The supermom myth

| 13 May 2014 | 04:51

    “I hate Mother's Day.”
    I would have discounted what the woman – a professional colleague – was saying, but the pained expression on her face told me that this was something she felt pretty deeply.

    “It's the stories that get to me,” she said. “Everywhere you turn – on TV, in the newspaper, during the Mother's Day program at church – there are stories of remarkable mothers. They sew clothes, they make bread, they darn socks, they bring pets back from the dead, they repair transmissions, they write sonatas, they feed the homeless and they coach Little League baseball teams – all before breakfast. Their homes are immaculate, their gardens are bountiful, their children are well-behaved and they look like they teach aerobics every day.

    “Then I look at me,” she continued. “I'm overweight. I kill plastic plants. I haven't sewed anything since I made a hot pad in 7 grade Home Ec. My idea of the four food groups is McDonald's, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut. And some days it's all I can do to keep myself from strangling my 16-year-old.

    “Mother's Day tributes just remind me of all the things a mother should be, but I'm not. They make me feel guilty. And frustrated. And inadequate. And they really make me hate that mother they're always talking about – whoever she is.”

    And hate is so … you know … unmotherly.

    For most of the women I know, motherhood is life's greatest reward – and it's most daunting challenge. So it doesn't help when SuperMom (who may or may not actually exist) is presented as the standard by which MereMortalMoms are measured. It's intimidating, and to a certain extent, discouraging. To my colleague, at least, the SuperMom Myth isn't motivational.

    “I hear those stories, and I figure, ‘What's the use?’” she said. “And so I just kind of give up, and hope my kids can recover from a lifetime of imperfect parenting.”

    I know that feeling. I’ve spent more than a few Father’s Days in the fetal position.

    At such times, however, I remember my last conversation with my mother. It was about a month before she died; at her doctor's suggestion, my sister and I had flown out to see her before.. well, you know. We took turns sitting alone with her in her room, savoring precious moments that we knew would soon end. During my private time with Mom, we held hands and talked about our family. We re-told our favorite family stories and re-lived special family experiences. We laughed. We cried. We reminisced.

    And OK, we bragged a little (hey, she was on her death bed – she was entitled). Not that there's anything spectacular about our family. But there's nothing too embarrassing, either (unless you count the occasional newspaper columnist). I was just making that point when Mom stopped me in mid-boast.

    “You know, some folks look at our family and think we're pretty special,” she said. “But we're just ordinary people, doing the best we can.”

    “But we had an extraordinary mother,” I insisted.

    She smiled and shook her head weakly. “No – I was ordinary. But I did the best I could.”

    I'm not sure that's true – I mean, the “ordinary” part. But there is much to be said for her philosophy. No matter how you view it, parenting is an inexact science. Sometimes it's like shooting fish in a barrel. Sometimes it's like trying to nail Jell-O to a tree. Which is why we don’t celebrate perfection on Mother's Day. We celebrate the day-to-day heroism of ordinary women who simply do the best they can at the hardest job on earth. They are super moms.

    If not SuperMoms.
    To read more by Joseph B. Walker, go to