What does a stay-at-home mom (sahm) do all day?
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This is a question that you might ask whether you are considering being a sahm or you are a husband of one. Shoot, you could be a sahm and you might feel unsure of what you should be doing or what is happening to all of your time. Maybe you want to see some articulation of the wide variety of value that a sahm brings in order to validate your role for yourself or for someone else questioning your efforts.
There is a cross country range of reactions to sahms. I believe that giving specific answers to the dreaded and often insensitive question “what do you do all day?” can help. On one hand, some revere sahms and applaud their efforts. On the other hand, some accuse sahms of being lazy and even a parasite to society. Sahms themselves often have mixed feelings over the role, fluctuating from feeling overwhelmed or resentful of too much responsibility to feeling guilty about the blessing of spending so much time with their kids and the freedom that not being an employee brings.
I’ve been a sahm for over 4 years now and I’m going to share with you what I do along with some practical tips and ideas that empower me to be in a mindset that leads to peace, purpose, joy and growth in this role. In another post, I’ll share more of what this looks like in my actual schedule. If you want a deeper read into the why behind these to-dos, I recommend “Professionalizing Motherhood.” I am currently reading it and find it encouraging and well communicated.
Please note that this is generally true for most sahms I’ve spoken to. However, of course every family decides to divvy up responsibilities differently depending on a ton of factors, including if the sahm puts in hours of paid work from home.
What Are the Responsibilities of a SAHM?
For the most part, sahms are on duty or on call 24/7, no weekends, sick days, holidays or lunch hour. Some exceptions are Mother’s Day Out, which usually is about 5 hours one or two days a week and of course if spouses, parents or baby sitters watch the kids.
Hygiene: Diapers, bathes, wiping faces and hands
Food/drink: Meals and snacks, including breastfeeding and the efforts that go into making that work
Health: Doctor’s visits, researching anything that comes up and acting accordingly
Sleep: Nap times and getting the kiddos ready for bed. With babies and toddlers, this might require some research to help establish good habits and less stress in the family
Social: Setting up playdates or enrolling kids in something like Mother’s Day Out (and then gathering the stuff for them to go there and driving them). There’s also organizing birthday parties. Plus buying and wrapping gifts for other kids’ parties and being the chauffeur to them and the chaperone at them.
Entertainment: Kids get grumpy and poorly behaved when they are bored. To some extent it’s good to let them figure it out, but the younger the kid, the more responsibility the parent has in this department. That means finding something for the baby/toddler/preschooler/kid to do that won’t get them in trouble. This could be as simple as pulling out some blocks for the baby or excursions like taking the kids to the zoo.
Another aspect of entertainment is researching your best options. What memberships will give you the best bang for your buck? Can you get it at a discount? Are there certain types of toys you want for educational purposes? What fairs or festivals or farm visiting excursions are available in your area?
Skill Development: In the baby and toddler years, what I’m referring to is knowing the major milestones for your baby to hit and working with them on it. Personally I believe for the most part they do this naturally. I find it quite frustrating to spend much time at all “working on” this or that with a 3 month old. However, the discipline of spending literally 1 minute a day multiple times throughout the day, like with tummy time, can make a difference.
In the preschool years, what I consider “skill development” are school basics like colors, ABCs, sight words, writing, spelling, counting, shapes, beginning to read etc.
Extracurricular education: What I mean by this is stuff like physical education, nutrition, cooking, art, music, sports, swimming etc. The goal in this category is just to expand your kids’ world and teach them anything outside of basic skills that you believe is important.
Form a deep bond: There is an enormous spectrum of how much love and respect is built up between a child and parent. One of the dangers of the postmodern view of parenting is that it communicates that parental choices and nurture all evens out and everyone’s method is equally good. The motive in this is to not “judge” other people. However, it fails to acknowledge something really important - reality. The amount of quality time with and availability to your children impacts your relationship. Shallow relationships have numerous consequences, including setting up teenagers to go to friends and the internet instead of their parents. This bond matters. I’m not saying this is impossible without a parent at home, but 40+ more daytime hours with children certainly helps. One of the greatest benefits and reasons to sacrifice as necessary to be a sahm is to create a better environment for this bond to form at a deeper level than is typical.
This is not to say that if a mom stays home she will automatically form a fantastic bound. There’s lots of things that can get in the way, including distraction, emotional turmoil and discipline methods. This is one reason why it is imperative to take care of yourself spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. Often the challenge of being a sahm is not really the limited hours in a day, but rather limited emotional and physical energy.
Discipline & Spiritual Development: At first I didn’t think of these two in a category together, but isn’t it best if our children are inwarding impacted to hold Christian values that lead them to proper outward behavior?
I recognize that especially with younger kids, it can’t all come out of a longing to honor God. There’s a place for both incentives and consequences. But the deeper longer-lasting, all-encompassing impact we can have on our kids comes from spiritual development.
