I see you, Mama. You’re worn down. Physically exhausted. Emotionally exhausted. Spiritually exhausted. Even when people surround you at home, you feel lonely. You’re Supermom, no question. You get up in the morning, make sure everyone has a good breakfast, and get the kids dressed and off to school and day care on time. You go to work where you spend the better part of 8 or 9 hours on your feet. At the end of the day, you come home, and your second job begins – cooking dinner, cleaning the kitchen, washing the dishes, doing laundry, getting the kids to bed, picking up toys, and putting all the laundry away before collapsing into bed, exhausted to tears. In the midst of these hours of work, you would occasionally look over at your husband, drink in one hand, remote control in the other, and fight the waves of resentment as he “rests” from his job in front of the TV all evening.
So, what’s the deal? Why is your man leaving you to do all the housework and childcare when you both work full-time jobs? And why are you putting up with it? Here are a couple/few thoughts.
(1) You make it look so effortless. You’re like a well-oiled machine, organized, able to bring up doctor’s appointments, hair appointments, play dates, sports practices, and parent-teacher conferences with a few taps on your phone. Bam!
(2) It’s your job as a mom. After all, your mom did it. Her mom did it. Her mom before her did it. Built into the collective unconscious of women is “The man works all day, so the woman takes care of the house and kids.” Sadly, this message hasn’t changed with the changing status of women as degree winners and bread earners. The stereotype of the June Cleaver mom – happily doing housework with dress, heels, pearls, and a smile – still influences us, two generations later.
(3) It’s your job to sacrifice yourself. This has a LOT of religious undertones to it by religious figures – men, of course – who continue to perpetuate the idea that a woman’s job is in the home taking care of her family. This gets stretched to include the message that, “If you complain (get tired, feel worn down, etc.), then your faith isn’t strong enough and you’re less of a women/wife/mom/Christian.”
Right here, right now, I’m calling BULLSHIT!!! on every single one of those reasons/excuses, because that’s exactly what they are.
Whether or not he’s your favorite superhero, I think we can easily agree that Superman is a pretty awesome superhero. He’s got the muscles and the speed and those killer blue eyes. How easily does he seem to guide a crippled passenger plane to a safe landing! Then he goes on to foil a bank robbery, fearlessly progressing as bullet after bullet strikes his chest. (Then the robbers throw their guns at him. What’s up with that? Like the bullets won’t kill him, but a 14-ounce pistol will?) And then his supersonic hearing picks up the faint feminine cries of “Superman! Save me!” and he flies off to pluck Lois Lane out of mid-air, depositing her safely to the ground and, once more, earning her undying gratitude and devotion. The citizens of Metropolis look up in admiration and applaud him, so grateful he’s once more saved the day! Ahhh! If only we Supermoms got that kind of adulation, at least every once in a while!
But Superman has a weakness that those Metropolitans know nothing about. Superman knows what it is, of course… And so does Lex Luthor. Things start going bad in the big city of Metropolis, and Superman is nowhere to be found. People start wondering, speculating, and worrying. What will happen to their beloved city if Superman doesn’t appear soon?
In an abandoned warehouse near the docks, Superman is bound against steel beams, weaker than a mere Earthling. Lex Luthor has left him there, intending to deal with him later. Nearby, a chunk of emerald green stone glows in the darkness of the warehouse. A couple of teens ditching school duck into the warehouse, looking for a bit of privacy. The green glowing rock catches their eyes, and then they see the Man of Steel nearby. Scared and alarmed, they ask him, “Superman? What happened?”
With a hoarse voice, he manages to rasp out, “Kryptonite.” The teens get it. The girl grabs the stone with a pair of nearby tongs and runs it outside, going to the end of the dock before flinging it with all her might into the ocean. On her way back to the warehouse, she gasps the story in broken, breathless sentences to a couple of guys fishing. They follow her into the warehouse, shocked to see their hero so weakened.
One of them asks, “Superman, how can we help you?” A modicum stronger now, he says, “Sunlight.” The four work to untie him and they carry his heavy, muscular body outside, laying him down on the weathered wood of the boardwalk. The midday sun is strong and bright overhead, and it takes almost no time for Superman’s strength to return.
Superman was brought low, and he had to communicate (1) what was making him weak, and (2) how to get his strength back. Supermom, you do, too. What is exhausting you? What is making you feel worn to your soul? What is making you feel stressed, anxious, lonely, and sad? What has diminished the light in your eyes?
It’s time to open up some communication. What is making you feel weak, despite sleeping well, eating right, and having a faithful worship and prayer life? You have to let your family know these things. They see the nearly effortless way you handle the home and family and don’t realize you are exhausted. They don’t know your resentments or your anger. It’s time to release that, to communicate your feelings in a loving, empowering way. When my words seem to fall on deaf ears, I turn to writing out those feelings.
It’s also time to speak about what will help you regain your strength. Do you need space to meditate or practice mindfulness, whatever that looks like? (There are some faith-based meditations, too.) Do you need your husband/partner to watch the kids, including getting them fed, bathed, and to bed, so you can take a fitness class or do yoga practice? SAY that. Don’t pussy-foot around it and be nice; none of this, “Honey, is it OK if I take this class once a week? It’s OK if it’s not, and I’ll make dinner and take care of the kids before I leave.” NO NO NO NO NO!!! Try this instead: “Honey, I need to take care of me so I can have the strength to take care of y’all. There’s this class on Tuesday evenings I want to take. So I can do this, I’ll need you to cook dinner those nights and be front man on getting the kids bathed and to bed.” That’s clear, concise, and to the point.
As you start feeling better after a few weeks, make time to thank your partner for supporting you in your continuing efforts. Also, thank your children for being good for the other parent and making his/her life easier. Occasionally, make something in the crockpot for dinner so your husband/partner can get a little bit of a break. Weekly, thank your other half for what they do. This will encourage them to continue supporting you; gratefulness leads to people wanting to help, and everyone likes feeling appreciated.
It’s time we SuperMoms owned up to our weaknesses and claimed what we need to regain our strength. I was diligently doing cardio 2-3 days/evenings a week and strength training at least twice a week. I ate a healthy, balanced diet and got sufficient sleep. My body was healthy. I taught Bible daily, prayed at least once a day (not including blessing meals), and still went to church each week. My spirit was healthy. Yet, my spirit was also feeling worn down. My body was feeling worn down. Why? Because my mental and emotional health was weak. I had a big ol’ dose of compassion fatigue on top of anxiety, and those two things were negatively impacting the entire rest of my being.
Now, since my being is tied to others’ beings, my being worn down also adversely affected how well I was doing at the wife thing, mom thing, and friend thing. Once I realized what was going on, owned it, and asked for help and support from people in my circles (my church circle has been especially supportive!), I am on my way back to complete, wholistic health.
SuperMom, you have got to claim a break for yourself every single day. All you need are ten minutes a day to be quiet and mindful. Some days, you need more time, especially if you’re working out. Your children’s dad needs to realize that there’s more to parenting than his 10-second contribution. Giving him these moments will help him build bonds with his children that’ll last a lifetime, so you’re doing him a favor, too.