As a mom, activist, art and music lover, management worker, student and author I too have fallen trap to the guilt of Super Mom/Super Woman and have had to take time-outs (pun intended) for myself. I have looked into the laser eyes of ridicule from non-parents at grocery stores who didn’t understand why I couldn’t keep my then three-year-olds energy or vocal chords constrained as we battled it out over what he couldn’t have.
I have had male bosses tell me as a new mom, my attention should be there not getting into a management role. It goes on and on, all the things that are paradoxically stereotyped upon us as women and moms that we should be and shouldn’t be as we cross the supposedly flawless threshold from Super Woman to Super Mom, and ladies I am here to tell you don’t worry about it. You do not have to live up to the unachievable (and might I add not supported by society) heights of Super Hero. Here are the top five things you can do to free yourselves and feel better:
You are human. Being an evolved mammal is both amazing and enlightening, but somewhat daunting. The Mom Mythology of Good Mom/Bad Mom/Super Mom/Welfare Mom is destined to keep you down because no matter what you do, you won’t hit the projected myth of perfection in all roles we are so busy working so hard at. We cannot be super moms, super workers, super citizens, super people all at the time or even at the same time! Some days you are going to give the best you can and that’s it. Some days you will come home from work and will only be able to meet the basic needs of your child because you are exhausted. Keep it rationale, keep it simple, and keep it objective. Celebrate just getting through the day and doing the must-dos. Days when you are amped up and supercharged … then you can knock it out of the ballpark. Those are the days you can do it all and run a marathon or hit a women’s expo. But be real, you can’t hit that level of performance every day, some days you will just simply be in the ballpark. Nobody can do it all superbly all the time when they also have to raise and care for the next generation. It’s inconsiderate for anyone to expect you to be able to just because you are a mom.
The exalted myth of Super Women and Super Mom combined with glossy fantasy advertising and the polarizing effect of the Mom Mythology tends to categorize and separate women from each other, ironically when we need each other most: the energy depleting years of primary caregiving. When you have the urge to judge a mom for having a couple of cocktails after work before going straight home, or for falling apart in public because she is overdrawn, or for letting her kid chew on a book that is keeping them quiet for a bit, or is having to work on a project instead of taking her kid to current kids event in the social circle, or who is in locked in screaming match with her defiant tot, offer a hand. Our culture has a tendency to prop itself up by looking down on others … be it based on class, education, wealth, status, or any other ism. If mom is disheveled or looks stressed out, or has regressed from the idolized altar of patience and unlimited outpourings of illuminating saint-like-love, she probably just needs a break or a hand. How many moms have struggled with the impossible choice of paying rent or buying food? What if she is a single mom with a full-time job and no close by family to help out? What if her child has a disability? What if she has little to no resources needed to do her job of parenting? What if dad just walked out leaving her holding the whole bag of responsibility? Most parents go into parenting with the intent of being great and loving parents, but never with the notion of being a perfect parent. Often parenting, like life, falls far from perfect. Although it may seem like the sole responsibility of raising children falls unto women’s shoulders, it shouldn’t—not if we want a healthy, happy and balanced society. The best place to start is supporting each other through good times and bad and sometimes just having someone hear us out who understands.
Parenting is like your first love affair—all consuming. The first few years are so riveting and focused you may well be celebrating your child’s fifth birthday before it semi-slows down enough for you to lift your head up and out of the parenting realm. Odds are, by the time you do, you will have a million and one questions for yourself. Where did I go? What happened to the woman that existed pre-motherhood? What were my interests? My goals? My passions? Welcome to back to journey of self-discovery. It may feel a bit like an archeology dig at first, but that’s okay. It’s time to get your hands dirty. Parenting has a great slow down period for a few years post the primary and right before the all-hands-on-deck teen years. This is nature’s way to keep us sane since humans have the longest child-dependency time range of all mammals. Blame it on the brain size. Not only do you need a break, you need a reclaiming! Did you used to write poetry? Schedule a date with yourself to go check out a reading. Go to the bookstore and get inspired. Or better yet hit a coffee shop and play with some words. Did you used to love cooking? Take a class or buy the newest, biggest grill or coolest self-indulgent chef accessory to rekindle that love affair. Were you a fashionista? Hit a runway show or spoil yourself with a new accessory and fashion book. Were you an athlete? Get back in the game. Were you an intellectual? Join a debate team or science group or a philosophy club. Make a commitment to get to know yourself again and don’t let your family or the needs of your family take away from this equally important endeavor even if a few hours a month is all you can give to get started; no time is like now.
The biggest deficit mom’s face, besides money (ever read The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued, by Ann Crittenden?) is time. Our budgets and schedules are probably just as stressed and unbalanced as the national deficit. If you already have forty or fifty hour workweeks plus have kids in school, you are pretty maxed out. It’s easier to say yes than no, but part of the Super Mom Myth is that we are club of yesers who will do it all for everyone for free or unequal pay, and maybe that is why the myth is still so prevalent: free societal labor. We already know our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) would collapse and that our economy depends on the free labor of mothers and volunteers (who are mostly of the female gender). I frequently have to set boundaries with my employers so that my fifty hour work weeks as a nonexempt employee don’t turn into regular sixty hour ones—although in theory my salary is based on forty hour workweeks. I also have to do the same with my son’s school, and my outside commitments. It took me a few years to master the word no, but too much of trying to do it all for the first few years, which led to chronic fatigue and burn out, changed that. As much as I wished we had forty hours in day, the reality is we only have twenty-four, and we have much to do within that timeframe including: eight to ten hour workdays, eight hours of sleep, an hour of exercise, and helping ours kids decompress from a day of stress and school and do homework. I am finally operating in that reality. I normally just have one or at max two commitments on the weekend and no more. It’s crazy to think I used to have four or more.
See tips 1, 3 and 4. Part of your reclaiming and spending time with yourself for yourself is finding your voice, and using it. Use it for yourself, your family, your kids, your community, and your passions. Remember Mother’s Day started out as national day of protest against war. There is nothing more effective than the voice of a woman and a mom who has something to say.
Davina Rhine is a Texas author and momma. Her first book Rebel Moms: The Off-Road Map for the Off-Road Momwas published in 2011 and has gotten great reviews from BUST Magazine, Hip Mama zine and the UK’s Tongue Magazine. She spends her days chasing the goddess and dharma and writing essays, fiction, and poetry while standing up for kids and animals.