As a sahm, you are with your kids for 90% of their waking hours, which means you are the one with the most opportunity to create fertile ground for the Word of God (and to plant those seeds!) Of course, God is ultimately the one who makes the spiritual roots grow, but He also charges us with action.
In my view, moms need a blend of both proactive and reactive character development. Proactive might be talking about Jesus and His teachings, while pointing out His message of service to others and love. Reactive is how we respond, both to good and bad behavior.
Homemaker - Running the household
Before I dive into this, lets be real that in general anything that is not specifically allocated to your spouse tends to be left with the homemaker. But that does not mean that everything around the home lands on sahm.
Something that causes friction in my life and marriage is that it can be easy to forget that even within traditional gender roles the husband does have a handful of responsibilities at home. E.g. Taking out the trash, mowing the lawn, changing light bulbs, moving stuff in and out of the attic, potentially car maintenance etc. Additionally, he might take the lead with broken things, whether that means fixing it or researching and buying/hiring what is necessary to get it back and working.
I know this is a sensitive subject, so let me clarify. I’m not saying that the husband shouldn’t ever help around the house in other ways. I’m just making note that even if your husbands spends no or very little time on the historically female chores, that is still not him giving you no help around the house. Remembering this will help create a better outcome, not only in terms of what he actually does but more importantly in how you respond to it as an ambassador of Christ.
Okay, now lets get into the specifics of what a sahm does (in general) in respect to the homemaker aspect.
Nourishment Manager: Buys groceries, keeping in mind both kids & spouse needs. Prepare all meals for kids (as noted under SAHM responsibilities) and possibly packs her hubby’s lunch in addition to preparing dinner.
Maintaining Order in the Home: Keeping stuff put away in its place. This creates an atmosphere of peace vs. chaos.
This one has certainly been ignored by me at times, but I am slowly accepting it. It can be discouraging, particularly little kids, because stuff naturally gets out of place. It is easy to fall into the mentality that you spend “all day” picking stuff up. However, I encourage you (and myself!) that habits and discipline for both the kids and you makes a big difference.
For example, the habit of allowing my 4 year old to drive the day made it quite challenging for me to keep the home in order. That girl loves to play with me and is not inclined to put anything away before the next activity. It is up to me to slow her down. If we have a game already out, I’ve finally started to insist that we put the first game away before we pull something else out. Along this train of thought, putting away everything after each meal before playing is critical. I used to put away the stuff that needed refrigeration, but I wouldn’t finish the job. The accumulated mess in the kitchen resulted in either me staying up late past bedtime or pushing it off until the next day, which set me up to be behind come morning time.
Home Organization: To me this means finding/creating a home for stuff if it does not have a proper place.. Even if your house is in good order before kids, as kids grow up and/or you have more kids, there are regularly things that need to be shifted or cleared out.
Cleaning: The predominant chores are laundry and dishes, hence the many comments you probably have seen/heard from moms. The other ones that take a lot of time are keeping the kitchen counters and table wiped off and the kitchen floors swept and cleaned. I call these treadmill chores because you can keep active just keeping up with this while also caring for the kids.
Beyond the treadmill chores, there’s cleaning sinks, tubs, showers, floors, vacuuming, dusting. You know what cleaning is. ; ) . What can be a little frustrating is that the more you clean, the more you realize you need to clean. That’s when you start getting into dusting the blinds, the baseboards and on and on.
Home Decorating: Often transforming a house into a home involves adding beauty and personal touches. This can be both inside and outside.
I’ll be upfront in admitting I spend very little time in this category. This is not my strength and my husband’s priorities for me center around keeping things tidy or advancing my cooking over adding more decor. Additionally, inevitably this category involves at least some money and we are on a tight budget. For me this looks like updating our picture frames with new pics as the kids grow and changing out entryway decor based on holidays and seasons.
When women stay within their budget and approval of their husbands to use their aesthetic eye to add beauty and comfort to their home, it is a blessing to the family. However, as I’ll touch on in the next category, especially with a single income, living within your means is critical. The dynamic of the bored sahm who constantly wants to redecorate can actually create stress and financial hardship in the family instead of creating a peaceful and pleasant home out of a house.
Finances: This is one area that likely differs a lot between families, but as a trend it appears to me that most sahms take the lead on the family budget and paying bills. I personally love finances, to the point I even minored in it. Consequently, I am likely more involved than most and my husband is happy to let me lead.
In the Christian world there is a lot of talk about the husband being the leader. Does my role in finances contradict the doctrine of submission? I don’t think so. If we go back to the CEO analogy, the husband is the CEO and the woman is the COO. In my case, my husband appointed me as CFO as well.
Btw, It’s not just in gender roles that I view the family as similar to operating a corporation. Personally I buy into Robert Kiyosaki's idea that people should operate their personal finances like they are managing a company’s financials, maximizing wealth while taking on acceptable loads of risk. This is occasionally at odds with the Dave Ramsey approach, but that conversation is for another time my friends. I will say, if you want to get into investing, I highly recommend using Robinhood which offers free trades of either stock or cryptocurrency! Plus as a bonus they give you a free stock for signing up. (Transparent moment - if you use my link to sign up for your free account, I’ll get a free stock too.)
