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What is a SAHM?

How to survive and thrive as a stay at home parent.

June 10, 2024

Sharayah Whelchel

SAHM Meaning

If you’ve spent any time on social media, then you’ve probably seen this acronym. But what does SAHM stand for? The acronym SAHM means "stay at home mom" but could more accurately be defined as "stay at home parent" since the term can be used to refer to any individual who forgoes a traditional job at a place of business in lieu of staying home to care for their children.

And who made me the expert on the topic of SAHMs? In short, no one. But as a SAHM myself, I have found that there can be a lot of stigma or misunderstanding surrounding the choice to stay home, so today I'm answering a few frequently asked questions from my own perspective. Hopefully this is helpful for SAHMs and non-SAHMs alike!

What does a SAHM do?

What doesn't a SAHM do? Haha. The role that stay at home moms/stay at home parents fill is truly priceless. Or should I say roles, since SAHMs wear so many hats? Although typically the main objective is to care for the children of the home, most SAHMs do so much more! Some research suggests that a typical SAHM would earn a salary of $185,000/year based on the workload. That suggests very difficult work with well over 40-hour work weeks. A few additional hats SAHMs can wear: home chef, menu planner, chauffeur, event planner, housekeeper, teacher, adolescent life coach, the list is endless. 

What are the benefits of being a SAHM?

Since I chose to be a SAHM, I might be biased. But for me, the main benefit is getting to create the daily culture in which my children grow up. And I am in no way saying that a working parent doesn't have the ability to do this as well. But for me, I worked long hours and came home in survival mode. I didn't feel like I had enough energy left to create the culture I wanted for my children at home.

I was also really burned out at my 9-5, so the idea of creating my own schedule was extremely appealing to me. Not having a boss definitely has its perks (though my children do vie for that position daily)!

What are the challenges of being a SAHM?

In my personal experience, the biggest challenge to the SAHM life is the mental load. There is a weight that comes with feeling responsible for the health and happiness of your family through scheduling, menu planning, budgeting, cleaning, and raising tiny humans who depend on you for survival. Instead of wearing one hat at a standard 9-5 job, you wear many hats, and often can feel like you're not wearing any of them very well.

How can you afford to be a SAHM?

I will be the first to admit that as challenging as this role can be, I am a SAHM from a place of privilege. Not every family can afford for one parent to stay at home with the kids. I know that, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to spend this time of my life parenting my children at home. In fact, we weren't able to afford this lifestyle at first. We began officially budgeting our money right around when our first son was born, while we were deep in student and mortgage debt. I went back to work after my maternity leave, but then we found out we were pregnant again just a few months later (would not recommend the 14 month age gap, btw - we're still recovering three years later, haha). Doing the mental math, we realized we were in trouble. How could we afford to put both of them in daycare?

I know so many families have waded these same waters before us, but it felt so new and terrifying to us, so we turned to our budget in desperation. And I am so glad we did! With a closer look at our spending and our priorities, we realized that we could afford for one of us to stay home. I won't lie and say that budgeting was super easy or enjoyable at first. It took WORK. But the payoff was incredible, and allowed us to choose a lifestyle where I stayed home with our kids. We were able to live off of much less than I thought by simply making sure our spending matched our priorities.

In many households, a lot of the spending is done by the SAHM. Between groceries, household supplies, clothes, gift cards for teachers, toys or sporting equipment for the kids, and hygiene products there are so many purchases needed each month for a home to run smoothly. With a clear budget to guide them, many families who lived paycheck to paycheck on two incomes have discovered they can comfortably live off of one income.

How can SAHMs make money?

I realize that not every household can live exclusively off of one income, however. Sometimes the SAHM also needs to make a little extra money. Right now, as a 2024 SAHM, there are more opportunities than ever! Especially if you have any unique skill sets. Do a few photography sessions a month, sell your artwork, knit or sew baby clothes, write an ebook (about being a SAHM??), use those Amazon affiliate links on social media, walk a neighbor's dog while you're out with the kids already, babysit someone else's children, teach a weekly class (fitness, art, homeschool, etc.)... there are so many options! The nice thing about the SAHM life is that it's flexible. So if you need extra income, find something that works for your schedule and the priorities of your family.

How do SAHMs keep their sanity?

You will have tough days! We all do, in every occupation. But we each have our own unique reasons for choosing to stay home in this season, so I suggest focusing on your "why" when you have a rough day or start to have doubts. If your "why" no longer feels like enough, then it might be time to dig deeper for a new "why" or begin considering other options. Being a SAHM is not a life sentence. It's a season. So don't be afraid to evaluate if it's no longer the best choice for you and your family.

