SAHM: The Work That Just Keeps Stressing


When she saw my survey results showing that 68 percent of long married military wives identified themselves as primarily stay at home moms (SAHMs), my thesis advisor tried to make a gentle suggestion.

“Maybe they marry into the military because they want to stay home with their kids,” she said. “And this gives them an excuse to do what they secretly want.”

“Nuh uh. No way. You are dreamin’,” I said. Anyone who has done their time as a SAHM or a SAHD knows that this gig isn’t one that you moon over. You might imagine long afternoons spent reading fairy tales to sparkly clean children dressed in smocked jumpers who recite the Pledge of Allegiance for fun and beg for carrot sticks as an extra special snack, but that dream does not last longer than, say, 11 minutes.

If you have done your time as a SAHM, or if you have tried to hire and hold someone to take your place, you know this SAHM thing is work. This is the kind of work that is punctuated by kids who fight (according to national average) three times per hour. This is the kind of work in which you deal with small people who exhibit the sort of constant gaping need that could fill the Marianas Trench.

The nonstop work that goes on in a home with small children is stressful whether you are female or male. And now there is a little more proof.

Maybe you have seen one of those stories about the researchers from Penn State who found that people have significantly lower levels of stress at work than in their homes.

They didn’t just do a survey and ask how people felt in each environment. When asked, people tend to say that work is more stressful than home.

Instead, these researchers measured the cortisol levels—one of the most salient markers of stress. At home, both men and women experienced higher levels of cortisol at home than at work. Significantly higher levels.

That’s good to know. But what do you do if you are a SAHM or SAHD who is actually the one dealing with all the stress?

Well, one way is to look at your list of things to do today and ask yourself, “What in my life is stressing me out the most?”

Researchers say that the most likely culprits are the things you can't control.  Maybe you have had it with the boys fighting over the Wii. Maybe you are worried that your service member is about to be passed over or get sent back to Iraq. Maybe you are concerned that those mosquito bites on your daughter’s leg are actually a poison ivy outbreak that will erupt and spread all over her body and get infected and people will ask you what kind of mother lets her child play in poison ivy and haven’t you ever heard of Benedryl???

Addressing your most stressful event and coming up with a solution to handle it has been show to actually reduce stress.

Taking on the work of a SAHM or SAHD is one of the solutions to the combined demands of military life. That doesn’t mean you have to eat a stress sandwich every day. Instead it means that you take on the stress, one bite at a time.

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