Motherhood,  Musings

Not All Heroes Wear Aprons: Why I Hate Being Called a “Supermom.”

Are we helping or hurting mothers by perpetuating the idea that they must “do it all” to be considered “Supermoms”?

Me with my three boys on our couch. My ability to hold all three kids at once is the most supermom-like thing I can do!

I am a wife and mother to three little boys. I work from home full-time with minimal outside help. I (kind of) run a blog and its social media accounts. I plan and cook all of our meals and keep the house tidy. I’ve pumped and donated 700 ounces of breast milk in four months. I try to maintain a social life by spending time with friends. I try to make my marriage a priority. I attend Mass every Sunday and try to make sure I squeeze a daily rosary into my routine.

Upon hearing even a fraction of those duties and obligations, friends and strangers alike are always quick to exclaim:

“You’re a supermom!”

“I don’t know how you do it!”

“There’s no way I could do what you’re doing!”

“You’re so blessed! Enjoy every moment!”

These compliments are almost always well-meant. Anyone can look at a situation like mine and see how many hats I wear. They want to encourage me and let me know that they think I’m doing something great, selfless even. These people think I’m strong and cannot resist letting their sentiments be known.

But here’s the thing: I don’t want compliments.

I want help.

My first day back from maternity leave with my youngest in a wrap. Things like this lead to people calling me a supermom.
Not-so-supermom at work; Benny and I on my first day back from maternity leave.

What’s the Problem with being a Supermom?

The idea behind the “supermom” trope is simple: the more you do, the more impressive you are. The more you juggle, the more superhuman you appear. Your ability to handle everything that your spouse, kids, job, and relationships have to throw at you directly affects whether you’re failing or succeeding at your vocation.

So, where does that leave the modern woman? We all know that the pressures to “do it all” are not limited to those in the vocation of motherhood. Society loves to celebrate busyness. We’re expected to work hard, play hard, and run a side hustle in our “spare” time. In a world that continuously screams for “more!” it’s easy to buy into the idea that we are never doing enough.

But what happens when moms buy into that idea?

Motherhood is Not for the Faint of Heart

Motherhood is hard. I don’t think there is a single soul alive who would dispute that. But often, mothers are left to shoulder the load of carrying and raising children, working to contribute to their family’s income, and trying to keep themselves and their relationships healthy. It’s a balancing act that I often feel ill-equipped to perform. And the weight of juggling so many roles and responsibilities usually has me at my wit’s end.

Yet, most people do not see my struggle to keep my head above water. They see the smiling mom who has the opportunity to work in her home and keep her kids with her. They see someone taking on the world and can’t help but say how they could never do the same themselves.

But nine times out of ten, their observance of my daily life starts with “you’re so strong!” and ends with them telling me to keep it up.

That’s it.

They move along with their day, and I’m left to continue fighting my daily struggles.

And I am certainly not the only woman who feels this way.

Strong as a Mother

I’ve always said that one of my greatest blessings since becoming a mom has been finding a community of mom-friends. Women within my community and online have been there for me at my highest and lowest points of motherhood. They’ve offered shoulders to cry on, given advice when I was clueless and brought meals when I was too exhausted from fighting morning sickness to cook.

These women are working mothers. Stay-at-home mothers. Work-from-home mothers. Mothers with mini-vans full of babies and mothers with one little to keep them busy. They homeschool and run in-home daycares; they work remotely and watch toddlers in playpens. They work corporate jobs and have to run and pick up their kids from school before starting the next part of their days.

The one thing that always strikes me about every single one of these women is that they are all struggling.

Don’t get me wrong. These women are strong as hell. No matter their circumstances, they show up every damn day and do what’s needed to keep their families afloat. I admire every single one of them immensely. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve sought their sage counsel when my life feels overwhelming, and they consistently show up with encouragement (and often a side of sass to keep me laughing).

And yet, over the years, I’ve seen every one of these women crack under the weight of their lives.

I’ve seen these women scream and sob over how exhausted they are and how they feel suffocated by the pressures from their families and jobs. I’ve been there as they shared their deepest fears. I’ve seen their rage in the face of unmet needs and shared their pain when every one of their efforts was seemingly all for nothing.

A Word to the Supermoms…

Mamas, if you’ve fallen into the “supermom” trap and feel like you have to prove that you can do everything without anyone’s help, stop.

Stop it right now.

You were not meant to do it all by yourself.

Watch some Jennifer Fulwiler reels about how women throughout history lived and raised children in communities; laugh, and then take your friend up on their offer to help you out. Reach out to someone who always goes out of their way to ask if you need anything. People cannot read your mind, and if you’re constantly saying, “oh, I’m fine,” you cannot expect them to know how to help you – no matter how frantically your eyes are twitching.

Asking for and accepting help does not make you less of a mother. You don’t lose any points in the imaginary game of Womanhood. I promise you won’t lose your Most Valuable Mom card if you ask your husband to solo-parent the kids so you can go for a run or sit and stare at a wall for 30 minutes just to let your brain calm down from being overstimulated to the point of exhaustion.

The reality is that motherhood was not meant to be taken on alone. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either selling something or has been reading some misogynistic book, in which case, run away as fast as possible. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.

Your motherhood is a gift from God. Don’t let the world, that nosy old lady at the grocery store, or a mean case of Mommy Martyr Syndrome* tell you otherwise. But that doesn’t mean for one second that it’s easy or meant to be taken on alone.

You can ask for help. You are allowed to be burned out. You deserve to love and take care of yourself. You do not have to “do it all.” You do not have to be a Supermom.

Trust me, mama, accepting those truths is way more super than identifying with some sexist, age-old stereotype.

*Read more about Mommy Martyr Syndrome (that nagging idea that you have to do everything or else the world will fall apart) in Kate Wicker’s excellent book, “Getting Past Perfect.” It’s a game changer!
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