25/05/2012 09:54 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Not All Stay-At-Home Mums Are Depressed And Joyless

Depressed mother Getty

Stay-at-home mums beware: giving up your career to look after your kids can ruin your life, leaving you angry and depressed.

Mums who choose to stay-at-home after having children usually do so in the belief that the experience will enrich their relationship with their kids, giving them the best possible start in life.

But according to research conducted by Gallop in the US, mums who stay at home to look after their children are more likely than working mums to suffer from worry, stress, sadness, depression and anger.

What's more, the stay-at-home mums polled were "less likely to say that they smiled or laughed a lot, learned something interesting and experienced enjoyment and happiness".

I laughed out loud when I read that story on Parentdish yesterday. Which seems ironic because I gave up my career to be a stay-at-home mum, and when my kids started school I went freelance so that I could carry on being there for my boys. So by rights, if you believe this research, I probably should have lost the capacity to laugh at all by now.

I'm being flippant of course - there's no denying that being a full-time mum can be exhausting and isolating. I've written honestly about how being at home with two children under the age of three sometimes left me feeling as though I hated being a mother.


But surely one of the biggest benefits of being at home with your kids is the countless opportunities to laugh together, and to vicariously enjoy all the new things your child discovers and learns to do?


Carla, a very happy stay-at-home mother of two agrees wholeheartedly, and thinks
that stay-at-home mothers have perhaps the most important, fortunate and magical role of all.

"Each day is a journey into new discoveries and imaginings. There isn't an office or any amount of delicious stationery that could make me change my mind," she says. "Don't get me wrong - there are times when I wish I had more time to focus on my work, and the things I could achieve if I had childcare. But those moments are fleeting, instantly cast to the breeze that carries the laughter through our home."

In contrast, my friend Kate thinks there's more than a grain of truth in the new research, and freely admits that she was happier after she went back to work following a period of time at home full-time with her two children.

"Maybe it's the fact that when my kids are at school and nursery I don't have to answer a million and one questions about random things. Maybe it's because I'm earning my own money again so I'm not asking my husband for pocket money, or maybe it's because I've been able to switch my whole brain back on, not just the maternal side of it," Kate muses. "I love my kids but I also love me, and being a stay-at-home mum and doing nothing else but that is not for me. I'd be a miserable, bored and frustrated cow."

But not all stay-at-home mothers feel that way. On the Parentdish Facebook page, one stay-at-home mum had this to say in defence of stay-at-home mothers: "At least we don't expect other people to raise our children, and our children know exactly who is picking them up, dropping them off, and which house they're going to. Stability! If this means an unhappy mum now and again, I am sure I know what my children would prefer. These articles are written by working mothers to make themselves feel less selfish."

Actually it was written by a reluctant house dad - but never mind.

Another Facebook mum believes stay-at-home mothers are made to feel inadequate for not having a career by "other selfish mothers who insist on working full time and passing their children onto anybody who will have them".

But a sense of inadequacy isn't only felt by mums who choose to stay at home. Mother of two, Catherine, worked part-time when her children was little, but found baby care lonely and frustrating, and felt bad that she wasn't more in thrall to full-time motherhood.

"Seeing other mothers who clearly loved it always made me feel guilty and inadequate - and still does to a degree. In retrospect I wonder if I had mild post-natal depression, but it doesn't surprise me that stay-at-home mums are more likely to be depressed."

Carla sees things differently. "Depressed? How can I be? Often I have a trumpet in one hand, a paper crown on my head, pillowcase wings to make me fly, paint all over my clothes, and a laptop to work on whilst multi tasking dinner. I may not be the same person I was before my children came along. But I wouldn't want to be."


Ultimately of course, only you can determine which arrangement - being a full-time mum or balancing parenthood with work, or some combination of both - will best befit the needs of your family (and yourself).


But if you are a stay-at-home mum who finds it a sad, lonely or joyless experience, take heart. Speak up about the way you feel, and make time to meet your own needs, beyond your role as a mum. Motherhood does usually get easier as children grow, and the 'real' you doesn't have to wither away beneath a mountain of motherly misery in the meantime.

Why not try Carla's secret tip for keeping the embers of your pre-baby identity alive: "Until then I will keep a notebook of 'me' - ideas yet to be actioned and ambitions... beyond mother."