We Are Not Superheroes — We're Mothers, And We're Drowning

by Jennifer Palumbo
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and holaillustrations/Getty

I should have expected this. When you are a fan of Wonder Woman, there are bound to be comparisons. If it were that I looked like Wonder Woman, I would be all for it. I’d love to walk around the house in red boots, a flashy leotard, and a tiara. Plus, if I had a golden lasso, I could finally get my five-year-old to be honest about who hit whom when he and my eight-year-old played alone in their room.

I’m a working mother who has a full-time job, two sons (one who is autistic), and I’m remote teaching four to six hours a day while squeezing in meetings and writing when I can. The house is a mess, sleep is in short supply, and our kitchen has been “closed” for months. Our food delivery folks and I are now on a first-name basis.

As my new best friend status has grown with those who drop off our Chinese food or burgers, my husband and I have become more like acquaintances that run into each other on occasion in our home. If I happen to see him in the hallway, it’s like running into an old friend on the street. “Oh my god! How are you? Have you lost weight? Are you still married? To me, I mean. We need to get together soon. Call me!”

I’ve changed my outgoing voicemail message to say, “Thanks for calling. Due to the current world state, it would be infinitely better if you texted or emailed as I will never find the time to listen to your message, let alone call you back.” That anyone thinks I have time or strength to chat with them is downright hilarious, especially when you have a child with autism who is prone to meltdowns whenever his routine is disrupted. And to say COVID-19 has disrupted his routine is a monumental understatement. I never knew the hell of speaking to a client while my eight-year-old is screaming in the background. It’s not conducive to the creative process.

Because dealing with a global pandemic and pretending to have a master’s in teaching wasn’t enough, we are also moving in a few weeks. So, while working, begging my youngest to write the letter “four,” calming my oldest down from his latest tantrum, and fielding phone calls from clients, I’m packing our kitchenware while breaking down in tears.

Babysitters are in short supply for special needs children, and those we know of would prefer to watch the kids outside due to the virus. This means getting help is both COVID and weather dependent. “Hi, Suzie! Are you free from 1 pm to 2 pm today? It looks like it’s partly cloudy with a minimal chance of rain.”

And here’s the thing: When I post about the current apocalyptic state I’m in, I get comments about being Wonder Woman or that I’m a true superhero. I appreciate the compliment, of course, but I’m not Wonder Woman. I’m not even Bat Girl. I’m a mere mortal who is slowly losing her mind. Even my alter ego is in a fetal position on the floor.

Lowering The Bar


On Facebook a week ago, a woman who was a mother approximately thirty years ago went on a tirade about how disgusting it is to see so many mothers complaining about the pandemic and acting as if “their children are a part-time job.” After I mentally imagined smacking her ignorant, short-sighted, and judgmental profile photo, I wanted to explain to her that A) Even mothers who love their children need to vent sometimes, B) Not everyone can afford to quit their jobs to meet her standards, C) You can’t base YOUR lone personal experience of motherhood and judge millions, and D) UNLESS YOU WERE A MOTHER DURING AN ACTUAL PANDEMIC, YOU NEED TO SHUT IT.

So, while I historically have applauded raising the bar on motherhood and being “mompreneurs,” we live in different times. We are in a war—a war for the mental health of everyone who is currently under the stress of 2020.

During this time of insanity, I suggest we temporarily lower the bar on judgment and, yes, even our own potentially lofty standards. Yes, lower the bar. Forget the Pinterest perfection, teaching your children with the same enthusiasm as Anne Sullivan, and tackling the corporate world with total domination in stilettos. Let’s just strive to maintain our incomes while ensuring everyone stays safe, sane, and still holds a modicum of affection for one another at the end of each day.

In short: Forget climbing every mountain. Instead, let’s limbo under the lowest bar possible to survive.

Supermoms Are Human Too

Shocking, right?

A recent study published in the academic journal Gender, Work & Organization showed mothers, in particular, have had to cut their workweek by about two hours on average during the coronavirus to try and balance work and their families. This is not going to help the already ridiculous gender pay gap that exists. And I do care about this. When I suggest lowering the bar, I don’t mean forgetting our goals, not attending to our children, or stop pursuing what’s important to us. Instead, it’s more about triaging what’s of the utmost importance and putting aside the rest, especially when your emotional reserves are already almost depleted.

To quote my mother, “A happy mom is a good mom,” and I’m here to officially inform you that there are a lot of unhappy moms right now. There are a lot of unhappy people in general. Our plates aren’t just full. They are like those cheap paper ones at a big barbecue: they are sagging, and the food is about to fall through.

While it feels momentarily lovely for someone to say you’re “supermom” or even compare you to someone from DC Comics, it also feels like a lie. Not that anyone is lying when they say it. It’s more that the person who is on the receiving end doesn’t feel that way. I’m more Clark Kent than Superman these days, and my inner dialogue says that if I were amazing or had superpowers, I’d have clean laundry for everyone and not the mountain of shame we’re currently hiding in a darkened closet.

If I did have any power whatsoever, I would ask everyone to please stop comparing others to an unattainable form of perfection. Instead, empathize. Just empathize, listen and offer support. And if you’re in the position to, offer to help in any way you can. No one can do it all — and what’s more, no one should have to.

So, from one mother to all of my fellow mothers who are struggling: I see you, I am you, and this is a lot. Be kind to yourself, put away your capes for a little while, and just do the best you can. We’ll soon be flying together again, and when all of this is over, I suspect that being a working mother during the pandemic will be a whole new form of superhero.

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