What are the specific tasks related to finances that a stay-at-home mom to manage?
As mentioned, creating a family budget, paying bills and setting up or making changes to charitable giving are several common tasks. I’ll be honest in that we don’t have a strict family budget but rather I track numbers and let my husband know how we are doing.
Along the lines of creating a budget, it is also important for a sahm to execute the budget. She is likely the one who spends most of the money. One way we afford living on a single income is from me doing things that save money, like cloth diapering, breastfeeding, cutting my husband’s hair and shopping at ALDI as much as possible, even when it’d be more convenient to go somewhere else.
Additionally I prep our taxes for our tax accountant, including documentation for our side hustle using the Turo app (basically Air BnB with cars). Also I research investment ideas. I’m notorious for busting out spreadsheets and crunching way more numbers than my husband is interested in. Anyway, when we decide to make a financial move, I’m often the one to make it happen, whether that is with Peer to Peer Lending, investing in the stock market or converting a traditional IRA to a ROTH IRA. (One exception is with cryptocurrency or with our decision to buy a van where he handled the tech and the bulk of the research.)
Doing things that make husband’s life better/easier/less stressful/more successful
If you are a married Christian, likely you have heard the advice that your priorities should be God, husband and then kids. While it is easy to nod in agreement to that statement, culturally it is controversial. There is a lot of encouragement to focus on how well your spouse meets your needs and to create “equality” in marriage through a fair division of work. However, a preoccupation with your “rights” instead of your opportunities to serve is contrary to the example Jesus gave us. While this category arguably should have been placed first, I opted to leave it for last because it’s the one that might be hardest role to accept. You might have never considered that your top priority of being a sahm is to serve your husband, but I’m encouraging you to pray through that idea.
Moms tend to naturally over-focus on the kids. For a long time, I thought I was fine in this area because I was perfectly willing to focus my attention on quality time with him instead of kid and household things. However, what God revealed is that I was willing to prioritize my husband with what I enjoyed (quality time with him) vs. what I didn’t enjoy (acts of service for him).
What practical things can you do to make your husband’s life better/easier/less stressful/more successful?
There is a lot of overlap in tasks between the household responsibilities and this category. Even if your spouse has an easy going job, it carries some level of stress with it. The way I look at it is this is actually the why behind keeping the home in order. Blessing our spouses with a calm environment is one step in creating a peaceful home. (Additionally teaching kids healthy habits of keeping an orderly home is important. But as mentioned, our top priority should actually be our spouse.)
Additionally, a sahm can act like a personal assistant to their husband. Whether that is taking something to return to UPS to return his Amazon purchase or ordering gifts for his mom, the idea is to take care of things so he doesn’t have a bunch of chores, errands and tasks to do when he is home.
Sometimes a sahm can also support her husband’s pursuits to provide more for the family. This could be having a work contact over for dinner, attending events with him and helping him remember people’s names, or taking a supportive role for his side hustle.
In my case, my husband takes the lead in running our Turo business. (Turo is an app that works like an Air BnB for cars.) If we need to deliver a car somewhere, he needs a ride back home or if we are picking the car back up, he needs a way to get there. I work the kids and my schedule to accommodate these trips to avoid the cost of him grabbing a Lfyt. I also help clean the car, inside and out. Sometimes he is at work and we have a drop off or pick up at our house. It’s quite handy for him that I can make myself available to be there when he can’t.
Perhaps the most important activity in this category is prioritizing your relationship with God. I briefly mentioned earlier how a mother’s emotional state affects the bonding process. Your bond with your husband and how much of a positive effect you have on him is strongly impacted by the attitude you bring into all of these acts of service.
The way to have a positive attitude without faking it is to allow God to work in and through you. We are dead to sin and made new in Christ. It is by rejecting sinful thoughts and letting the Holy Spirit dominate our mind that the Spirit works in us, producing fruits of the Spirit beyond our human abilities (Romans 8).
Conclusion to “What Does a SAHM Do?”
Basically a sahm’s responsibilities can be summed up in 3 main categories with lots of sub-categories below these broad umbrellas.
1 - Mommying
2 - Homemaker
3 - Husband Supporting
There is a large spectrum of how far each mom goes within all of these categories. While it can be exhausting just minimally performing these roles, my encouragement is to set goals and strive for growth in the vital role of sahm. This produces energy, inspiration and achievement around the role instead of an “ugh” stagnation. I say that not to add to anyone’s burdens but rather because I believe that women do not feel okay just “surviving” during their years with the kids. I believe that “professionalizing motherhood” will not only make husbands and kids happier, but the mothers as well.
Leave a comment with any responsibilities I forgot or with what helped you the most from this post!