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How the ‘Supermum’ narrative is hurting mothers

Being called a Supermum is supposed to be a light-hearted compliment, but is it helpful? Clinical psychologist Sarah Bell-Booth isn’t so sure.

The definition of a Supermum seems to include a daunting super long-list of super parent powers.

You must of course be able to adopt and maintain a happy and calm disposition 24/7, seven days a week, 365 days a year with no break.

You’ll always patiently manage difficult child behaviour and give your children your undivided attention every waking moment (and even while you’re asleep).

Are you a top chef who can offer fully nutritional bento box menus every day with home-cooked and baked delicacies that are politely received and enjoyed by your kids? Well, you need to be.

Also, you’ll be an organised event manager who can, at a moment’s notice, deliver a Pinterest-worthy experience of social and stimulating creative activities.

Can you provide your kids with high fashion clothing and the latest toys and gadgets? That’s a must.

Your home will always be spotless and tidy, in fact it should look like you hire an hourly professional cleaner.

How handy that you’re motivated to exercise Every. Single. Day. And you just love to run marathon events in this season’s active wear.

You’ll work in a high powered career to role model success to your children of course. While being an at home parent because you can’t just leave them and work.

All that spare time you have needs to be spent altruistically volunteering for community groups and charities and sitting on the board of your child’s kindy or co-op.

And you’ll do all of this while maintaining a passionate Notebook-inspired romantic relationship with your partner.

Supermum! Easy!

Well-meaning friends, acquaintances, and colleagues often use the Supermum term to praise others who seem to be coping well with the ever-increasing demands of parenthood. However, it can show a lack of understanding about the subtleties of what is really going on behind the scenes.

The comparisons we make are largely based on assumptions made from snapshots. These snapshots can neglect to acknowledge your current internal battles managing your emotions (or your child’s or children’s for that matter) or your hard work and determination. They ignore your inherent personality, temperament and natural talents. They don’t show your engagement in self-care and your physical health status.

These snapshots definitely don’t acknowledge resilience built from past experiences, luck, opportunities and privileges, and your cultural and social support.

If you were called a Supermum it could positively reinforce and motivate you. Or it could overwhelm you.

It might add more pressure on to you to uphold that external perception that you have it all sorted. This may eventually create anxiety as you strive for perfection.

Perfection is unrealistic in any area of life, but it is particularly unrealistic in parenthood which is unpredictable and uncontrollable by nature.

Being called a Supermum may also prevent you from expressing normal negative emotions and asking for support and validation.

There needs to be honesty in these villages of mums, not a hierarchy or competition about who appears to be coping better.

So if you find yourself striving for unrealistic Supermum status, here are some tips:

STOP. Just stop. Stop rushing. Stop excessive multi-tasking. Stop overcommitting to please others. Instead start setting specific and realistic goals.

Ask yourself:

  • Is my goal attainable?
  • Am I basing my self-worth on these achievements?
  • Who am I trying to impress?
  • What is urgent? What can I delay or delegate?

Make a short to-do list, halve it and you might be left with an achievable amount to do. Allow extra time for these tasks. If you find yourself with some extra time on your hands – great! Time for a café or beach break to reward yourself.

Adjust your goals daily or even hourly. Tune into your emotions and energy levels in these regular check-ins. Say no to plans that don’t suit anymore.

Credit: Pixabay

Acknowledge your strengths and limitations and work with them:

Are you a morning person? Go out with your kids when you feel patient. If not, let them play around home or even pop the TV on for a short bit while you grab a cuppa.

Are you creative with messy play at home or should you attend a playgroup which facilitates this?

Are you the best mum you can be after you’ve had some adult stimulation from work and shared the childcare with others?

Remember that meeting your child or children’s needs is often more draining than you recognise.

Take “short & sweet” time away to re-group and re-energise. Relaxation is non-negotiable in parenthood. This can be anything that works for you. It could be exercising, being in nature, listening to music, dancing, reading, social catch ups or pampering.

Celebrating small successes is important. Praise yourself for specific positive behaviours and achievements rather than striving for a vague, over-generalised label like Supermum.

Writing a diary of examples demonstrating you are doing a ‘good/good enough’ job can also give you warm fuzzies and reinforce your efforts.

When praising others, I’m sure they would also prefer meaningful specific observations rather than inferences about their general coping ability.

“I love this yummy cake you brought along today” rather than “I don’t know how you fit in baking so much with the kids and your job – you’re such a Supermum”.

Eeek – so much pressure in one sentence!

You may not be aware of the struggles she had in the process of getting that cake to your place.

Parents are doing their best and kids are well-loved, so let’s be mindful of the dangers of connotations associated with terms like Supermum. While you might be pretty super mum, it’s OK to feel vulnerable when transitioning into that very important parent role. Hopefully these tips help with that.

Dr Sarah Bell-Booth is a mum of three (one girl and twin boys) and a clinical psychologist. She offers evidence-based treatment for parents with anxiety and depression.

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