The Power of Being Present: Why Stay-at-Home Motherhood Matters

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Stay-at-home motherhood is an incredible journey filled with love, growth, and unforgettable moments. If you are wondering whether being a (temporary) stay-at-home mom is “worth it”, this article is for you.

In our career-driven hustle culture, where women’s worth is largely defined by their productivity and financial achievement, many women are being forced into returning to full-time work much earlier than they want to. For many women, this will be right after their maternity leave, if they get any at all.

While this might be a desirable option for some mothers, a majority of new moms would prefer to stay at home with their child, at least through the first year.

Taking a career break

Nearly 50% of mothers take a longer break from work after having children than the standard maternity leave allows. These breaks tend to last about two years with the majority in the USA being 4-8 months. And of those who didn’t stay at home with their baby, 75% wish they did.

And in fact, it is a good idea to stay at home with your baby for many reasons. Stay-at-home motherhood in early childhood may be the best decision for your baby’s development and secure attachment. Taking a career break can also have numerous benefits for mom’s well-being, identity as a mother and her future career.

Like many other women, I grappled with the idea of quitting my high-paying, high-status United Nations career to be a stay-at-home mom. I felt uneasy about the notion of giving up the career success I had achieved after years of hard work and studying, just to become a stay-at-home mom and wife. In my mind, this was not what modern feminists had fought for!

And indeed if stay-at-home motherhood means doing dishes, cooking, and cleaning all day in addition to taking care of a baby “because I am the woman” then I don’t want it. But intentional stay-at-home motherhood focused on raising a healthy, “whole” child has been one of the most fulfilling and meaningful things I have ever done, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

And here’s why you should, too.

The Crucial Role of Mothers in Early Childhood Development

Being present for your child’s early years is a choice that holds immeasurable value. It’s about cherishing precious moments, nurturing emotional bonds, and creating a home environment where your child can thrive.

Your presence as a mother is a gift to your baby. By being present, you provide a sense of security and love that lays the foundation for their growth and development.

The first three years of life, in particular, are crucial for child development. The brain rapidly grows and reaches roughly 80% of its capacity by age 3. This means that the first three years of life lay the foundation for neurological development and how the brain copes with emotions and stressors.

During the first three years of a child’s life, mothers serve two vital biological functions. Firstly, they provide immediate comfort and soothe a child’s distress. Secondly, they assist in regulating a child’s emotions, preventing extreme highs or lows.

This emotional regulation establishes a foundation for resilience to stress throughout adulthood. Similar to a mother bird nurturing its young, mothers process strong emotions and experiences on behalf of their babies, helping them learn to cope without overwhelming emotional responses.

Like many other women, I grappled with the idea of quitting my high-paying, high-status United Nations career to be a stay-at-home mom. I felt uneasy about the notion of giving up the career success I had achieved after years of hard work and studying, just to become a stay-at-home mom and wife. In my mind, this was not what modern feminists had fought for!

The Importance of Mother’s Presence and Emotional Nurturing

While fathers and other caregivers are important, mothers provide a unique form of sensitive nurturing critical for a baby’s brain development. A mother’s emotional investment and commitment to their child’s safety and survival are unparalleled. Other caregivers, including fathers, may not possess the same innate instincts.

The more a mother is emotionally available for her child during the first three years, the greater the likelihood that the child will enjoy good emotional health and mental well-being throughout their life.

The absence of a mother or primary caregiver can have adverse effects on child development. Research shows that both mothers and babies produce more cortisol, a stress hormone when separated. This prolonged cortisol production can lead to anxiety, fear, and even ADHD-like symptoms as a response to environmental stress.

It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that we are witnessing an epidemic of troubled children who are being diagnosed and medicated earlier and earlier with ADHD, early aggression, and other behavioral and social disorders. The emotional and physical presence of a mother in a child’s life during the first three years has the power to decrease aggression and mental health issues caused by stress later in life.

Mother-Baby Bonding and Full Parental Autonomy

Being there to witness your baby’s first smile, hear their giggles, and comfort them when they need it the most is an experience that cannot be replaced. Stay-at-home motherhood allows you to immerse yourself in these moments, creating a bond that will shape your and your baby’s future relationships and well-being.

Intimacy and meaningful connections require time and presence. Sacrificing physical and emotional intimacy with children can lead to a lack of trust and hinder the formation of a deep, unbreakable bond.

Being present at home will also allow you to establish a rhythm and routine in your daily life. From mealtime, naptime and bedtime to seasonal rituals, these routines create a gentle rhythm that nurtures their needs and fosters a sense of security and belonging. Rhythm and routine allow both you and your child to feel grounded, making each day a little easier and more enjoyable.

It also gives you the time and space to really get to know your child. To nurture their senses and curiosity in a way that external caregivers will never be able to. It’s about giving them the freedom to explore, experiment, and make sense of the world in their own unique way. This type of slow living and unstructured play allows them to develop their curiosity, problem-solving skills, and self-expression.

Few daycare settings allow children to fill their days with unstructured play, focusing on early academic instruction instead. So, if this is something you want to give your child, staying at home with them might be the only option.

The Power of Stay-at-Home Motherhood

Overall, the biggest advantage of stay-at-home motherhood may be that you have full autonomy over your child’s early development. You don’t need to depend on outside caregivers like daycare or nannies, who might not be qualified and may have different values and perspectives from your own.

In early childhood, children learn mostly through observation and modeling. If a majority of this modeling shifts to caregivers who don’t model well, they develop limited emotional, social or linguistic skills. If most of the modeled behavior comes from peer groups, i.e. other children in a daycare or school setting, problematic behaviors can be reinforced and children may have difficulty forming healthy relationships based on unconditional respect and trust as they grow up.

