Many people have said: ‘you are doing the most important and valuable job in the world being there for your children’; and in your heart you may well believe it unequivocally, feeling pleased and proud that you can consistently be there at home. 

You may have made a considered decision to stay at home. Or possibly you are surprised at your choice and never really planned this. When your first baby came along, you felt a protective and overwhelming love, and leaving her just did not feel right. You might have looked at childcare options, but the cost outweighed the financial benefits of working. Now, here you are, several years later, managing the home, the family and the children. Life is busy and you wonder how you would have ever had time for a job outside anyway.

But what happens when the stay at home role does not bring the consistent contentment and pleasure that you had hoped for? Maybe you feel you have lost your identity as you set the washing machine for the umpteenth time that day. You recognise that sometimes you are feeling quite bored and frustrated. Frequently, life at home can be difficult and the daily routines monotonous. Briefly, you long for your past life when work provided structure, validation and stimulation. You recognise that you just don’t feel as valuable as you once did.

There is no time now for dressing up to go out the door in the morning and expressing your own individuality in the way you used to. There is not always someone to give you that brilliant feedback when you have worked productively. You don’t always get the same level of appreciation for the long hours you have put in. And where is the monthly pay-check? You miss that financial independence that you once had; the freedom to buy a frivolous item, without thinking first of other priorities.

How do you manage these contradictory feelings? Do you keep them very private and hold them inside? Perhaps you feel guilty for even having them. These are your children, you want to invest your all and contribute in every way possible to their development. And you are sure that other people don’t feel like this either. Other mothers seem to effortlessly cope with this role with bags of enthusiasm and energy. You begin to question your competence and ability as a mother. Sometimes you feel inferior and inadequate.

5 ways to boost your self-esteem when staying at home is getting you down: 

1. Accept how you feel 

It is healthy and ‘normal’ to experience a range of emotional states. Sometimes you might feel intense joy, love, appreciation and happiness for your role as a stay-at-home mum. Sometimes you might feel frustrated, irritated, guilty or upset. Begin to really tune in and acknowledge the range of feelings; being kind and compassionate to yourself, trying not to block these or placing judgement on them.

2. Include enough ‘me time’ in your life

What are your values? What or who gives you inner joy and energy to embrace your best self? Do you have time for this in your life? Do you still have time for your relationship? Do you have time for pleasurable activities or hobbies? Do you get enough time to just sit down and have a cup of tea and relax for five minutes? These are all vital and important components to include in life for your overall wellbeing.

3. Remember that no-one else really has it all together

What goes on behind closed doors can be infinitely different from what is presented to the world. Talking, sharing and being open with other mums can really help shift the myth that others are coping so much better than you are. Remember that everyone has their own personal struggles and no-one feels happy all the time.

4. Access support

Whether via the internet or parenting helplines, there is a wealth of support out there now which can really help reduce feelings of isolation and also provide up to date and relevant advice.

5. Practice self-acceptance

Your children are going to feel happier and more content if you feel this way too. It is about being honest with yourself and balancing your own wants with the many ‘shoulds’ and obligations that might be a part of parenting. Feeling incessantly guilty is not going to be constructive and can breed resentment. Although you love your children dearly, also value yourself with your self-care and setting personal boundaries by saying no. As you do this, you will be role-modelling effective self-care and teaching your children to do this for themselves.

Thankfully, we live in a time now where women do have more choices and personal freedom in deciding about whether they stay at home or not. For every person, this is an individual decision and there is no right or wrong. If you decide that it personally suits you and your family to stay at home, you can know well that you are contributing significantly to enhance the well-being and mental health of a future generation. If you decide to go out to work, you will likely bring other benefits to your children through your experiences. Think about what is right for you and embrace your choices with peace of mind.

Harriet Frew is a therapist on the welldoing directory