Do stay-at-home moms have low self-esteem?

Without performance reviews and job perks, do stay-at-home moms miss out on much-needed ego boosts?

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Jen lists the traits that make her a confident person. Photo: Jennifer Pinarski

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children.

At a school board sponsored conference on children’s anxiety, I chose a workshop geared towards building your child’s resiliency — which is important to me because of the stress our family is under. I figured that if I had more tools to help build up my son and daughter’s confidence, then maybe we could all sleep a little better at night. What I didn’t expect was that the workshop would make me rethink how I view current studies about stay-at-home moms and instances of depression.

Read more: Lisa Gibson could have been me >

After listening to a lecture on risk factors which can wreck a kid’s self-esteem, the workshop leaders handed out large sheets of poster paper with an outline of a body on it. My palms started to sweat before they even assigned the workshop exercise. It was an innocuous project, even for a craft-challenged introvert like myself: make a list of your character traits, skills and outside influences that make you a confident person.

The organizers set out small plastic buckets of foam numbers, stickers, markers and back issues of a dozen magazines to help make the flimsy recycled paper look nicer. Sitting and blushing in the front row of a high school classroom, I watched as the other parents busily used stickers and pictures from the magazines that described their personalities on to the gigantic sheets of paper we were given.

Within minutes, most people had completed the task, whereas I sat there awkwardly with a back issue of Cosmopolitan that promised to teach me 74 new sex positions. Instead of feeling empowered (or even cheeky and brave enough to cut out the illustrations from that specific article), Cosmo reminded me that I have a lousy sex life. I managed to find a few words in Canadian Living and Seventeen that fit my personality, so I slowly cut them out and glued them onto my paper. I stole glances at the posters other parents had created, filled with words like “fulfilling jobs,” “health plans,” “hockey team membership” and “musical skills.” Finally, after 20 minutes of blinking back tears, the workshop was over and I stuffed my poster in the bottom of my bag. I had no desire to be reminded of the less than 10 nice things I could think of to say about myself — all of which were about helping other people.

I remember when I first quit my job three years ago to become a stay-at-home mom — I was on top of the world. When studies were released about stay-at-home moms suffering from depression more often than working moms (like this one from the American Psychological Association or this one from Gallup), I was the first one to call it phooey. But now, a few years into being a SAHM and simultaneously dipping my toes back into the working world, I think that there’s something to those studies about how being a SAHM can be hard on your self-esteem.

Read more: If being a stay-at-home mom is so great, why am I unhappy? >

For example, there are no semi-annual performance reviews, fancy job titles or cash bonuses for doing a good job (and the Universal Child Care Benefit shouldn’t really be called a signing bonus, either). These traditional ways of recognizing a job well done are huge in the working world. While I’m not one to pout about my kids and husband not high-fiving me for cleaning up the living room (again), not having that external recognition does start to eat away at the self-esteem of even the most confident mama.

Don’t get me wrong — I understand that being a stay-at-home mom is all about seeing the long-term effects and rewards of the time we invest in our children now — and I’d never change a thing about having opted out of work. But I do miss hearing someone tell me that I’ve done good — which was something I was assured of hearing as a working mom.

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