Being a stay-at-home mom is hard work — MUCH more work than I ever realized until I became a stay-at-home mom myself. Suddenly, I gained a newfound respect for my own mother. They say that moms are the glue, and that's no joke!
Unfortunately, if you haven't taken on this ringmaster role, then you might not see the countless quiet tasks that moms take on. If you're wanting to take a look behind the curtain, here are some things that most people assume about stay-at-home mothers (SAHM) or the lives they lead that are completely false. We'll share some secrets about what it's really like!
Myth #1: Your House Will Always be Clean
"Keeping the house clean with a toddler is like trying to brush your teeth while eating Oreos."
This is one of my favorite quotes about toddlers because it could not be more true! One of my SAHM friends was sick and her husband had to take over. This was his statement after one whole day caring for their children with no help. What many people don't realize is that being a stay at home mom means cleaning up after little tornadoes throughout the entire day.
The Reality: You will get your house clean, only to turn around and find your baby pulling poopy diapers out of the diaper pail or your toddler pouring all the water out of the dog's bowl. The chaos and cleanups are constant.
The Takeaway for Partners: When you come home and see the mess — know that your wife has likely dealt with 20 or more messes and this is just one of the most recent tornadic toddler outbreaks of the day.
Monessori at home is a great way to cut back on the chaos. I love this style of learning because it focuses on practical life lessons as well as the typical educational endeavors that you find at any other school. Everything has a place and your child can only partake in one activity at a time. They are a part of the clean ups and daily chores as well.
Myth #2: You Will Have Help
Being a stay at home mom is a 24/7 gig. While you would assume that a SAHM would have ample time to get household tasks done, care for the kids, and then take a much needed break when her significant other comes home, this is usually not the case.
Since the SO is taking on the financial responsibility of the household, they many times assume that all the duties of being a SAHM will fall in mom's lap, no matter what hour of the day it is.
The problem with this is that they work a set number of hours and then get time to rest. SAHMs, on the other hand, are on call 24 hours a day. This schedule can make you feel as if you are drowning when things begin to pile up.
The Reality: For those wondering what I am talking about — SAHMs take on the cleaning, doctor's appointments, school runs, cooking, baths, and meal times. This doesn't include keeping your children entertained, dealing with meltdowns, helping with school work, taking the kids to soccer practice and piano lessons, walking the dogs, tending to sick littles, and all the other things that have to happen in a day.
Oh, and don't forget about those regular overnight feedings, waking up to check on sick kids throughout the night, and being the monster wrangler when nightmares happen. Needless to say, it can become quite tiring, even when you have help.
Myth #3: Raising Kids Is Completely Fulfilling
Being a stay-at-home mom is one of the most rewarding jobs a person can have, but it is also a thankless job. You are paid in the most perfect hugs and slobbery kisses, but changing diapers, cleaning up messes, and repeating the same tasks day after day doesn't always give you the feeling that you have accomplished something important in life.
The Reality: Adult interactions are limited and when your spouse comes home, the house either looks the same or worse than when they left. No one sees the constant work done throughout the day. Suddenly, you can find yourself feeling less successful than you did in a professional setting where ideas and hard work are rewarded.
Myth #4: Playdates With Your Kids Are a Social Hour for You
Yes, if your kids are eight and 10, you likely get the chance to chat with your friends, but for the SAHMs who are taking a toddler to the park, it can be an exhausting experience.
The Reality: Most playgrounds are intended for older kids, which means there are stairs, drop offs, openings, and other fall risks all throughout the equipment. Not only that, but for the parents like myself who have runners in the family, this "fun visit" becomes a game of tag that you didn't want to play.
Oh, and did I mention the sand? And the small rocks? They seem great in theory until you turn around and your kid is eating them. This leaves very little time to actually talk to the friends you met at the park with their kids.
Myth #5: Your Kids Will Eat Healthier
The other day, my husband sent me an Instagram reel of a woman who said that if she can manage to get her kids to lick a chicken nugget and eat some crackers, she did her job for the day. If you would have shown me this when my son was a year and a half, I would have been flabbergasted.
At that time, our son ate anything and everything I placed in front of him. And I'm talking spinach frittatas, sauteed vegetables, fresh fruit, grilled chicken, and more. Now, I am lucky if he eats some Goldfish, a cheese stick, and a fruit pouch for dinner. But not just any fruit pouch — if the packaging is wrong, it is clearly bad.
The Reality: Once your kid turns two, you can be a gourmet chef (which my husband used to do for a living), and your child will still reject the food, purely based on the color, texture, or some other ridiculous reason. No need to actually put the food in their mouth to try it first. However, you still need them to eat, so after offering them a third meal option, you become happy that they snarfed down basically anything that resembles food.
Myth #6: You Are So Lucky to Not Have to Work
One of my biggest pet peeves as a SAHM is hearing the words "It must be SO nice not to have to work." For the lucky few, the decision to not work is a choice. For others, it was a necessity. And for myself, it is a downright lie. I stay at home with my kids AND work. It may come as a surprise, but this is a reality for a large percentage of stay-at-home moms.
