After baby is born, many mums give up their full-time jobs to look after their children at home. Many, however, aren’t always happy with this new way of life.
“I have two awesome boys who are seven and five. I became a stay-at-home mum after our second. I knew that when I left my job, I wouldn’t be able to jump right back into it. That was tough, but my husband made more money and it made the most sense at the time.
“I’m starting to harbour resentment over the decision. I enjoy going to my older son’s baseball games and not having to worry about who will pick up my younger son from preschool. I enjoy being able to cook dinner every night. I enjoy not having to stress about childcare.
“I hate almost everything else about it. I feel like I’m going crazy staring at the walls in my house. My husband is going away for his work; I hate that he gets to get away and advance his career. I love my husband dearly, but I hate how unfair it is.
Has anyone been in a similar situation? Did it eventually get better as the kids got older? How did you stop feeling guilty for your resentment?”
Deciding to be the stay-at-home parent may have been “the best thing” when you started a family—taking a step back from your career, asking for flexible hours, working from home or even quitting your job entirely to be with your children.
What begins as a dream for some however, can turn into a nightmare for many, leading to stay-at-home mum resentment. Of course, as it comes with the territory, such resentment is also paired with a huge amount of mum guilt. Which mum, after all, resents being able to stay at home and spend time with their children?
It’s no surprise then that mothers like this Reddit user and those in our Mums At The Table Facebook group have taken to internet forums to (sometimes anonymously) express guilt and shame over their restlessness and discontent as they watch their husbands living their best life.
What causes stay-at-home mum resentment?
Before your life as a full-time parent, you may have been working in your career and were recognised for your accomplishments outside of the home. From the moment you began maternity leave, then transitioned into staying at home full-time with your new baby, your identity shifted from career woman, wife and friend to just “mum” in a short period of time.
This sudden shift in identity can cause depression, anxiety, isolation and stress. Alongside the responsibility of running a household, there is the added task of raising your kids and all that comes with looking after young children.
While you’re struggling with your mental health and new parenthood—and questioning your decision to stay home—hearing comments about how nice it must be not to go to work doesn’t help.
“The complication with mothers who choose to stay home . . . is that they are often overlooked because not having to go to work every day is viewed as a privilege,” writes Grace Back in an article for Marie Claire.
In other words, you should be grateful for being a stay-at-home mother and not feel any sort of negative feelings at all.
When stay-at-home mum resentment begins
How many times have you watched your husband go to work, leaving the house seemingly carefree? His career is excelling while yours is non-existent. On top of that, his social life is thriving while yours is slowly dwindling. After all, the only adult interaction you get is when he finally comes home.
Staying at home and putting the needs of your kids before your own is a sacrifice. Sadly, these are accomplishments that can be difficult to measure. Picking up after the children, nap times and challenging tantrums are just some of the battles you have to fight every single day. The problem is that even the small wins of home life don’t get recognised.
If being a mother was recognised as a career, you would get a bonus or a promotion. Instead, you’re met with grumpy kids and a husband who frequently tells you how nice it must be to stay at home or questions why you forgot to do the lunchtime dishes because you’ve been home all day.
As a stay-at-home mum, it’s easy to set your wants and needs aside to facilitate a happy household.
Unmet needs cause resentment
Resentment is defined as “bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly”. It is the perception of unfairness due to a failure to maintain boundaries or ask for what we need.
Society has conditioned us to believe that a “good mother” is selfless. She prioritises the needs of others over her own. This idea, alongside a lack of support and perceived value, means mothers can enter into a cycle where they give so much with little return or appreciation.
“Motherhood is a breeding ground for insidiously self-destructive behaviour,” Beth Berry writes in her book, Motherwhelmed. “While our nurturing, self-sacrificial instincts are beautiful and life-preserving, they’re also a fast track to burnout, resentment, exhaustion and destruction, if we’re not careful. It’s natural to minimise our needs in the interest of the beautiful beings we love, but it’s not natural that we’re raising our children in isolation and that the bulk of their needs are falling on one person instead of a tribe of extended family members and friends. This, and other profoundly affecting gaps within our culture, makes self-awareness and self-nurturing that much more essential.”
How to overcome resentment
Maybe you’re stuck in a cycle of giving so much that you’ve lost your self-worth and your identity. Maybe you’ve fallen into the habit of resenting your partner for the littlest things and it’s driving a wedge in your relationship.
Here are five steps you can take to stop feeling resentful—and guilty for feeling that way.
1. Acknowledge it
The first step to overcoming stay-at-home mum resentment is to acknowledge it. Sit with that feeling that you get when your husband tells you he’s going on a fishing trip with the boys this weekend and you get another day with the kids by yourself. Or the thought that he has a full-time career while your work life involves changing nappies and vacuuming floors.
It’s not pretty and it can be uncomfortable, but acknowledging you feel a certain way instead of dismissing it goes a long way in communicating how you really feel to your partner.
2. Be compassionate
Be compassionate towards yourself and your partner. They may not be enjoying the long hours they have to spend in the office. They may be facing their own difficulties and challenges. They may truly want to help you but don’t actually know where to start.
It’s important to take some time for yourself too. Don’t feel guilty about leaving your partner alone with the kids. It’s only when you find ways to fit in some downtime to recharge and reset that you can return and be a better mum.
3. Identify the unmet need
Identify the need that you feel is being unmet. Is it a lack of support? Encouragement? Self-care? Identifying these needs are essential in finding a solution. Involve your partner.
4. Take action
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Let your partner know how you feel, discuss ways in which both of you can work together to better handle the responsibility of raising children. Whether that’s making a schedule or asking your wider family members to get involved, make a plan so that you can take some time off.
5. Let go of the past
Take a deep breath and let go of all the times when you’ve felt anger and resentment towards your partner for failing to meet your needs and expectations. We’re all human after all. Forgiving your partner and letting go of the past is the only way that you can move forward.
Moving beyond resentment
If you don’t find ways to meet your needs, you will always feel trapped in the cycle of resentment. You don’t have to forget about the needs of others, but we encourage you to start meeting your own needs first.
We have Mums At The Table groups meeting all over Australia and New Zealand. Find your local group, meet mum friends and overcome stay-at-home mum resentment.
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