Perhaps it’s because I have three pretty great kids that I haven’t managed to totally screw up yet. Or perhaps it’s because I often look frazzled and harried and desperate for positive reinforcement. Whatever the reason, my kind-hearted friends and family members frequently compliment my various mom-related activities and abilities. And, God love ’em, some even toss around the loaded term “SuperMom.”
And my response, always, is to promptly laugh in their faces before spewing out a mile-long list of my weaknesses and failures as a mother, teacher, homemaker, and wife.
It’s not false modesty. My house is truly a disaster more often than not, despite my having read every organizational book on the planet. I start too many projects I don’t finish. I’ve paid enough money in overdue library fines to send at least one of my kids to college. I finally just got around to teaching my 7-year-old to tie her shoes. I’ve not been able to get a single one of my moppets potty trained before the age of three. The only reason I can type this right now is because I put a Shaun the Sheep video on for my toddler, rather than letting him empty yet another one of my tape dispensers.
So . . . No, I always respond. I am anything but a SuperMom.
Then yesterday, as I was cleaning out a closet, I came across this poster my uber-talented friend Geoff drew me for my 17th birthday.
That’s me. Annie G. Superheroine! The pre-kids super me. Pretty impressive, right? As I was admiring my friend’s artistic abilities, I thought, “Wow, Geoff was rather generous with my . . . uh . . . bosoms. But it’s kind of fitting, really. It’s like a foreshadowing of my real superpower.”
And that’s when it hit me. I do have superpowers. Real, honest-to-goodness, mom superpowers. And it’s not just my amazing A-cup breastfeeding abilities. Among other things, I make a mean, mean vegetable soup from scratch. I can kiss boo-boos and make owies magically disappear. I’ve taught my children to read and write, to say please and thank you, and to (usually) follow the Golden Rule. I manage to work from home, educate my kids, clothe and feed my family, keep my marriage in tact, and even throw my musings about motherhood up on the Internet a couple of times a week. Do my faults and weaknesses really negate those things?
No. They do not.
I think it’s time I embrace the fact that maybe, perhaps, there’s at least a slight chance that I just might be a SuperMom.
Here’s how I figure it. Up until yesterday, my definition of a SuperMom would have been a woman who embodied the following qualities: (Take a deep breath—the list is long.)
- has more than one child (with the number of children directly proportional to her degree of “superness”)
- plans meals and cooks them from scratch (preferably with organic ingredients grown in her own garden)
- cheerfully cooks and bakes with her kids (again, with organic ingredients from her own garden)
- cheerfully helps her kids with their schoolwork
- attends all of her kids’ sporting, music, and miscellaneous events
- keeps a perfectly clean and organized house
- never forgets her cloth grocery bags when she goes to the store
- brings creative snacks to parties
- volunteers at her kids’ schools or homeschools her kids (again, cheerfully)
- volunteers in her religious community, homeless shelters, animal shelters, food pantries, and/or nursing homes
- exercises six days a week
- reads quality literature, ideally as part of a cool book club
- prescreens all of her kids’ viewing and reading material
- organizes family game nights
- keeps up with her friends
- throws fantastic kids’ birthday parties
- keeps elaborate scrapbooks for each kid
- spends special one-on-one time with each child every week
- calmly solves all behavioral issues with natural and logical consequences
- writes in a gratitude journal
- does her hair and make-up every day
- wears matching bras and underwear
- has regular date nights with her spouse
- gets intimate with her spouse at least three times a week
- works some kind of paying job, either part or full-time, in or out of the house
- somehow manages to find time to follow her passions and nurture her own spirit
I’m sure I’m missing some things. This list may seem over the top, but these are things moms are told time and again that we should strive for. And so the picture of SuperMom is painted. Doing it all and doing it well. Professional, parental, and domestic perfection, with an organic garden thrown in for good measure. That’s a SuperMom, right? Or at least something close to it?
That’s what I used to think. But then Geoff’s drawing and some pondering of iconic superheroes helped me uncover a truth that flipped that silly notion right on its annoying little head.
Ready for it?
Real superheroes aren’t perfect. Not a single one of them.
