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Superwoman Is Dead

Superwoman Is Dead

Most mothers fight a constant battle between stress and guilt.


“The Age of the Superwoman is dead,” says Samantha Parent Walravens, editor of the recently released TORN: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood. I called Ms. Walravens at her Northern California home to discuss the impetus for the book and her goals and vision. We forged an instant bond because I know first-hand exactly what she is talking about.

Many of us today have bought into the superwoman myth. We think we can do it all – careers, children, healthy marriages – and then we realize that we still need to sleep at night!

The stress occurs when you’re home with your children; the guilt when you’re not.

I find that most mothers (and many fathers as well) fight a constant battle between two warring negative emotions – stress and guilt. The stress occurs when you’re home with your children; the guilt when you’re not.

A calm state of equilibrium and contentment seems inaccessible. We’re never doing enough; we’re never actually becoming “all we can be.” Or are we? Who do we really want to be and are we perhaps using all our energy to accomplish this?

These are just some of questions and dilemmas that the mothers in Samantha’s collection of essays are wrestling with. Samantha herself graduated from Princeton and felt the same tug. She wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, available to her children, but there was always that voice in the background whispering (and sometimes shouting) “You should do more.”

Ms. Walravens acknowledged that she’s not sure if the voice is internal or external but perhaps it doesn’t matter. Either way, the pressures continue to mount from all sides. Families need money. Children need mothering. Marriages need attention. Mothers need intellectual stimulation and perhaps a concrete sense of accomplishment.

Everyone’s juggling or jogging in place or stuck on the treadmill – choose your metaphor.

One of Ms. Walraven’s goals is to eliminate the “shoulds” that torment many women. You “should” be at home. You “should” be using your degree. You “should” be class mother. You “should” have a high-powered career. You “should” be bringing homemade cupcakes to the PTA meeting. You “should” be climbing the corporate ladder and breaking through the glass ceiling. These voices and be destructive. They can alienate us from our true sense of self and values.

She would also like to see less competition among women (wouldn’t we all?). It seems that insecurity is the driving force here causing stay-at-home moms to be contemptuous of working mothers and vice versa. We may have “come a long way, baby” but we still have a long way to go.

But I think that the real power of the book – and what I believe the editor likes the best – is the sense of community and empathy that it can create. We won’t call it misery loves company but…

All these very different women, in very different circumstances, are confronting some aspect of this struggle, are wrestling with some aspect of this debate. We are not alone. And no one is actually superwoman. No one is doing it all.

No one is doing it all.

"I initially felt like a failure," Samantha tells me, of her discovery that she couldn’t live up to her idealized image. But this book and the conversations it has sparked are a source of comfort and a reality check. “Trying to do it all isn’t liberation,” she says. “It’s hell.”

And it’s only an illusion that someone else has everything under control. Even your neighbor across the street – you know the one I mean, with the perfectly manicured lawn, sitting out front coiffed and made-up at 7:30 a.m. drinking her homemade espresso as her perfectly behaved children line up around her for the school bus – even she isn’t superwoman. As the movie said, “Something’s Gotta Give.”

In the end we all just have to do our best. We have to stop judging each other and most of all, stop judging ourselves. We have to engage in activities that will be nourishing to us and to our families. We have to keep growing and evaluating, seeing what works and what doesn’t. We have to determine our priorities and shape our lives accordingly.

We’ll still get overwhelmed – even if Ms. Walraven’s dreams of more (paid) maternity leave, better on-site childcare and a greater societal appreciation of the value of motherhood – are realized. Yet it remains comforting and a relief to know we are not alone.

In fact, speaking of not being alone, I would add that there is certainly one important piece of advice missing from Samantha’s prescription for societal change and from most of the pieces in the book. Nothing can be accomplished without the Almighty’s help. It’s best not to wait until desperation strikes to ask for help but better late than never. Someone once told us that when she had her third child, she recognized that she and her husband were outnumbered and turned to the Almighty for help. There was really no reason not to turn to Him sooner.

We need to take all the practical steps we can to make our juggling acts easier and more realistic – appropriately tailored to our needs, abilities and goals. And we need to turn to the Almighty for the wisdom and the energy to keep going. He will do a bunch of the heavy lifting also, if we would only ask.