The Reality: Did you know that in 2022 less than a quarter of all U.S. households consisted of married couples with children in which only one person worked? Having a dual-income household is becoming a necessity as the cost of living continues to rise. The problem is, the cost of childcare is no picnic either.
As of 2023, infant-based childcare in the United States averages just over $15,000, dropping to $12,000 for toddler care. For many families, especially those with more than one child, this is an overwhelming cost that their salaries just cannot cover, even if both parents are working full-time.
This leaves SAHMs with the responsibility of childcare AND bringing home at least some of the bacon. However, working with littles is easier said than done. Remember the mess scenario from earlier? Imagine having to focus on work while tornado casualties pop up every hour.
Many stay-at-home moms temporarily put off work when their kids are young and return to the workforce once they get old enough for school. This can be a surprisingly hard adjustment, but having a schedule and making household expectations clear to the whole family can make this transition to work easier.
Myth #7: You Won't Experience Mom Guilt
Working moms carry around a boatload of guilt. They leave the kids to build careers and often worry and wonder if they are making the right life choice. It's commonly believed that stay-at-home moms live guilt-free because we never have to feel bad about being away from our children. After all, we have made them our entire world, right?
The Reality: All moms experience mom guilt, regardless of their jobs. We feel guilt over the amount of screen time we allow, the number of times we raise our voices, the fact that we can't give our second kid the same amount of attention we gave the first, and so much more.
We also miss milestones, just like working mothers. Juggling everything home-related means that you blink and suddenly your second baby is walking, or he has four more teeth that you didn't notice him cutting over the past two weeks.
Myth #8: You Are Not Working
Growing up, my mother stayed at home and was the quintessential example of an involved parent. She quit a high-powered job to do this. I firmly believe that her presence throughout my formative years is what molded me into the person I am today. In my eyes, she was and is important for making this decision.
The Reality: To my surprise, after quitting my "real job" that was in an office to work from home and care for my kids at the same time, I quickly became "just a mom." I seemed to disappear. This was a very frustrating realization, especially hearing people say "oh, you're just staying home with the kids."
But even if I was just caring for my kids and not working for a paycheck, isn't that still a job? Let's think about this: you would pay a person to care for your children if you went into an office each day. They have a job, so why do mothers not get that same respect? Many moms feel frustrated that their role is not seen as work.
Myth #9: You Will Have Endless Hours of Free Time
If you have one child who is older than five, this may be a little true. Double your kids, and this is FAR from reality.
The Reality: News flash — kids get sick a lot. The Mayo Clinic notes that "most babies, toddlers and preschoolers can have as many as 12 colds a year [and] it's also typical for kids to have symptoms lasting up to 14 days." Best of all, when you have more than one little, they don't conveniently get sick on the same day. They spread it out for your benefit.
Oh, and they use you as a human tissue. That's fun too. Add in the stomach bugs and more severe illnesses and stay-at-home-moms begin to feel as if they are drowning in snot and tissues during cold and flu season.
Did I also mention the countless activities that your kids have to go to, the hourly cleanups, schoolwork, endless diaper changes, and everything else that needs to get done in a day? Suddenly, you find yourself questioning when the last time you brushed your teeth was or when you showered last.
Myth #10: You Didn't Want to Work
This is probably the most frustrating part of being a stay-at-home mom. People have a misconception that women who put a career second are unmotivated or aren't smart enough to hold a job.
The Reality: First and foremost, it's important to point out that many women become stay-at-home moms out of necessity, not because they didn't want to have a job with a paycheck. With the high cost of childcare, it is often the more affordable option for one parent to stay at home, rather than forking over half of their paycheck. This also means that many times the woman you see only caring for her kids is sacrificing her dreams for her family. Motivation and smarts have nothing to do with it.
Secondly, many women, like myself, choose to stay at home because they believe that being actively present in their children's lives is important. Research shows that children who have a stay-at-home parent at a young age may do better academically later in life. The decision to stay at home is meaningful to many. It isn't made out of out of idleness.
The Takeaway: Additional studies show that children who spend their time in daycare tend to be more stressed than children who spend time at home with a parent and siblings. This is not to say that either way is wrong, but rather, to remind those who judge to consider why the decision was made.
Different Moms, Different Jobs, Same Goals
No matter if you are a working mom, a stay-at-home mom, or a hybrid of both, it's important to remember that you are doing a great job and your parenting path is what is best for your family. That's what matters. Being a stay-at-home mom is a job just as much as being a meteorologist or an accountant.
I've done both, and in my experience, when your kids are young, working job outside of the home is actually easier. You get quiet in your day, adult interactions, people recognize the hard work you do, and there is a LOT less mess.
So the next time so see "just a mom" wrangling her kids at the store or the doctor's office, try to remember that her work never stops and no one ever says thank you. In fact, if you want to make her day, tell her that she is doing a great job and that her kids will thank her someday. That simple gesture of kindness can make all the difference in a SAHM's outlook on her role.