In a world that wants women to act like men, to work while having and raising children as if it didn’t require substantial physical and emotional resources from her, it’s an act of rebellion to embrace motherhood. To me, breaking free from the rat race to embrace the ultimate feminine is truly liberating feminism.

So why don’t more moms stay at home with their babies?

Well, more often than not, simply because they can’t afford it. Taking a longer career break might have adverse effects on a woman’s career. In today’s world, we largely grow up to pursue power, money, and work. At the core of this pursuit is fear. Fear of losing our jobs or our position at work or our status. Many women fear that giving up a career, even temporarily, may lead to financial insecurity and a sense of loss of self.

These fears are often driven by the belief that success and happiness are measured by material and professional achievements. And for a large part of our lives, those are things that can make us happy! Climbing up the career ladder, traveling the world, and enjoying good food and drinks for brunch and dinner has given me lots of good memories in the past.

However, this view completely overlooks the fact that motherhood is a unique experience for women. Women should be given a chance to fully embrace their identity as mothers, just like they have had years to be students, employees, partners, sisters, and friends. Being at odds with our roles as mothers can lead to devastating effects, as seen by the large number of women suffering from postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression.

Motherhood is a generational legacy and neglecting this role can disrupt the cycle of love and care, affecting the health and emotional wellbeing of both mother and child.

Reassessing Success and Priorities

In addition, some leaders, including women, continue to promote the idea that full-time work is more valuable than raising children. It’s like generational trauma passed onto one woman from another. I have, myself, heard my female bosses say things such as “I didn’t have it easy, so why should you? Or “I chose a career over motherhood and it worked out fine.”

As a result, many women find themselves in a dilemma that highly alienates them from themselves. Many will feel an innate drive to nurture and be a mother. But society tells them that they need to prioritize a career and make money otherwise they won’t be able to keep up. Stay-at-home motherhood can feel like an isolating journey as it’s the path less taken.

Isn’t stay-at-home-motherhood archaic?

It is true that not all women have the same opportunities. Some have to work to provide for their families. Nevertheless, every woman has some degree of choice. And more often than not our choices are guided by external factors, such as economic constraints or societal pressures, and not by what aligns with our values and instincts.

As someone who advocates for gender equality, I strongly believe that we should have access to all the necessary information to make well-informed decisions. And that includes knowing how to best support children in early childhood and taking responsibility for their emotional and physical well-being. Let’s continue to empower women to make the choices that are best for them and their families.

In a world that wants women to act like men, to work while having and raising children as if it didn’t require substantial physical and emotional resources from her, it’s an act of rebellion to embrace stay-at-home motherhood. To me, breaking free from the rat race to embrace my desire to be a mother first is truly liberating feminism.

Am I a bad mom if I don’t want to stay at home?

Nope! You are doing the best you can, mama. Embracing your identity as a mother means making informed decisions and choosing what is best for you and your family. This can mean not taking a career break at all and outsourcing childcare if you so desire. For some moms, this can be the best way to be emotionally available to their children when they are together on weekends or after work.

Stay-at-home motherhood is a choice women should have when becoming mothers. If you determine that this is not for you, that’s great! You have done your job by considering the pros, the cons, and your values and feelings and are making an informed decision.

But we also can’t pretend like stay-at-home motherhood doesn’t make a difference. Because it does. And because policymakers and employers will never embrace more family friendly-policies if we continue pretending like it doesn’t.

Embracing the Power of Stay-at-Home Motherhood

The power of being present as a stay-at-home mother cannot be underestimated.

Achieving a successful career and financial stability is often seen as more admirable and fulfilling than being with one’s children. However, the intense work culture and long hours outside the home can add stress to both the mother and her young child.

The emotional closeness and intimacy gained from prioritizing children often outweigh the sacrifices made. Quality time with children can only be achieved through lots of quantity time spent together.

By nurturing and being emotionally present during the crucial early years, mothers lay the groundwork for their children’s emotional well-being and resilience. Ultimately, being there for our children fosters a lasting bond and leaves a positive legacy for future generations.

So if you, too, are on the fence about being a stay-at-home mom, know that you are not alone, you are not weird for wanting something innately feminine and you are not giving up your sovereignty if you choose to be a permanent or temporary SAHM.

Recommended Reading about Early Childhood Development and the Importance of Parental/Maternal Presence:

This page contains affiliate links, and I may earn a commission if you use them, at no cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

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The Whole-Brain Child 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind

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About The Author

Julia Billings

Hi, I'm Julia! I am a working mother, matricentric life, career & business coach, ex-international HR expert, and motherhood studies practitioner. In my work as a coach, consultant and facilitator, I help other moms tackle negative emotions such as guilt, fear, anger, and overwhelm and create a roadmap for their lives, businesses and/or careers, so they can mother with confidence and focus on family life first.

My approach integrates my experience as an international career & leadership development professional, my personal journey as a mother, and my certifications as a Certified Professional Coach (CPC), Motherhood Studies Practitioner, and a Master's in Education.

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  1. Love this. I was just talking about gratitude today. How awesome

    1. Thank you! Yes, lots of gratitude in the small, everyday things.

  2. This is such an important topic! Society in general has forgotten how profoundly important mothering and fathering is. At the end of life, no one ever says they wished they could have worked more, earned more money, or achieved fame and fortune. Spiritual and physical relationships are what matter the most.

    1. Exactly! You can always make more money, but you can’t make more time.

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