June 11, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 13

(7) Anonymous, December 29, 2013 12:42 PM


Okay. Laura and Helen get over yourselves. What she said is if you want a marriage to last instead of divorcing and kids who will care about you and appreciate you then give them priority. You know what they say dont you? Your kids pick your retirement home. And your husband didnt marry a ghost. The divorce rate in this country is high. Priortizing your family so that you can assure your families future is sound advice. Because if they arent priority that is selfish heck why even get married then or have kids if all you care about is money and yourself. Love is not selfish. Its okay to have a job and stuff but dont forget the most important people in your life. Nothing lasts forever and its worth it to spend a few less hours working if you can invest in your family. I understand money situation but all i say is try to invest. You shouldnt be superwoman because its impossible for one and two it breaks your soul. Ive seen more messed up people in my life and i truly think everybody could use some counseling because lets face it life is hard and we all could use a neutral ear to listen to us and help us manage.

(6) Baruch, June 22, 2011 7:47 AM

False Images?

When I was at AT&T 25 years ago, there was a great cartoon hanging on the wall, already way back then. I think it was Doonesbury. Doonesbury sticks his head into the office of his 30-something boss and asks, "Ms. Smith, my wife wanted to know if I could ask you how you do it?" Sitting at her executive desk with a 55th floor view of the skyline behind her, she looks up and says, "Oh, you mean how is it that I have this incredible career, a loving husband, two adorable kids and look so put-together each day?" Doonesbury says, "Yeah, yeah, that's it." She replies, "Well, the VP says that if I keep missing deadlines, he'll make sure I never hold another executive position anywhere, my husband keeps bringing up divorce, my doctor says that if I don't slow down at work, my ulcer will rupture and my children barely know me." Doonesbury responds with a disappointed, "Oh." Ms. Smith asks, "But you want to know what to tell your wife." He says, "Yes." She responds, "Just tell her that when you came into my office to ask, I threw a towel over my shoulder and walked past you saying, "Sorry, no time to talk now. I have a 2:00 tennis match I have to catch."

(5) Anonymous, June 19, 2011 1:47 PM

I don't want to be Superwoman anymore

I work full-time, raise two kids (4.5 and 20 months) and take care of the house-(thank G-d for the housekeeper), the bills, most of the shopping while my unemployed husband sits around and does next to nothing. I no longer want to be Superwoman. I'm tired of it and never wanted to work while I had young children.

(4) SusanE, June 15, 2011 4:41 PM

To All the Superwomen wannabe's Out There.

Superwomen want it all. They work to have it all. They expect husbands and children to fall in line behind her busy schedule in the day, and help Mrs. Superwoman achieve what it is she really wants and that is ~~~ she wants it ALL. My view of these women is that they are very selfish and very silly. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I know women who are so proud of not having time that they brag about it. Oh I am soooo busy. I do this and I am seeing to that, I work, I'm on several boards, my phone rings constantly, Busy busy busy. Well, in my mind, that is nothing to brag about. That is something to be ashamed of and then repaired. First comes time for your marriage, then several hours a day for your children. Then time for a social life with friends, then if anything is left over, decide whether to work full or part-time. ~~~~~~~~~~~~ Give your children role models that they can achieve happiness by emulating.

Helen, June 16, 2011 11:23 AM

Reply to SusanE from a "Superwoman wannabe"

SusanE - Your comment is exactly the type of competitive unpleasantness mentioned in this article. Why are you so intent upon putting down "busy" mothers? Who are you to tell me (or any other mother trying to juggle home, work, marriage, other commitments and social life) that how I am is wrong and that you know best? You don't know best. You don't know what I expect from my husband or my children or what my husband or children expect from me. Instead of telling us we should be ashamed, YOU need to be ashamed- of passing such unpleasant judgment regarding situations that you clearly know nothing about beyond overhearing conversations between women who are doing more with their days than maybe you would choose to do yourself. Let every woman make her choice, and stop criticizing! I want my daughter to know that she can enjoy a career and a home life in equal measure if she so chooses. I sincerely hope that your children never emulate your cruel attitude towards others as their "role model." As for this article, thanks, it is great to not feel alone!

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