You can only really fully understand what it’s like to be a stay-at-home parent (SAHP) once you’ve lived it yourself. Where people may think it’s all about midday snuggles and adorable smiles (and sure – that is a perk of the trade) as any SAHP will tell you – that definitely doesn’t capture the full story.
In Australia, about 27% of mums and 5% of dads identify as stay-at-home parents. And we see with each year that the percentage of families that have both parents working increases (from 52% in 1991 to 61% in 2016). We know that staying at home with your children long-term is a privilege that lots of families just can’t afford – but that definitely doesn’t make it a walk in the park.
Here are 15 reasons why being a stay-at-home parent is way harder than it looks.
1. Your work may go unappreciated…
As a SAHP, it can really feel like society has seemingly decided that until it comes with pay cheques, KPIs and performance reviews, raising and caring for your children isn’t a real job.
However this couldn’t be further from the truth. When you do the math – it’s been found that a year of breastfeeding equates to about 1800 hours of your life (the numbers are scary). Considering that the average 40-hour work week with three weeks of holidays is 1960 hours of work a year, you can begin to understand why SAHPs are so exhausted.
Because feeding your baby is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to your day-to-day duties at home. When you consider all the feeding, settling, cuddling, playing, changing and just overall attention and care you need to give – it really is a 24/7 gig.
So, when your partner/parent/parent-in-law enters the home and the first thing they say is, “wow – the laundry has piled up” it can be downright infuriating. The invisible work you do while you are at home with your baby, often goes unappreciated and unnoticed and there can be uneven expectations about your domestic responsibilities.
2. It can just be a lot to deal with
Your children can be so adorably wonderful one minute and the next they are noisy, messy and just overwhelming. And as a SAHP, this overwhelm can begin to just feel like your new normal.
If you are working, your job can almost act like an escape or circuit breaker from all chaos of raising little people. Whereas if you are home what feels like 24/7 having to constantly clean up, settle and just engage with the mayhem can be exhausting.
3. You might miss your old life
While you love your children – it is totally normal to miss your old life. From getting dressed up for work each day, to grabbing coffee with your co-workers, smashing your day-to-day tasks and then getting to clock off at the end of the day before going home and enjoying an uninterrupted sleep.
Being a SAHP is a full-time job. And like any job, it’s normal to have days or even weeks where you don’t love your job. It doesn’t mean you don’t love spending time with your kids – but it can be a sign that you need some more time for yourself and the things you enjoy.
4. Money can be stressful
Even with all the planning in the world – dropping down from two incomes to one can cause some financial stress. And for some reason, while the work you are doing is so important, and let’s be real labour intensive since you aren’t getting paid for it, some SAHPs can feel guilty about their lack of income.
This financial imbalance can make it hard for SAHPs to justify spending money on themselves. For some reason, it can feel easier to purchase new clothes or shoes when it feels like ‘your money.’
If you begin to feel this way, it can be a great idea to bring it up with your partner, and get their vocal support or to agree on a set amount of money that is totally free for you to spend on yourself each month.
5. It can be lonely
When you’re in the office, you get to chat with your co-workers and build that feel-good banter, when you are a SAHP it can begin to feel quite lonely. Especially if you are an extrovert who really thrives on interacting with friends and having lively conversation throughout the day.
Parent groups and meeting up with other parents can be a great fix but it still isn’t the same as having people beside you all day. Many parents find it helpful to have a set of weekly catch-ups with different friends and groups – just so you are ensuring that social time is being scheduled into your day.
6. There can be resentment on both sides
Whether you stay at home with your children, or go to work, there are unfortunately sacrifices on both sides. This can really lead to a ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ mentality.
One on hand, a SAHP may resent their partner for getting to go to work, advance their career and get time away from the home and caretaking responsibilities. On the other hand, their partner may begin to resent them for getting to spend more time with their children.
The best way to avoid or minimize these feelings is to have an open line of communication, and to respect each other’s contribution and work.
