Fighting the Supermom Syndrome
How to keep from being burned-out by your full-time, stay-at-home-mom job.
by Angie Peters
The supermom syndrome— that mindset that makes you think that you can bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan, that you should be all things to all people, always producing nothing but perfect results in your every endeavor—isn't reserved for working moms. Some of us who gave up the fast track pursue full-time parenting with the same competitive spirit cultivated in the business world. We may believe that full-time mothering should guarantee that we will produce perfect kids. Or, more often, we begin to believe that since we "don't work," we should not only join but run the school's parent volunteer organization, pitch in at the homeless shelter and the March of Dimes, sit on three church committees and direct the nursery, lead a scout troop, baby-sit our working neighbor's kids, hand-craft all our Christmas presents, grow our own vegetables, and design and stencil all our gift-wrap.
"I guess I really thought that I would be supermom to the extent that I could do everything," says Karen, mother of two who has been at home for three years, about her first year at home.
Because of the isolation she felt after making the jump from a busy job where she had cultivated a circle of friends to staying at home where she had virtually no friends, she found it hard in the beginning to say no to demands on her time.
"I'd be so tired that I would not be of any use to my kids, my husband, or anybody. You have to know where to draw the line. You have to just do what you can do, and then stop."
"It's hard keeping everyone happy at the same time: my kids, my husband, my parents, my friends," says Robin, mother of two. "Since I'm at home, everybody thinks I can do all their running around."
Handling this issue might be one of the most difficult problems moms at home face because our self-esteem is so often entangled in the issue of what we do (verbs such as "work"/"produce") as opposed to who we are (nouns such as "mother"/"wife"). No easy formula can help you determine how much your plate can adequately hold. Use common sense when deciding how much you can handle. And, if you find yourself overloaded, make yourself say, "I can't do this project anymore. It's taking too much time away from my family."
God doesn't tell us that we should do everything or be everything; we heap this kind of pressure on ourselves. All He "requires" of us is that we "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with Him" (Micah 6:8 paraphrase).
Letting Go of the Wheel
The rules have changed. When you were in the workplace, you did this and got paid that. You put together a report and got the satisfaction of seeing a neatly typed, collated project inserted in the impressive-looking folder. You made a speech and got a pat on the back from a colleague. You met your sales quota and got the peace of mind that the boss wouldn't be on your case anymore. You did x and got y. You were in control, if not of your destiny, at least of your days.
But the equation has changed. When you're mothering at home, nothing guarantees that y will follow x anymore. Too many interruptions keep you from completing x to begin with. If you do manage to complete x, there's usually no one around to give you the y. No bonuses for baby rocking. No certificates of recognition for efficient diaper-bag packing. No employee of the month parking spot for teaching your son to chew with his mouth closed. No brownie points for getting lunch ready today—before the kids got cranky and without any spills.
"When you're a mom, especially with infants, you just change diapers and feed them," notes Leslie. "That's all you do. Tend to their needs and there's no end to it. You don't say, 'Well at this point I'm going to be finished with that.' ... It's really incredibly frustrating."
There aren't any easy answers for dealing with the frustration wrought by this kind of drastic change of the rules midgame. But if you can let go of the wheel and turn your days into a celebration of life with your kids— interruptions and all—the Lord will honor your commitment by adjusting your needs to be satisfied with a new set of rewards. That reward may be as simple as a sticky kiss instead of brownie points with the boss—but that sticky kiss can deliver an inner peace beyond any raise you ever got!
Moms in both single- and dual-career families wonder whether they've got enough reserve fuel in their tanks to keep giving and giving and giving the way "good" moms and wives are supposed to.
"It is a 24-hour a day job," points out Shari. "You don't get many breaks, and you're always needed. It takes a lot of energy, creativity, and commitment."
For one thing, there are the physical demands. Nursing infants wake up every 45 minutes. Rambunctious toddlers crawl under and climb up anything. Rowdy kindergartners might explode before your eyes unless you take them to the park to burn off some of that simmering energy.
