I used to want to be a perfect mom. I wanted to do “all the things” — the arts and crafts, the homemade sugary treats, and fill our days with brain-boosting, sensory activities. Surely, if the experts recommend engagement and a play-based approach to early learning, they must be important, right?
And I wanted more than to just be this shining beacon of maternal excellence. I wanted to be hot as hell and stylishly dressed while doing it.
Back then I thought it was achievable to be everything to my family. I mean, what’s a little sacrifice to be a super mom?
Now, I’ve pretty much done a 180. I’m wearing yesterday’s sweatpants and a stained t-shirt, I just watched my son pick up a chicken leg he dropped and it likely had a healthy portion of dog hair on it, and I don’t think I’ve ever done a craft.
At this point, I can’t help but feel like the pressure (both internal and external) related to this deep-rooted expectation of “supermom” that leaves mothers’ feeling inadequate, anxious, and guilt-ridden. Not to mention it gives a number of dads an excuse to slack off (please miss me with the “not all dads” nonsense — we know, you married the one guy who’s well versed in emotional labor).
In my nearly four years of parenting, it’s become clear that motherhood comes with no shortage of demands. But there does seem to be a huge shortage of support. Not just spousal support — even with an active, engaged, hands-on co-parent, the societal expectation of being a “good mom” is much harsher.
From the moment of a positive pregnancy test, parents, most often mothers, are expected to relinquish key parts of themselves in order to dedicate the next 18 or more years to the happiness of other living beings.
One of the earliest signs of the unrealistic expectations being put on mothers is the way we prioritize statements like “as long as the baby is healthy” during birth experiences.
Having had two children, I don’t negate the importance of the health of my children. But there must be a happy medium between infant safety and maternal health/birth trauma. Not to mention, birth is a serious physiological event, but our support networks rush to send gifts for our children while leaving us to tackle new motherhood with hormone-laced physical and emotional pain. Nobody checks on the mom. We are often merely regarded as a vessel for supporting the life of our newborn(s).
Interestingly, research has found a connection between birth/postpartum pain and postpartum depression. It seems like that data would be a serious argument in favor of making sure moms are supported throughout the early days of motherhood. Treating laboring moms like people instead of simply vessels has a positive impact on the entire family. The connection seems obvious, but clearly it’s not.
Social media and reality TV also exacerbate the pressure to be supermom. And those same factors, namely social media, have left mothers under the watchful eye of the nation as Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram document the ways that some mothers are failing at these expectations. We feel the pressure to present perfection — a pristine, shiplapped house, trendy clothes, highlighted hair, newer car, and constantly going somewhere fun — and it’s damaging. At the worst, we’ve seen parents go viral during their most vulnerable moments (and lacking the context and the full story) while they are criticized, shamed and mocked by keyboard warriors.
It’s almost like we’ve forgotten that we’re all figuring this parenting thing out one day at a time. Nobody has it all figured out, and everybody messes up at some point.
Everyone has opinions on what a good mom looks like. However, very few folks have taken the time to assess the contradictory and sexist division of labor that occurs within parenthood. If you decide to work, you’re selfish and don’t put your family first. Not to mention, the heavy employment restrictions ranging from low wages to inadequate paid time off, that make it harder to be a good mother and employee. These restrictions also hit the most disadvantaged groups the hardest.
But if you decide to stay at home, life won’t be any better. You’ll be judged for lacking ambition and not having a life outside your kids. Or you’ll have to give up your dreams and be called “ungrateful” for complaining about the opportunity of full-time home management.
The myth of the supermom tells us neither choice — the pursuit of our dreams or sacrifices for the family — are good enough. You can’t win.
But for dads, the world is different. Fathers are often given the space to move around like free agents. Having children is a motivator instead of an excuse not to receive a promotion. Time at home is an opportunity for rest before a new day’s work, not the start of a second shift. Dads are viewed as the providers and the babysitters, and while that is problematic too, it also means they are not held to the same standards as a modern mom.
Fathers have their own societal challenges. I’m not saying fatherhood is a walk in the park. But it’s certainly not a source of constant scrutiny like motherhood. Plenty of fathers get participation awards just for being in the household. Like they deserve accolades for simply existing inside the four walls of the home. But in the game of motherhood, we’re forced to fight for first place.
The pressure to be a perfect mom says we don’t need a chance to de-stress. That self-care should be on the back-burner because this is what we “asked for”. That we need to “suck it up” because our kids come first, always.
The myth of the Supermom says that we’re supposed to be a walking-talking figure of beauty and support for everyone around us. Yet, those same pressures label us as “undeserving of motherhood” when we lash out about those ways those expectations are literally killing us.
Moms are supposed to be strong. Instead of giving us a chance to be vulnerable – and taken seriously – we’re encouraged to drown our sorrows in wine. These boxes we’ve been forced into due to unbalanced expectations leave us craving numbness because it’s easier to check out than to find any type of validation.
The quality of a mother shouldn’t be determined through sacrifice and martyrdom. Motherhood should not be something that follows me around and limits all my social and professional potential, while my partner can function autonomously.
Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting the best for your children. But let’s be real about the constantly rising expectations we have for modern mothers — especially single moms. It’s obvious the world around me cares more about what I can do for others than what I can be to myself. And frankly, I’m over trying to be the world’s best mom.
I think we should all give up on the myth of the Supermom. It’s a giant lie. Afterward, we can make serious steps to decreasing the unfair division of labor so many of us experience in our households and workplaces, and fight for policies (paid family leave, equitable pay, affordable childcare and healthcare, etc) that make our society far more parenting friendly.