourself can actually make you more productive. Taking care of yourself will also give you more energy to care for others.
2. Practice Emotional Self-Care
Using mindfulness to observe and label how you feel is the first step in practicing emotional self-care, which is crucial for SAHMs who are caring for others 24/7. You can’t take care of your emotions if you don’t know what they are. Unfortunately, many of us get so busy that we forget to notice these feelings. Start by checking in with yourself periodically throughout the day and asking: What emotions am I feeling? How strongly am I feeling them from 0 to 10? What do I need right now? Practice really listening to your answers and addressing your needs accordingly. You can even set a reminder on your phone to remind yourself to do so. If your anxiety is at a 10, take a break from the to-do list and go for a walk, get out of the house, focus on journaling, or try a gratitude practice.
3. Involve Your Partner
If you have a significant other, working together to appropriately share household chores and responsibilities can be a skillful way to prevent burnout. If you are taking the kids to school and activities, walking the dogs, and making dinner every night, finding time to vacuum may push you over the edge (or keep you up late and impact your sleep). Creating a plan with your partner for some of these tasks will not only take some of the burden off of you, but may actually surprise you (maybe your partner really enjoys vacuuming). Having an open discussion regarding household responsibilities can help you and your partner find a better balance. If starting this conversation seems daunting, using “I statements” and coping ahead for any possible discomfort can be a big help.
4. Take Time Away from the “Office”
For stay-at-home-moms, your full-time job is in your home, which can make your home feel like an office. On weekends or time off, leaving the house may be a more effective way to refresh and recharge than staying at home. Getting a massage, taking a painting class, going on a hike, or trying a yoga class may be important ways to get a change of scenery and reset.
Alternatively, creating a space in your home that is solely used for relaxation–and not household chores–can be a great way to create an accessible escape. For example, if your bedroom is your sanctuary, try lighting candles, playing music, and sitting down with a good book during your time off. Confine screens and piles of laundry to other rooms in the house.
5. Reframe What it Means to “Contribute”
Stay-at-home-moms who feel they are not adding financial value to the household are more likely to experience negative emotions like guilt, shame, and sadness more intensely and frequently. Reassessing what it means to contribute to your household can help you see daily responsibilities in a more positive and realistic light.
You and your partner’s family background and how they viewed the value of parenting can play a role in how you perceive the importance of things like reading to your children, talking to them about their school day, and modeling self care and calmness. If you or your spouse’s family didn’t value these and other mature aspects of parenting, that could partially explain why you don’t realize how important they are.
Make a list of three things that you did today for your family, and take a moment to appreciate how important your role is in helping everyone get through their week.
6. Reach Out to Friends With & Without Children
Even a quick phone or video call can make you feel connected to someone. This is especially true if you find you don’t have many people to talk to during the week. Try calling a friend and purposefully talk about yourselves, without focusing on your kids or daily tasks. Taking time for small outings, like going to a local coffee shop to interact with baristas or other customers, can also give you some human contact on a day when you are feeling alone.
7. Meet Like-Minded Parents
Meeting other stay-at-home caregivers can help you build a supportive community with those who understand what your day to day life is like. If you have toddlers, signing them up for “parent and me” classes will help them make friends, but can also help you make parent friends as well. Gradually, you will start to feel more connected and like you have a community to rely on.
8. Be Mindful of Social Media & Comparing
Scrolling through social media can have a negative impact on anyone’s mental health. However, this can be especially true if you are feeling isolated or burned out, or tend to use social media to compare yourself to others. For instance, unfollowing mom influencer accounts can be a skillful way to remove cues that are likely to cause negative emotions.
9. Find Healthy Ways to Escape
Losing yourself in a good book or an episode of your favorite show can be a healthy way to alleviate stress and take a break from responsibilities. Audio books and podcasts are also a great way to induce a sense of accomplishment while also allowing you to focus on other tasks.
10. Take it One Thing at a Time
Being a SAHM can make you feel like you will never reach the bottom of your to-do list–as soon as you finish cleaning the living room, your kids make it messy again. There is always more to do, and sometimes your efforts may not be recognized. This can lead to feelings of burnout, so make sure to take one thing at a time. Use stress management tools when you start to feel overwhelmed.
How to Help a SAHM Experiencing Burnout
A loved one or partner can help a SAHM who is dealing with burnout by working together to create more equitable care plans for their home, encouraging her to take a break, or being a mindful listener.
A partner or loved one can support a SAHM experiencing burnout by:
- Be a mindful listener: Taking time to listen to how a SAHM is feeling can be a huge help, especially if she is alone for much of the day or only conversing with young children. Put away distractions, like your phone or even your own worries, while you listen to what your partner is stressed about. Making eye contact, nodding, and using other non-verbal cues can also be ways of showing you are present.
- Watch the Kids: A stay-at-home-mom might rarely get time out of the house to do things that she actually enjoys. Offering to watch the kids and encouraging her to go do something for herself can be a huge help.
- Set up a date-night: If your partner is a stay-at-home mom, going on a date together (away from the kids!) can be fun and therapeutic for both of you.
- Offer to clean or hire someone to clean: Give stay at home moms a break by picking up some of the household responsibilities for a day, or bringing in professionals to help. One day off from dishes, laundry, and other house chores can go a long way in reducing SAHM burnout.
- Ask how you can help: Regularly checking in with a stay-at-home-mom to see how she is doing, how you can help, and what she wants/needs is ultimately the most effective way to be helpful. Rather than assuming you know what will have the most impact, let her tell you what would be the most helpful way you could get involved.
When to Seek Professional Help
Parental burnout becomes a problem when you start to feel hopeless. Seeking professional help can help you manage feelings of overwhelm and address any symptoms of depression and anxiety. Moms can expect to feel validated, understood, and seen in therapy. While therapy may include identifying solutions to problems, the most important part of therapy will be having a non-judgmental space where you can express your emotions.
Therapy options for SAHM burnout include:
- Family therapy: Family therapy can help improve communication between you and your family members, which can help reduce and prevent burnout. Learning how to set healthy boundaries and how to express and listen to each other’s emotions and concerns will help your family deal with challenges far into the future.
- Online therapy: For busy SAHMs who can’t imagine finding time to drive to a therapy office, finding a therapist who offers online sessions can be very beneficial, without adding additional stress to your schedule.
- Group therapy: Parenting groups or other forms of group therapy might be a great fit for you if you are looking to feel less alone and hear from others who are going through similar experiences.
You can start your search for finding the right therapist, particularly one who specializes in parenting, using an online therapist directory.
SAHM burnout can sometimes be difficult to deal with, but there are ways to get help and support. Learning how to check in with yourself, build community, and reframe how you view your role in the family are just some of the many ways you can find relief and even find the joy in parenting again. Seeking professional help can also be a huge benefit to your mental health, as well as to the health of your family.