7. The mental load is real
As a SAHP, it can often feel like people begin to see you as, or treat you like the ‘primary’ parent. You can become the one handling all of the things like medical admin, family admin, grocery shopping, meal prep, birthday parties and all the little things which take up space on your mental to-do list.
It is a dynamic that can develop subconsciously but is nonetheless potentially damaging. But from carrying out the planning, organising, delegating and worrying – it is no wonder that many SAHPs feel exhausted.
If you are feeling this way, it is important to bring it up with your partner or support network and make a plan for shifting some of the responsibilities off of your plate.
Read more about the mental load and ways to help manage it here.
8. It can make you feel like the ‘not-fun’ parent
When you are the one in charge of the practical day-to-day stuff, like bathing, feeding and nap time, you can begin to feel like the ‘not-fun’ parent who’s only in charge of the menial tasks. Especially when it feels like all your working partner needs to do is walk through the door at 6 pm to get a standing ovation from your child.
9. There is 0 room for you time
Between feeding, changing and taking care of your child, plus all the general unending household tasks you find on your to-do list – you time can feel like a forgotten thing of the past. While at work, you can find 10 minutes to get a coffee, and maybe even sit in the sunshine and scroll through Instagram – it can be really hard to find this time as a SAHP.
10. You can feel like you are losing yourself
When 90% of your job is looking after someone else, it can feel like you’re losing yourself in your new identity as a parent. Many of us unknowingly tie a lot of our identity and even our self-esteem to our work or to our hobbies.
As a stay-at-home parent, it can be a long process to reconcile with your new, forming identity, and to find new ways of building self-esteem without these structures.
11. It really can be a small world
Many of us are very lucky to find great parent groups that are really supportive and something to look forward to each week. However, not all of us are as lucky. Whether it’s distance, social stigma or just not really clicking with the parent group near you – as a SAHP it can really begin to feel like a small world.
Stay-at-home dads can particularly struggle to find community if they are surrounded by very traditional mothers groups.
12. Caring is draining
Caring for your child goes beyond the practical. It’s more than the nappy changes, feeding and settling – it also can be very emotionally draining. Having to be caring and emotionally available around the clock with very little time to fill up your own cup can begin to have negative impacts on your mental health.
It has been found that stay-at-home parents report greater feelings of depression, sadness and anger than working parents. To combat this, it is important that SAHPs are given the resources, time and support they need to take care of themselves physically, mentally, emotionally and socially.
If you are beginning to feel emotionally drained, unlike your usual self, or just a bit down – get in contact with your partner or support group and make a plan to get the help you need.
13. Social stigma against SAHPs is STILL a thing in 2022
Yep, no matter how much people talk about it – you’ll still bump into people on the street, or get unnecessary comments about how SAHPs ‘have got it easy.’ Or even SAHPs may feel like they don’t receive the same level of respect as their working counterparts.
We know that being a SAHP is extremely difficult and it’s time for it to be given the respect it deserves.
14. You dream of the days where you got an actual lunch break
Sure, while you were at work there probably are a few days each month where you have to work through your lunch breaks. But that just doesn’t compare to what lunch looks like as a SAHP. Let’s be real, lunch most days is often whatever is left on your kid’s plate that you scoff down with a laundry basket in one hand and a toy you almost tripped over in the other.
What you wouldn’t do for a fresh sandwich from the local bakery at your old job or a sit-down lunch with some co-workers… even if it was at a desk.
15. Your co-worker happens to be adorable, yet not very conversational
Finally, while cute, your baby isn’t the best when it comes to office gossip. And even as they grow up and get more talkative, it is less “did you see last night’s episode of Married At First Sight?” and more “get me a snack.”
At the end of the day, being a SAHP has its ups and downs, just like the rest of your parenting journey or even like any other career. With all of the amazing moments with your child also come unique challenges and difficulties to navigate. So, if you are a SAHP and no one has told you this in a while – you are doing great. And, if you aren’t a SAHP, hopefully this has given you some insight and some major respect for the SAHPs in your life.