Isn’t it time someone called them out? You have seen them, from the corner of your eye – don’t deny it – the Supermoms. They are svelte, ever smiling, and have machine-like precision when it comes to managing spit-ups, spill-downs, sassiness and sulks. Their ponytails are high, necklines low, and their patience? Why, that is legendary – it can stretch like the world’s longest 100% natural, organic, biodegradable and sustainable chewing gum. They don’t need it, of course: their children’s activities are so well aligned with Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development that any tantrum is pure childish whimsy.
You have only to turn the pages of a beauty or fashion magazine to appreciate that society is slanted in a way that fosters competition amongst women. Growing up you collect a range of descriptive trophies based on how you look, and your attitude, that amalgamate to form your sense of self. Yet, becoming a mother gave me a whole new complexity of ranking-anxiety. It’s a peculiar kind of ache I developed around the time of my first pregnancy class, when I overheard the super-fit woman in pink lycra describe her birth plan. Her becoming a Supermom and regaining that bouncy perm was as inevitable as my own postpartum falling apart.
Did I ever recover? My firstborn is ten and that puts me a whole decade behind my best intentions. This DIY project I embarked upon, is spiraling out of control on me – and my reading tells me it has everything to do with the lazy foundation I gave it. I should have sung songs to my foetus when I was pregnant. I should have chewed more flax seeds. And why wasn’t the Baby Einstein music playing on loop?
Somewhere out there, on Facebook and Instagram, are other kids winning junior derbies, setting swim records, painting murals with mom for charity, travelling to Budapest (Business Class), and taking off to Harvard for a special summer programme. Then there are my kids. They are such great kids, but the last parenting workshop I attended brought home to me that their brain plasticity has everything to do with the stimulation I have offered them. My failures to finely curate their exposure and experiences become their failures to fully thrive, and they keep compounding interest.
Checklist of perfection
If our gravestones could read like our thoughts, then I already know what’s going to be inscribed on mine. Beloved, moderately good mother, she just didn’t try hard enough. Yet, I do try. It is just that the system seems set up for most of us to fail.
Who was it that first signed off on the never-ending checklist of perfection for moms? Was it the pediatrician who criticised my friend, mother-of-three-days, because she had her husband hold the baby during a vaccination? Was it the school teacher who insisted I check my eight-year-old’s notebooks daily? Was it the blogger of the latest How-To parenting guide on the internet? Her suggestions on managing cruelty-free, non-GMO, processed-free, pesticide-free nutrition for two school-going children made me feel like I was setting death traps every time I put some noodles on the table. Was it the founder of the neighbouring activity centre? One minute I was carrying a crate of mangoes into the door, the next I was holding a brochure with a sinking heart because I hadn’t taken Howard Gardner’s Eight Intelligences theory into account before.
It’s a tough gig, and it takes a lot to keep everyone alive through 24 hours, leave alone looking salon fresh amongst perfectly manicured high-achieving children. So how do those holiest of holies, the Supermoms, do it? I suspect they don’t, because nobody can. I think it’s time we took a look at them, not from the corner of our eye, but flat on, and shattered the myth of perfectionist mothers. After all, even Superman hangs up his cape and slips into comfy spectacles and white lies.
Drop the Super
To assume flawless perfection in mothers is to manipulate them and ourselves into trying even harder. It’s to take emphasis away from how we are all very different people doing a tough thing. It puts us in direct competition with each other in the most emotionally stressful way possible. What If we drop the Super from Supermom? We all have our fine moments, and we all have our failures.
After all, I don’t know what happened to the super-fit woman in the pink lycra with the birth plan. Maybe she’s doing it all, and designing record-breaking websites on her laptop while sitting at Olympic-level junior swim training. Maybe on other days she’s watching The Good Wife reruns while her kids play on the iPad in another room. Either way, chances are we have a lot in common. She is probably a person who feels much as I do, that motherhood is a highly pressurised, thinly-put-together coalition of good intentions and tough decisions.
It’s time to call out the myth of the Supermom. Judging other mothers based on appearances and giving them labels doesn’t do anyone any favours. Who knows? Maybe if I manage that one day, then I’ve taken the first step towards not judging myself too.
Karishma Attari is the author of I See You and Don’t Look Down. She runs a workshop series called Shakespeare for Dummies and is currently writing a novel titled The Want Diaries. Her Twitter handle is @KarishmaWrites.