It’s no secret that millions of mothers are living at a superhuman, unsustainable pace. Up with the sun, fixing lunches, putting on some laundry, finishing a budget presentation, finding someone’s homework, making toast, making dentist appointments, refereeing squabbles, driving taxi, rehearsing the budget presentation and arriving at work to ‘start’ their day…
And it’s not that their trying to make it into the ‘World’s Most Influential’ or earn a million dollars – they’re just trying to support their family while doing fulfilling work. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. And let's be clear - it isn’t some kind of personal failure; ours is a society that’s been hooked on ‘bigger, better, faster’ for a long while.
Some of us watched our mothers ‘doing it all’. My mom was a full-time schoolteacher and ranch wife, raising 5 kids mostly on her own since Dad was always working. She grew a huge garden, drove us to piano lessons, wrote plays for the talent show, milked the cow, had every lonely soul within a 100-mile radius over for dinner, chopped firewood, made fabulous birthday cakes…
And as I write this, I notice a burst of pride. People admired her for her super-humanness. They said, ‘Wow, it's great that your mom does so much”. And even though it depleted her and damaged our family, these compliments made me feel proud and planted a seed of what a 'good' mother does.
I know I'm not alone.
For some of the moms I coach, pushing and striving have become all they know. They soldier on like they have no choice but to be stretched beyond what is manageable. Despite all they've learned and intended, they have beliefs deeply ingrained in their hearts. minds and bodies that this is what a good mother does, this is what they must do, even though it leaves them frayed – financially, emotionally and energetically.
And here’s the thing: we don’t do our best parenting when we’re stretched and frayed.
~ We have a short fuse. We lose our ability to pause between being triggered and reacting. Words erupt out of our mouths before we even know it. We forget all our intentions and do and say things we end up regretting.
~ We communicate ‘at’ our kids instead of ‘with’ them. Short, sharp, efficient – gotta get stuff done - knowing in our hearts that we come across like ice queens.
~ We tell ourselves that we’ll be able to gear down and catch our breath when our kids are finally getting along, when our daughter starts talking to us again, when…
~ We feel unsupported, trapped and resentful. We suffer in silence and/or blame others and it’s not pretty.
~ Our bodies send us very clear warning signals, like energy crashes, brain fog, short attention span, illness, etc. but we tell ourselves we don’t have time to heed them. And if we do take some time to rest, we’re either numbed out on food, alcohol and Netflix, or, here’s the telling part, striving to relax, as if resting was just one more thing to check off the list.
~ We know deep down that we can’t keep going at this pace but some part of us denies that we even have basic human limits. Maybe we secretly want to be the applauded super-mom. Maybe we crave that praise and validation.
~ We lose our ability to enjoy enjoyable things. It’s almost impossible to hang out with our kids when our minds are chattering (or screaming) about all the things that need to be done. We no longer know how to chill out. And we’re not much fun to be around.
~ We know we need to restore the stretched parts, realign with our true priorities and become reenergized for what comes next. But we don’t know how.
This was me: tired, overwhelmed and placing so many demands on myself that I could never catch up. You see, as a girl, I received a vicarious slice of the recognition my supermom got and came to the subconscious conclusion that ‘good mothers can do it all.’ When my children arrived, I was deeply under that illusion and I tried really, really, really hard. And while I may have done some things really well, this way of parenting also exacted a big price from my health, my spirit and my relationships with my kids.
What about you?
What’s your experience with the demands to be a super-mom?
What do you get out of it?
What does it cost you?
How to break free
When you’re caught up in a ‘Busy - I can do everything - Can’t stop now’ loop, it’s hard to imagine doing anything else.
And yet, you've been around enough to know that, when you allow more space in your life, the beautiful things happen. Like unplanned conversations with your kids or spontaneously going for brunch or a hike together. Maybe being invited into their room and listening to the new music they discovered.
If you find yourself unintentionally on the quest for super-humanness, a relaxed conversation over a bowl of soup may seem beyond your reach right now. So here are some practices to help you get from here to there. Read them through and see which one intrigues you.
1 Examine the expectations. Write down all the things you think you need to do. Then, for each item, ask whose expectations you’d be trying to meet by doing it. If it’s for someone else, is it an explicit obligation or an assumption on your part? If it's for your kid, could they do it themselves? What's real here?
And if they’re your own expectations, consider what you truly get out of doing it. Is it praise, solitude, knowing it's done 'right' or something else? Is it just habit? See if you can pinpoint what you're imagining it would mean about you if you didn’t do it.
2 Define ‘done’. For the things you truly want to accomplish, define exactly how you will know when they’re done. Aside from 100%, is there a ‘good enough’ you can live with? And which items will never be completely done?
3 Rest in the middle of it all. Notice if you’re thinking that you’ll rest when you get to the other side of something and plan to rest now instead. It doesn't have to be a month-long retreat to the mountains. It could be one full pajama day, an afternoon at an antique show or a weekly baking class. What would give you some reprieve in the midst of the demands? Go book it!
4 Check for diversions. Sometimes we humans keep ourselves busy as a way of never getting to the hard and scary thing we really want to do. Are you booking yourself so full that you can't find time to ask your kid the question you don’t want to hear the answer to? Have you made yourself too busy to explore some aspect of your own adolescence? How might the energy you’re putting into lesser priorities help make that important thing happen? Turn toward that.
5 Notice how far you’ve come. When your head is full of must-do’s and craned toward tomorrow, you are blind to what you’ve already accomplished. So, create a meaningful way of remembering the road you’ve travelled and what you’ve brought about in your parenting. Big or small, let it fully land in you. Well done. Exhale.
6 Experiment with pacing. If you’re used to going fast, slow isn’t easy. Try walking half pace from the house to the car or going upstairs landing both feet on each step. When you leave your desk, stand still for 5 seconds before walking away. Dance to slow music or brush your teeth slowly. You have to practice slowness so your whole system gets to know it better.
7 Learn from Nature. Spend part of your day out there with the trees, plants, water, dirt, birds, wind and rain. Smell it, touch it, breath it, listen to it. Notice - really notice - fast and slow. You are part of these natural rhythms, and they are part of you.
8 Lean into Spirit. Connect with your gods and guides. Light a candle, sing a sweet song or sit silently by the lakeshore. Allow yourself to be held and supported by the Great Heart.
Ahem - this is NOT another To-Do list - it's a menu, in case you're looking for your next step. Choose one practice, try it for 10 days. and see what happens for you.
I returned the cape
he keeps calling me superwoman
he means it as a compliment
superwoman is not
a real person
when you’re superhuman,
you don’t get to be human
~ Cleo Wade