Every day you carry them, hoist them in and out of the bathtub, push them in their strollers, pull them in their wagons, cradle them in your arms, rock them, change their diapers, run potty trainees to the bathroom, play catch with them, chase lightning bugs with them, tickle them, wrestle with them, dance with them—sometimes while you're pregnant, as well! They also make messes—in their diapers, on their chins, on your shoulders, on the walls, in the bathroom—that must be cleaned up.
Then there are the mental demands. When you're a mom, you have to think, think, think all the time. Think about how to entertain them. Think about what to teach them. Think about how to teach them. Think about what items you should pack in the diaper bag that will cover any contingency during any given jaunt. Think about whether a certain television show is OK to let them watch. Think about whether your 3-year-old is ready for half-day preschool. Think about how you'll pay for it if he is. Think about breakfast, lunch, and dinner three times a day, every day. Think about what size winter coat your little one will need next year as you try to pick up a bargain at an end-of-the season clearance. The kids don't always mind, they often do things you wish they wouldn't do, and they fuss and fight with their siblings.
So how do you keep from burning out?
- Keep resources on-hand to inspire you and give you practical ideas.
- Keep a "Kidstuff and Rainy Days" box full of books and magazine clippings of easy activity and craft ideas for kids to dip into when you're tapped out and tempted to let the television do some serious baby-sitting.
- Give yourself a break. "I allow myself to be away from my daughter in order to avoid burn-out," says Laurie. "Although I believe I am her full-time mom, I don't believe that means I am the only person who can give her the care she needs. People who work full time outside the home need breaks in order to work more productively, so why wouldn't a full-time mom? I read, sew, shop, take a bath—stuff I enjoy—and feel refreshed and ready to be a great mom."
- Keep quick fixes nearby. Does hearing a certain song always make you tap your toes? Listen to it. Does a certain Scripture passage always make you see things more clearly? Put it on your fridge or bathroom mirror. Looking through your kids' baby pictures might help you recharge your battery as you remember how passionately you wanted to spend your time at home with them instead of in an office somewhere. Does a certain movie always make you laugh? Pop that into the player now, sit down with a big bowl of popcorn and paint your fingernails or work some puzzles with the kids while you have a good laugh.
- Remotivate yourself. Think back to how passionate you were about your "new job" when you first became a stay-at-home mom. Looking up entries in your journal during that time can help you snatch back some of the motivation and enthusiasm.
The attitudes we can cultivate that help keep us motivated as Christians are the very ones that can help us keep our tanks full as moms.
If you're feeling like nothing more than a servant in your home, remember that in God's eyes, the development of a servant spirit is desirable in a child of God. In addition, sometimes we've just got to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and keep going. "And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary" (Galatians 6:9 NASB).
Concentrate on the fact that this is only temporary. Remember, we are only given a certain amount of time with our kids. We should embrace this time, hog it, enjoy it, use it, make the most of it, indulge in it like a chin-deep bubble bath that won't be so luxuriously hot or bubble-full forever. Because it won't be long before they'll be gone from our care. These days will be memories, feelings, ones that we'll only be able to experience through pictures, videos, and teary-eyed reminiscences. As soon as we feasted our eyes on each of our squinty-eyed babies in the delivery rooms, they, and we, began the slow but quick process of separating.
"Look at him," the 15-or-so-years-older-than-me woman said, nodding toward my 5-year-old son sipping out of a giant lobster cup at a beachside restaurant during last summer's vacation. "You're going to turn around and he'll be that big." As she pointed to the lanky high schooler with hairy legs and a shadowy trace of whiskers over his top lip sitting across from her, I wanted to say, "No way." But the fact is, when I see women with small babies, I want to rush up to them and tell them the same kinds of things this mom told me. "You're going to turn around and he'll be tying his own shoes and wanting to spend the night with his new best friend."
So as you make your way through these sometimes tedious days of life as a mother at home, try to take a few steps back now and then to look at the big picture. Take the smelly diaper you changed this morning, the colic spells that have kept you from getting any sleep this week, the tickle-me-pink crayon scribbles on the new wallpaper in your bathroom and the seemingly constant clutter of toys on the den floor as your trade-in on the privilege of indulging in your kids' everyday lives. Because they will grow up before you know it!
This material was adapted from the book, Celebrate Home! Encouragement and Tips for Stay-at-Home Parents.