Stay-at-home mom (SAHM) is an acronym to describe a mother who stays at home while her partner works financially for the family. There are stigmas against SAHMs that need to be ditched.

SAHPs are growing more common

SAHM means stay-at-home mom. It’s an online acronym that mom groups and parenting websites use to describe a mother who stays at home while her partner is working financially provide for the family.

According to TIME, the term really took off in the 1990s when more and more women started to work.

In the United States, approximately 18 percent of all parents consider themselves stay at home. This includes dads, too. Seven percent of all fathers do not work outside the home, up from 4 percent in 1989, largely due to the recession in the late 2000s.

And because of the recession, the modern SAHP (stay-at-home parent) may have a part-time, flexible, or work-from-home job while also taking care of their family.

However, whether self-appointed or given, the title of SAHM can come with a lot of expectations about the roles, responsibilities, and expectations. Many people who are not SAHP may have misconceived opinions on what staying at home truly means.

So what exactly is the role of a SAHM?

Traditionally, the role and responsibilities of a SAHM include the following:

  • Child care or family care. This may include taking kids to and from school, after-school activities, and weekend sports. A SAHM may also schedule and coordinate medical and other appointments for the family.
  • Housework. Cooking meals, cleaning, laundry, house maintenance, and grocery shopping are typically seen as stay-at-home tasks.
  • Working from home. In this economy, the stay-at-home parent may work from home for extra income while also taking care of the children.
  • Finances. Even though a SAHM isn’t the primary breadwinner, they may manage the family finances. They may create budgets for food and other costs, for example.

But when it comes to deciding and divvying the responsibilities, do so first with your partner.

For example, you may find getting groceries a strain on your day because it’s out of the way from picking up the kids, but it’s on the way home from the office for your partner. Or you may be able to compromise a weekday-weekend schedule for house cleaning or maintenance.

Defining the tasks isn’t necessarily black and white. “Cooking meals” might mean a different dinner each night to one partner while to another it simply means dinner on the table, no matter what it is.

It’s best not to assume that either of you are on the same page of what these responsibilities really mean unless you’ve talked about each scenario. Keep reading for some challenges to consider and play out with your partner.

There is no set rule to being a SAHM

Thanks to the internet and rise of “mommy blogs,” the reality of being a SAHM has changed. Many families are fighting against the stereotypes and expectations by sharing their stories, showing how different and difficult raising a family can be.

And while there are more stay-at-home dads than ever before to challenge the sexist stereotype that “women belong in the kitchen,” the way society can frame narratives around being a SAHP are more hurtful towards women in particular.

Some of the phrases and inaccurate stereotypes that are common about SAHMs include:

  • “It must be nice to have so much time to do nothing.” This sentiment devalues the time and effort put into the house and family and sends that message that work must be witnessed in order to be valued.
  • “But housework isn’t real work since you’re not making money.” This phrase implies one partner is worth more than the other and emphasizes money as a measurement of worth.
  • “How can you take time for yourself? Who’s watching your kid?” By judging folks for taking care of their own well-being, it creates an atmosphere of shame and negatively encourages people to stretch themselves thin.
  • “You had so much time to make this yourself, why didn’t you?” Statements like this — whether it refers to a home-cooked dinner, classroom treats, or Halloween costumes — make assumptions about the role of staying at home and pressure on parents to compete against others.

Many of the stereotypes about stay-at-home parenting come from an older generation’s way of parenting. However, situations are very different today.

For example, our income doesn’t stretch as far, the working parent may have to work longer hours, traffic may have gotten worse, and there is less support for stay-at-home parents.

There is no single blueprint to being a stay-at-home mom and parent. Depending on where you live, how much your partner is making, and how many children you have (and how old they are!) can make every day look different.

If you haven’t decided on becoming a stay-at-home parent yet, it’s worth walking through the potential roles and expectations with your partner before jumping in.

Challenges to consider

Like any job, there are also hurdles to cross when becoming a stay-at-home parent. How smoothly this role will go depends on how much you’ve communicated with your partner.

Here are some common challenges to talk through with your partner:

Loss of salary and financesPlan ahead. Going down to one reliable income can be a challenge. You can use an online calculator to figure out how the transition to being a SAHM will affect your finances.
Change in partner dynamicsExpectations may differ after one parent stays home. Communication will be key as you both navigate the new adjustment.
Multitasking or organization skillsIf you’ve previously relied on your work schedule to define your days, you may need to start developing your own organization system. Bullet journaling is a popular method of tracking time and tasks.
Isolation and lonelinessAttending local community events, joining online forums, and socializing on the weekend when your partner can watch the kids may help.
Finding “me” timeDon’t ever feel guilty for needed “me” time. Self-care is important for stay-at-home parents to process and rebalance.

Are you saving on child care cost? While you may save on child care costs with one SAHP in the family, you’re also not making up for lost income. The average cost for day care in the United States may be over $200 or more a week, but is that $200 you have? Before making a point that you’ll be saving money, do the math first.

Just because you’re staying at home doesn’t mean your time isn’t worth money

You may hear arguments about how being a stay-at-home parent can save on child care costs, or that you get more time to bond with your children. However it’s important to consider that this exchange isn’t equal.

Your time is also worth money, especially if you’re picking up tasks that would otherwise be shared or paid for. The amount of work you put in as a stay-at-home parent is still valuable.

If you or your partner needs to see this calculation, try using this online tool that assigns a monetary value to staying at home.

After all, at-home child care and interaction is valuable and should be valued equally by both partners. Researchers in Norway found that older children with at least one stay-at-home parent had higher grade point averages than in households where both parents worked.

However, parents should also be realistic if staying at home really does provide quality time with their children. If the stay-at-home parent is also required to work part time and complete all household chores, stress may decrease “quality time” with kids.

It also doesn’t hurt to have a trial run with completely staying at home either. Perhaps you’ve taken a maternity or paternity leave and are testing the waters. In that case, make an effort to stay connected with your coworkers in case you and your partner decide it’s healthier for the family that both parents eventually go back to work.

The long-term effects of staying at home

It’s a major life decision to decide if you should stay home full time with your kids. You may find it is a big adjustment at first, or it may be an easy transition. Either way, communicating with your partner about finances and expectations is important as you switch over to being a SAHP.

One of the most common mental health developments that occur with stay-at-home parents is depression.

According to a 2012 analysis of more than 60,000 women, stay-at-home moms were more likely to be diagnosed with depression — no matter the income level. Non-employed moms were even more likely to experience worry, stress, sadness, and anger.

A 2013 study also found that intensive mothering beliefs (the belief that women are the essential parent) can lead to negative mental health outcomes.

If you decide to stay at home with your kids, it may help to find a community of other stay-at-home parents with kids who are a similar age to your own. You can also look up events at your local library or community center that may take place during the day.

See if there are lifestyle changes your partner can help out with so you’re able to continue discovering experiences that keep you thriving, laughing, learning, and happy. Just because you’re staying at home doesn’t mean your children have to be the only way you experience joy.

Self-care should also be a priority. If you need alone time, talk to your spouse about having them watch the kids on weekends or evenings so you can exercise, go to the gym, or get out for some time alone or with friends.

If you start to recognize symptoms of depression, express these concerns with your partner or see a professional.