Got the Stay-at-Home-Mom Blues? How to Decide If You Should Go Back to Work

Got the Stay-at-Home-Mom Blues? How to Decide If You Should Go Back to Work

Before you conclude whether the SAHM life is for you, ask yourself these six questions.

By: Marisa Torrieri Bloom

If you quit your job to be a stay-at-home mom, you might tell others it was the best decision you ever made. But what if it wasn’t? What if you’re not feeling as blissful as all your friends appear to be at mommy-and-me playdates?

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.

“It's a common situation in my practice to have women who had decided to stay home with their child -- typically their first child -- feel depressed and come to counseling,” says Carl G. Hindy, PhD, a clinical psychologist based in Nashua, New Hampshire.

Janet Zinn, LCSW, a New York City-based psychotherapist, agrees. “Being a mom can be all-consuming in terms of focus, uncertainty, the time commitment, and it can be unpredictably isolating," she says. “Even though the isolation is understood, the fullness of the isolation is underestimated prior to motherhood. For all these reasons, not going back to work can feel like a mistake.”

So then, if you are lucky enough to have a choice in the matter, the question becomes: Should you return to work to get your groove back? Before you make a rash decision, mental health pros and financial experts suggest asking yourself the following questions.

1. Am I being too hard on myself? It’s common for stay-at-home moms to feel like they're failing at all the major roles: mother, spouse, and career woman, says Hindy. Cutting yourself some slack could change your outlook. “The mother role, being the newest role, is one where it's too easy to feel bad,” he says.

2. Have I given myself enough time to adjust to my new role? Shifting out of the workforce is a big change, so it’s natural to feel nervous. “The insecurity of being a new mom can have parents long to go back to work, where they know their tasks,” says Zinn. “And the routines don’t constantly change as soon as you’ve mastered one. At work, you knew what was expected of you and didn’t always feel insecure by every choice as if it could spoil or hurt your child.”

3. Are my feelings actually rooted in a shift in my marriage dynamic? As we know, the job of mother is 24/7, and the husband [or partner] might be too quick to assume that her tasks now involve everything to do with their home and child,” says Hindy. “And that's not a good thing for her, for him, or for the marriage. The roles need to be negotiated, and renegotiated, and again when she returns to work even part time, or it’s going to feel like even more on her plate.”

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4. Could (or should) I work part time? If you truly miss the adult conversation or intellectual stimulation of the work environment, perhaps a part-time job -- doing something such as tutoring or retail -- would fill that void. “While I have, at times, encouraged women to consider returning to work, perhaps part time, a main concern that I have is that they not construe [being a SAHM] as a failure, as something they ‘couldn't do,’” Hindy warns.

5. Would the money I make only cover child care? In other words, if you miss making money, but all those hours you’re working are just paying for someone to watch your kid, is going back to work worth it? Unless there’s an emotional gain, maybe not. “The bottom line is, if you’re going to give up time with your family, is it going to compensate you enough to pay for the needs of your children, and provide you enough additional income to achieve your goals?” says CFP and investment adviser Keith Klein of Turning Pointe Wealth Management in Phoenix, Arizona. “These include retirement savings, vacations, and college savings.”

6. Will I regret my decision later? While Klein advises his clients to look at the numbers when making big decisions, he is careful to note that you can’t put a monetary value on the benefit of time with your kids. “It’s an opportunity cost you can’t pay for,” he says.

So if you’re content being a SAHM, being away from the family and working outside the home may not be worth the extra paycheck. Of course, the opposite is also true then. If you’re happier when you’re working, then it’s absolutely worth its challenges, too.

How happy are you with your decision to be a working mom or stay-at-home mom?

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a freelance writer and guitar teacher who lives with her husband and two young sons in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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