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The Stress and Strain of Being Supermom

The Stress and Strain of Being Supermom

Several years ago, my friend Kim fit the profile of a young “supermom” perfectly. You know, the one who looks like a million dollars, has time for the gym and weekly manis and pedis, volunteers as soccer team-mom for her daughter, and is a top-producer for her company.  While other moms struggled in the back-to-school frenzy to find washable Crayola markers—classic colors, 10 count, not 8, mind you--plus red plastic folders with pockets, and more, Kim had it under control.  All supplies sorted, bagged, and delivered to the classroom ahead of time. And she kept up that pace all year long.

She was a supermom to be envied. Or so it seemed.

Inside, however, she struggled with depression, anxiety, and insomnia. She was driven to succeed in all corners of her world---but her drive propelled her right past the small joys in life.  Intent on fulfilling her own high expectations—whether as mom, wife, employee, team player, you name it—she expended great energy juggling those roles, satisfied with nothing less than a perfect performance.

It turns out that the supermom cape doesn’t wear so well in real life.

A new study by researchers at the University of Washington found that “supermoms” (women who project the image---and believe the myth---that they can juggle children, home, husband, career and volunteer work with perfection) end up more depressed than other moms.

One researcher, Katrina Leupp, put the problem this way: “"Ascribing to an ideal that women can do it all… increased the level of depressive symptomscompared to women who were more skeptical of whether or not work and family can be balanced."

Working hard is a great American value. But the Supermom syndrome fails women. It creates the unachievable expectation that perfection in everything is not only possible but also necessary--right now, all it at once, in every arena. It creates an internal pressure cooker where the threat of failure simmers below the surface and genuine happiness and peace evaporate.

As Kim learned, it’s a recipe for depression, discouragement, and unhappiness.

How to Save Your Family: Be a “Real Mom” not Supermom.

Remember, Supermom is a cartoon character.

The University of Washington researchers found that the moms who were happiest were those who held a realistic view of the challenges of combining work and family. They knew the juggling act was tough, so they adjusted their lives to fit that reality.

What does that mean in real life?

First, take off the rose-colored glasses and assess your life realistically.  What are your family’s priorities?  Do your activities and time spent match those priorities? Or is the time you spend scattered over a multitude of less important tasks, while your most important relationships go untended? Resolve to give your best time and energy to those who matter most: God and family. Be willing to make changes---scaling back on less important commitments, reducing work hours—to reflect your real priorities.

Second, embrace your own imperfect reality.  Special needs children? Single parent? Financial struggles?  Mental health or physical illness? Your own temperament and imperfections? Your life’s script unfolds with unique characters and an original plotline---how you spend time and invest yourself will reflect your own messy, imperfect reality. This is how it’s meant to be, for you, right now. Accept with peace what you can’t change, and work diligently to change the important things that are within your power to affect.

Third, don’t compare yourself to other “more perfect” moms.  Everyone struggles.  Some challenges remain hidden from the public eye and others are much more visible.  Have confidence that you can handle your unique situation—don’t add the burden of imagining that someone else would do it better.

Finally, rediscover the richness of life—family life in particular—woven into small acts of service, mundane tasks, and daily routines. Make it a point to notice, enjoy and savor the every day “little” things your children do. Be there for the daily life, not just the “big” events.

And that mental Supermom cape? Put it away until later this month when Halloween arrives – and then discard it for good on November 1st along with all the other nutty costumes!

Rebecca Hagelin outlines her vision for parenting in 30 Ways in 30 Days to Save Your Family.

(c) 2010 Rebecca Hagelin.