Don't call me a "Supermom" — acknowledge how stress harms working mothers instead
April is Stress Awareness Month.
Supermom doesn’t exist in my house. I’m a juggler. A multi-tasker. A problem-solver. But I’m not a “Supermom” — or this idea of a woman unharmed by the stress of working motherhood. No woman is a “Supermom.”
As a lot of working moms know, being an “everything mom” (as I call it) comes at the expense of my own mental health. Stress is among the leading causes of physical and emotional health decline in the realm of motherhood, and yet we continue to pour ourselves into everything we do like unintentional martyrs — because it’s expected of us.
Every morning, I focus on checking things off my usual to-do list and the pressure to be an “everything mom” — one who works, nurtures, cooks, cleans, loves, disciplines, drives, etc. — settles in. By the time dinner rolls around, I’m counting down the minutes to bedtime, realizing how thin I’ve been spread most moments, never truly feeling the gift of life and family; instead, I’m barely pushing through. These facts have contributed to my generalized anxiety disorder and my obsessive compulsive disorder, because in trying to “do it all,” my mind never shuts off. Ever.
A typical day for me begins well before 6 a.m. A cup of coffee, a run, and a shower are only an hour’s worth of my schedule. My two kids, a 6-year-old and an 11-year-old, wait for me to get them off to school so I can move on to my first job of the day. Through the quiet of the house, I get my best work done long before the stress of the afternoon has worn on my creativity, but the hours go by fast so time management is crucial. My work time is shared with answering emails, researching, grocery shopping, and handling any random errands that need to be done. By 10:30 a.m., I log onto my computer for my other job (that takes up the bulk of the day). Once I finish, it’s more kid stuff, homework, dinner, household responsibilities, and eventually bed. The days often feel hard and full, yet empty in the same breath. I often go to sleep reflecting on how much living I’ve missed, promising the next day will be different; better.
My husband, who I’ve been with for nearly 14 years now, works hard, too. I appreciate him and I value what he brings to our family — but he’s not held to the same standard I am.
A study published in the American Sociological Review found that working moms are multitasking more than working dads — 10 or more hours a week — while also feeling the negative effects of public scrutiny. (“Don’t you feel guilty leaving your kids at home while you’re at work?“)
My husband is allowed to maintain one full-time job, contributing little else the majority of the time, without consequence. No one wonders if he feels guilty when he is away from the kids, and no one expects him to do more than work. In my early days as a mom, I stayed home with my daughter and picked up freelance work when I could. Some questioned why I didn’t get a “real job.” Don’t I care about helping pay the bills? When I did get a “real job,” other people wondered how I could leave my kids for a paycheck. Don’t I care about my kids?
So which is it? Because from where I stand, “doing it all” — even with a partner — gets me no gold star. Instead, I only get more judgments from all sides.
The U.S. Department of Labor states that 70% of mothers with children under 18 work, with over 75% employed full-time. Aside from that, moms are the primary (or sole) earners in 40% of households with children under 18 today, compared to the 11% in 1960. Times have changed. Women are leading the charge. We’re running our jobs and our houses. We’re volunteering and marching for what we believe in. We’re changing the status quo on so many levels, but at what cost? If men aren’t held to the standard of having to do it all — my own husband isn’t held to the same standard — then why are we?
The stress of maintaining the image of “having it all” is costing us moms our mental sanctity.
We’re more stressed than ever. One study shows that a quarter of working moms cry once a week from the guilt of trying to “have it all.” Another study says women are more likely to report physical and emotional symptoms of stress than men. And we can’t forget the aforementioned American Sociological Review study that detailed how working mothers multitask more than working fathers — while getting judged for it. There’s this idea that moms must do everything and expect judgement, but fathers can get by with only doing a small part of the parenting, and receive no judgement for it.
I’m stressed. Supermom doesn’t exist, and she shouldn’t have to. We’ve come a long way in moving towards equality, but when I look back at the end of my day, knowing I’ve given it all that I have, I only ask for society to put the same pressure on my husband — on all working fathers — so that working mothers aren’t breaking under the stress. Otherwise, how can you judge us for needing to catch our breath, too?