Moms are NOT Superheroes: The Toxic Myth of "Super-Mom"
Before you get mad…
Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I am a 31-year-old woman (yes, that makes me a Millenial). I was born, raised, and reside in New Jersey. I work a full-time corporate job. I am a proud mom to two spectacular boys – Sebastian, 5, and Joaquin, 2. I have two dogs. I am an active lifetime member of my sorority. I went back to school to pursue my Master’s degree when I was on maternity leave with my second son. I love my mom, my mother-in-law, and all my mommy friends. I recognize and appreciate that moms are, without a doubt, the hardest working, most capable, strongest, most resilient, and most amazing people on the planet. This is not an indictment of moms – quite the opposite in fact. This is a mom appreciation post! Here’s what I mean when I say moms aren’t superheroes.
Me with my two sons, Sebastian, 5, and Joaquin, 2.
Glorifying the Grind
We live in a society today that glorifies the grind. I’m sure you’ve probably heard or seen the phrase “rise and grind” – they even made it a hashtag. If you haven’t heard that phrase, welcome to earth, send me an email to tell me about your home planet (okay, just kidding)! Here on earth, specifically in the United States, our society has become obsessed with working hard, hustling, or grinding, and somehow we’ve come to believe that if you aren’t driving yourself into the ground and exhausted every day that you’re somehow failing.
“The toil glamour of the hustle culture extols overworking and burnout and signals you're a hard, dedicated employee, and 45% of the workforce brag about being modern-day members. They bathe in the same glamorous light that advertisers poured over the cigarette and liquor ads of the 1930s. In movies and commercials back then, it was considered sexy to smoke and drink until they realized it caused cancer and stroke” (Robinson, 2019).
Have you ever thought about what grinding actually means? It means to wear something down, to pulverize it, to destroy it, to crush it. This is what our culture glorifies - and that’s especially true for moms.
The Myth of the Super-Mom
Moms are commonly spoken about in terms that paint them as superhuman, which supports the popular notion that they should be able to manage the lion’s share of the responsibility of raising kids and running the household, while working like they don’t have kids, looking like an Instagram model, making time for girls’ nights, making sure the calendar is always updated, and doing it all with a smile – a feat that is, in fact, impossible for a mortal being. We tell moms they are superhuman and celebrate them as such because they’d have to be to live up to the expectations society has saddled them with.
(Image Source: https://www.gerberlife.com/blog/super-mom-infographic/)
We glorify the idea that moms are not mere mortals, that we are capable of doing more than humanly possible, and we come to believe that there are moms out there that can, in fact, do it all - especially with the filtered view we get on social media of problem-free, picture-perfect families, and we come to expect that of moms in-real-life. Social media plays a significant role in magnifying the issue, as it has “given users a way to broadcast the best, and oftentimes inauthentic, versions of themselves, but also, it has created an environment of constant connectivity, comparison, and ultimately competition” (Hicks, 2019).
(Image Source: https://www.amazon.com/Superhero-Mom-Timothy-Knapman/dp/1536205672)
With the rise of influencer culture and the mommy-blogger, we are now exposed to seeming “super-moms” everywhere we look, with perfect kids, perfect husbands, perfect houses, amazing vacations, girls' nights out, impossibly perfect hair, clear skin, and manicured nails, which reinforces the false narrative that being a Super-Mom can be done. Glamourizing and glorifying the impossible lives moms lead and the unattainable expectations we hold moms to may be intended as a compliment but it is actually a toxic and incredibly damaging social construct that reinforces the almost cruel standards mothers are held to. Calling moms superheroes can make them feel like they are failing when they struggle to do it all. For the moms who seem to be doing it all, it isn’t just a miracle, that mom is probably at the end of her rope and just putting on a good show or has help behind the scenes that enables her to do the impossible.
What are moms actually experiencing while we’re celebrating them for their ability to do more than humanly possible? A recent study conducted by sociologist Caitlyn Collins showed, among wealthy Western countries,
“American mothers stood out in their experience of crushing guilt and work-family conflict,” and that “they are drowning from stress” (Escalante, 2019).
I don’t know about you but, as an American Millennial mom, that sounds about right to me! Moms aren’t superheroes – they are exhausted. They are running themselves ragged, sacrificing their mental, emotional, and physical health to try to meet impossible expectations and they’re being celebrated for trying to do more than any human could do. We’ve somehow skewed this damaging idea into a compliment, and we bestow the title of Super-Mom on women as if they are somehow just naturally capable of doing and dealing with more than any human being should. It is not a miracle. Super-Mom is on the verge of a breakdown. Super-Mom is exhausted. Super-Mom is burnt out. Super-Mom is not superhuman. Super-Mom is only human and she needs help and support much more than she needs one more person wondering just how she can do the impossible (Newsflash: she can’t!).
(Image source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/tired-mother-asking-for-help-while-sitting-with-children-4017419/)
Changing the Narrative
So how do we avoid playing into the toxic myth of the Super-Mom? Stop glorifying exhaustion and congratulating moms for pushing themselves beyond any logical human limits. Instead, figure out how you can help Human Mom. Ask Human Mom if she is struggling, how you can help, reassure her that it is okay to not be superhuman. Be authentic – share the real, raw, and sometimes ugly sides of motherhood. Stop airbrushing, filtering, and editing the imperfections out of what it really means to be a mom. The only way we can change the impossible social expectations placed on moms is if we get real about how damaging it is to our physical, emotional, and mental health to always be expected to do more than can be done. Let’s stop glorifying the grind and glamourizing the burnout, and let’s start seeing and appreciating moms for what they really are – amazing, important, strong, resourceful, resilient, and wonderful human beings with limits, just like everyone else.
Escalante, A. (2019, March 06). Mothers Are Drowning in Stress. Retrieved July 03, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shouldstorm/201903/mothers-are-drowning-in-stress
Hicks, J. (2019, February 05). Why Are Millennials Buying Into Hustle Culture? Retrieved July 03, 2020, from https://thriveglobal.com/stories/why-are-millennials-buying-into-hustle-culture/
Robinson, B. (2019, October 02). The "Rise and Grind" of Hustle Culture. Retrieved July 03, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-right-mindset/201910/the-rise-and-grind-hustle-culture