To begin with, they all have different powers and strengths. Spiderman uses his spidey senses, superhuman strength, and incredible agility to battle the bad guys. Ironman has super strength as well, but also super speed and self-healing powers. Wolverine has those razor sharp claws (not to mention Hugh Jackman’s “superpowers” of his own, thankyouverymuch). Wonder Woman is super strong, super fast, and can rock a bodysuit and boots like no other.
And, of course, there’s Superman, the epitome of the superhero, more powerful than all the rest of them combined. Invulnerable, impenetrable, and handsome to boot.
Batman doesn’t actually have any superpowers. Did you know that? He protects Gotham with his indomitable will, great athletic and martial arts abilities, and genius-level intelligence. Yet we still consider him a superhero. (Plus, he does have that cool Batmobile swagger.)
We moms have different strengths and superpowers, too. I know a mom who throws birthday parties that would put Martha Stewart to shame, one who volunteers practically full-time at her kids’ schools, and another who has a standing Saturday night date with her husband each week. I know moms who work outside the house full-time, moms who stay home full-time, moms who homeschool, and moms who work from home while homeschooling. I know moms whose houses are spotless (though I still can’t figure out how). I know moms whom I’ve begged to tell me their parenting secrets because their kids are so unbelievably stellar.
But no superhero does it all. Even Superman, with all his superpowers, has his weaknesses. His x-ray vision can’t penetrate lead. Red solar radiation renders him as normal as you and me. He’s somewhat vulnerable to magic. And, of course, Kryptonite cripples him completely.
He’s also forced to live a lie, unable to reveal his true identity to anyone. Not exactly living his best life, Oprah-style.
Other superhero weaknesses have familiar human parallels as well. Spiderman has an overactive sense of responsibility. I know some moms with that weakness. Wolverine has a nasty temper. Ironman is an alcoholic. If Batman gets outsmarted, he’s as mortal as the rest of us.
Wonder Woman’s biggest weakness? Having her hands bound by a man. I’ll leave that one right there.
Just like no superhero does it all, no mom does it all, either. The perfect birthday party mom doesn’t always have the energy at the end of her work day to be “on” for her kids. The volunteer mom worries about how staying home will affect her retirement someday. The mom who dates her husband grabs fast food more than she’d like because her kids’ schedules are so hectic. The working moms sometimes feel guilty. The stay-at-home moms miss getting a paycheck. The homeschoolers can’t keep their houses clean for longer than 30 seconds.
We all have our weaknesses. But just as Superman’s vulnerability to Kryptonite and magic doesn’t make him any less of a superhero, my inability to maintain a cleaning schedule or convince my kid to poo on the toilet doesn’t make me any less of a SuperMom.
Now, some may feel it’s unfair to compare real moms with the fictitious powers of these iconic superheroes. But I choose to see it the opposite way. The things moms do are actually way more impressive than the contrived feats of our comic book heroes. There’s no comparison, really. If anyone’s going to be called a superhero, it’s got to be the mom who somehow finds the fortitude to work day after day to raise healthy, well-adjusted kids in the face of hectic schedules, behavioral challenges, financial hardships, familial dysfunction, sleep deprivation, lack of support, health issues, dietary limitations, societal pressures, media influence, and every other challenge you can throw at her.
Oh yes. SuperMom beats Superman, every time, hands down.
So when I finally get around to making BoyWonder a superhero cape, I think I’ll make one for myself as well. Because I AM a SuperMom. And so is every other mom I know. We don’t do it all. And we may not do the things we do as well as we’d like to. But we do a lot. A whole lot. And some of it we do pretty darn well.
Being a SuperMom doesn’t mean perfection. It means finding your superpowers and recognizing your weaknesses. It means accepting the enormous responsibility inherent in the job, but cutting yourself a little slack sometimes. It means enjoying the feel of the breeze through your hair while you’re leaping tall buildings in a single bound, but acknowledging that you’ll eventually stumble into a phone booth and be painfully human again, at least for a while.
So the next time someone tells me I’m a SuperMom, I won’t deny it. Instead, I’ll smile, toss my cape behind my shoulder, and say, Why, thank you, kind citizen.
I encourage all my fellow SuperMoms to do the same.
This post was originally published on Motherhood and More on 1/16/12.