SAHMs: Does a paycheck equal happiness?

Recent studies and surveys suggest that working moms are happier than SAHMs because they are bringing home the bacon. Here’s what Jennifer Pinarski thinks.

Photo: Kitty Cannuck via Flickr
Another week, another study. This time Huffington Post rounded up a series of studies and public opinion surveys, and declared that as a SAHM I’m more likely to be unhealthier and unhappier than my peers because I’ve chosen to leave the workforce to raise my children. Depression and obesity were the chief complaints among the stay-at-home crowd — triggering the knee-jerk conclusion that getting a job and making money would solve all of their problems.
 
I can identify with this. It surprised me how much earning money meant to me; when the paycheck disappeared, so did a good amount of self-worth at first. I felt guilty about spending money, even though my husband and I have a joint bank account and he constantly reassures me that, no, he doesn’t see me as a financial burden. I’d just never felt that way before — not even when I was the lower wage earner.

But finally, after two years of not earning an income, I’ve been able to let the guilt go (sort of).

 
When I asked my Facebook friends what they thought of the paycheck-equals-happiness theory, both SAHMs and working parents chimed in. 
  • Going to work gives you “adult” time, but no one wants to have to go to work. I’d love to be a stay at home dad, especially when they become school aged! – Chris, a father of three and working full-time in Winnipeg
  • It took me at least 2 years before I could really stop seeing hubby’s income as “his” money. I felt all the guilt spending anything on myself during that time. My mother-in-law helped me to realize that her son and I were a true TEAM and that it was his work that was technically now paying both our salaries. – Diane, stay-at-home mom to two girls in southern Ontario
  • I wouldn’t say I’m happier working. But staying home is the hardest job ever. It’s not that the job itself is hard, but we don’t live in villages anymore and well… that’s hard! Rhonda, full-time working mom to three school-aged kids
  • I don’t think I could ever put myself in a situation where I am spending someone else’s money. I wouldn’t like that. There is a certain amount of power in being independent in your financial decisions. – Kim, Manitoban single mom to two school age kids and works full-time in education and healthcare
  • I love working and being a single mom. It works for me. There are some days where I wish I could spend more time with my boys because we do seem to be rushing everywhere. I am blessed to have them attend the same school I teach at though, that kind of helps.  – Julie, primary school teacher and single mom to two school age boys in Ontario
  • I am tired of answering the question “When are you going back to work?” I am not just money and my employment. I am a mother to my two sons right now. I am not a good Mother when I am working away from home — that is a decision I made from experience. – Jessica, stay-at-home mom to two school age boys in rural Ontario
  • I am the main income in our family and it is nice to spend $ without guilt, I won’t lie. Robin, working mom to two school age daughters
  • I’ve been at home with the boys for 11 years now, and am pretty darn happy. The money, or lack thereof, is definately not easy. – Chrissy, married SAHM to two school age boys
 
As for me, I think income can be linked to depression. Treating mental illness costs money: Medications and therapy costs are high. If you’re unemployed, how do you justify the expense of medication when you have to put food on the table and pay for housing? Luckily, my husband’s health insurance plan covers treatment, but not all families are that fortunate.

But as they say, money can’t buy happiness. Even though we have the best job in the world, SAHMs get depressed for reasons other than money (OK, I got depressed). Echoing what Rhonda said above, no longer living in villages means not having the support network of other like-minded moms — which often leads to loneliness and ultimately depression.

 
To me happiness definitely doesn’t come in the form of a paycheck: It’s about parents sticking together, asking for help when we need it and hugging our partners and babies tight.
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