RD&T contributing writer, Jenny Paulin, discusses the Supermom Complex and ways to tackle it before burning out.
I work with moms. Hands down, the busiest group of humans on the planet.
One minute we’re scanning dinner recipes while placing a call for long-overdue doctor’s visits, simultaneously giving nonverbal cues to our bustling family members (who are still communicating with us despite our being obviously entwined in other things). The next minute, we’re using our commute time to prep for a presentation while getting harassed by the mental Olympics our brain is doing of the kids’ upcoming activities.
It’s just plain easy to feel overwhelmed, scattered, and oftentimes, helplessly chained to our daily lives. Moreover, it seems we American moms have it (or take it) the worst.
In a recent study researching mothers’ careers and caregiving, women across four Western countries were found to want the same general thing: to be able to work and raise children without one inhibiting the other. But it turns out, it’s the level at which we want each of these things that separates us.
Among the countries researched, U.S. moms felt the least willing to choose between motherhood and career.
Thus stretching ourselves equally between the two.
Also, we tend to have less socioeconomic support when compared to countries like Sweden who enjoys more equal child-rearing and breadwinning.
Countries like Italy and Western Germany exhibit strong maternal cultural themes. Many women who choose to commit to raising their children, while perhaps taking on a part-time job, feel less overall pressure.
American women, they concluded, feel work-family conflict versus balance and specifically reported feeling the most guilt.
As an empowerment coach, I see this play out every day. My own life is not exempt.
We want to be in control of raising our children and embrace a full career at the same time.
We expect to juggle a thriving family, investing heavily in each of our children’s lives, while giving our all to a job that we believe should satisfy our creativity, pays us at least $10,000 a month, and sets us up for the future of our dreams.
And if we feel like we’re dropping the ball on any of these ideals, we panic or berate ourselves.
It’s a lot to even write that. But it’s true for many of us.
So, then what do we do with these impossible ideals, and how do we offload all this mother guilt?
The research points to being able to redefine and flex the standards we have around mothering and work, while also building a more supportive response to stress. And while other Western moms clearly benefit from more supportive economic and cultural supports, there are a few things we can do here and now.
Mamas, if your hair is falling out (you’d be surprised how often this is someone’s wake-up call), if you’re seeing the worst of yourself play out instead of the best, or you simply don’t know how to keep the pace any longer, then we need to pump the brakes. Right now.
We can’t be everything to everyone, and we can’t do everything at the same time . . . at least not well. When we find ourselves in the fray, we can decide to make some better choices.
Every family has different needs at different times.
Spend some time evaluating where your biggest obstacles are. Discuss with your partner what you really want life to look like and see what might be getting in the way.
Be mindful of the “should trap.” For example, “I should be further in my career by now,” or “We should be going on better vacations.” This kind of thinking drives decisions based on false values.
Career planning and vacations are great, but consider how they line up with your core principles and your biggest needs right now. The moment we find ourselves using comparison as a tool to measure our worth is the moment we need to take a step back.
Instead, think about what truly matters most right now and what might be getting in the way of having it. For some of us, more peaceful family time is a top priority, and so scheduling in some family R & R is at the top of the list. For others, it might mean asking for some time off to address their child’s looming social issues.
What needs to take a front seat right now?
When you identify this, then decide what will get placed on hold in order to make this happen, and then commit to placing your focus on your priority.
2. Get Support
Raise your hand if you want a housekeeper? Or a night out? Or someone to fold your clothes?
I was recently discussing one mom’s overwhelm with the laundry for her family of six. In the rush of daily life, and after realizing that this was one thing she truly wanted – no, needed – off her plate, she decided to step away from the onslaught of self-criticism (“I’m a bad mom for not teaching my kids how to do laundry,” and “Everyone will think I’m a rich snob,”) and hired a laundry service.
Now the only thing she has to worry about is dumping her family’s weekly bag on the front porch before she dashes out the door for work.
What is it for you? And where might your supermom mask be getting in the way? You are already a boss.
I see you, stay-at-home soldiers, you double-fisted macchiato mamas. I see you carpooling queens and you paycheck slinging sisters. I see you.
And you are enough.
Ask yourself, “What is one thing I need help with right now?” and then take action to get it. You deserve it.
When we allow ourselves to receive support, whether that is emotional, physical, spiritual, financial, or social, we allow ourselves to actually live the life we really want. And to be the people we want to be.
3. Choose Happiness
One of the most important lessons I believe we have in life is to understand that we create our own happiness. We are incredibly powerful. We have the power and responsibility to choose how we feel, and employing this mindset helps us also to feel more control.
There are many opportunities to slip into living in response to our circumstances.
Yes, your mother-in-law said that incredibly rude thing to you, and ok, you may be super underemployed right now, but ultimately, it is your call as to whether you will absorb the emotional weight these circumstances may carry and brood, or do something else with it.
When we look at our life as a constant struggle to keep up with what is happening to us, we rob ourselves of the ability to jump in and choose a different path for us.
What if, in every challenge, you had a secret weapon that protected you?
What if you were your own best friend and instead, chose to give yourself a supportive hug when things got tough? Or to say what you needed to say with grace and integrity and not obsess over how it may have landed? Or chose to tell yourself the cold, hard, but loving truth and move on committing to doing better in the future?
This is a superpower that you already have available. Choose to use it!
And what about acknowledging what’s going well?
Researchers know that when we observe the good things we have in life, we, in turn, feel better about our lives. What are you grateful for? What are you doing right now that you love? Who lights up your world?
Spending time thinking about these things and choosing to feel the goodness they bring to your life opens us up to a greater sense of peace and happiness.
Take It from Here
When we take a step back from the hustle to map out what we really want out of life; when we decide to stop the bleed and seek support, we have the opportunity to let go of unsupportive beliefs, feelings, and behaviors.
We have the opportunity to pause, to drop the mask, and instead, choose a better way.