I'll also include a list of tips for SAHMs at the end that have certainly helped me keep my sanity!

How do SAHMs get anything done?

Grace and rhythms. The two ingredients to a successful day as a SAHM.

First, give yourself grace. Yes, perhaps you chose this path, but it is a hard path. You will inevitably burn dinner and have to order take out instead. You will spend a day checking everything off your to-do list but feel like you were emotionally unavailable to your kids. You will have unannounced visitors when your house is at its messiest. You will choose to scroll through Instagram during nap time instead of tackling the dishes. All of these are okay. You are a SAHM, not a SAHSM (stay at home super mom - bear with me). If we get caught up on every single thing we think we’ve done wrong, we won't be able to move past the "mom guilt" into the joys of this life we have chosen.

What is a good SAHM daily routine?

As for the second ingredient to success: rhythms. I don't love the word "routine" simply because it feels too rigid for a life spent adapting to the ever-changing needs of our children. So I choose to have rhythms instead. This means that instead of having a routine I can plot on a calendar, I have certain tasks that get done with the rhythms that already take place each day. Anything that happens pretty much daily can be a great place to add some to-dos: right after we wake up, mealtimes, bedtime, school drop off/pick up, nap time, etc. 

Start with your priorities. What tasks do you need to get done everyday? Then tie each of them to a rhythm. Maybe you check on the laundry after lunch each day, catch up on texts/socials/emails/phone calls during nap time, and do a 10-minute tidy before the kids go down each night. Three tasks that need to get done daily, tied to three rhythms that already happen daily. Begin implementing just one at a time and soon they’ll be habits!

The way to stay flexible with this: if you eat out for lunch, or skip naps, or have a T-ball game that cuts into the kids’ bedtime, it’s okay. The laundry can be done tomorrow, because you make time for it everyday. Life happens, and rhythms change. Staying flexible is a cornerstone to having rhythms.

For all the non-rhythmic to-dos in your life, I recommend a task management app. More about that in the "tips for SAHMs" section below.

Why is being a SAHM so hard?

I might be wrong, but I think that most people would consider their day-to-day life "hard," even if they enjoy it. I love being a SAHM and yet I will be the first to tell you it's the hardest thing I've ever done. But I know that my husband's job is incredibly demanding as well, and leaves him with less time than he'd like to be with his family, or pursue hobbies and friendships.

But a hard situation is made even more difficult when it's undervalued or misunderstood. And I think a lot of SAHMs deal with those feelings. Or are made to think that they can't complain, because they chose this life. If that is your experience, I’ve written the next section for you. Know that you are not alone. The SAHM community is huge and so diverse, and so supportive. In the words of the woman at the bar who stopped when she saw me bottle feeding my 2-week-old baby at trivia night: “You’ve got this, Mama.”

Tips for SAHMs

  • Befriend other SAHMs for playdates, advice, and friendship. No one was meant to do life alone, but I'm of the belief that SAHMs have an even deeper need for community.
  • Create a culture of value and respect for all the roles required to support your family unit: definitely for you as the SAHM, but for your partner (and even your kids!) as well. Each person is integral, and each deserves an award for their contribution, so make sure everyone feels that value and respect!
  • Schedule regular alone time. We all need to recharge and rest, so prioritize scheduling time for it as often as you need so that you can show up as the best SAHM you can be.
  • Schedule regular adult time. If you've ever tried to cultivate a friendship on a playground, you know that having conversations uninterrupted by children is invaluable. Make sure you're setting aside time to be with friends, family, and your partner without children around.
  • Stick with your flexible rhythms. This was mentioned already but cannot be overemphasized. State your priorities and then set up rhythms that support them.
  • Go to therapy. Not everyone needs this step, and I also realize that not everyone has the luxury of being able to afford it. But kids, especially our own, have a tendency of bringing up old wounds and revealing to us what we never allowed to heal. If this is you, then never be afraid to ask for help. It is a crucial piece of the puzzle for me and my family, and it may be for yours as well.
  • Use a task manager app. I use Things, but there are a host of different to-do list apps on the market. Remember when I said that the mental load is one of the biggest challenges of being a SAHM? Well, this is one way I reduce that. Get that to-do list out of your head and into an app so you can clear that mental space for more important things.
  • Budget! Obviously I love and use MyBudgetCoach, which is amazing because a virtual coach walks you through each step, and then you can always schedule a call with your coach in person if you need additional help. Plus, the first 35 days are FREE. Such an incredible deal for a life-changing tool.
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