Dear Emuna,

All my life I’ve tried to be superwoman and, for the most part, I’ve actually succeeded. I’ve done it all – worked, raised a large family, had an open house filled with friends and guests, cooked fancy meals, set a beautiful table, maintained an immaculate home and dressed with a sense of style and modesty every day, never settling for a more casual look, a messier home, a less productive/busy schedule.

The challenge is that, as I get older, I’m getting tired. I feel like I can’t do it all anymore but everyone still expects it from me. I don’t want to let my husband or my kids down but I think I need to establish some boundaries and finally come to term with my limitations. Can you help me?

Retiring the Cape

Dear Excellent Actress,

No one is superwoman. Whatever you read, whatever you hear, whatever you think you see in others, it simply isn’t possible. Recognition of this fact is the first step in your growth.

One of the 48 Ways to Wisdom is to know your place. This is not meant to be “know your place, young man!” but rather, our sages are advising us to know who we are – what are our strengths and our weaknesses, what are our abilities and our limitations? – and be honest with yourself. Real growth and real connection to others and to God is predicated on this understanding. We all need to know when it’s too much, when we are pushing too hard, when the pressure is too great and we risk exploding…

This is not bad, whatever some mistaken inner voice may tell you. This is important; this is crucial; this is the only way to grow. We have to know what we are realistically capable of. Yes, we need to push ourselves – but it should be just outside our comfort zone, not dramatically outside it.

And it should be consistent with our real abilities, not the ones of our fantasies.

Ethics of the Fathers teaches that we should all be happy with our portion. This doesn’t just mean our material situation; it is also referring to our abilities, our talents and our lack thereof. We should make peace with the strengths we have and make the most of them – but we shouldn’t try to be someone we’re not.

Yes, we want to rise above some of our weaknesses but this is a long, slow process.

I understand that you are in a bit of a bind because you have raised unrealistic expectations all around you. You also don’t mention how old your children are so it’s unclear what level of responsibility they are capable of assuming. But it seems to me that the only way out of this situation you have created for yourself is the straightforward honest one.

Get used to saying statements like these:

“I’m sorry but I can’t.”
“I wish I could but I’m just too tired.”
“It’s nice to have friends over but today is not a good day.”
“Normally I would love to head the bake sale but I already have another commitment” (even if you don’t!).

You need to create an arsenal of new responses to situations where your past response would have always been an unequivocal “yes”. You can also encourage your children and husband to step up to the plate. “Would someone mind setting the table for me?” “Who’s free to go to the grocery store?” “I don’t have the energy to make dessert; does someone else want to?” And so on.

After the initial disgruntled reaction and grumbling, you might be pleasantly surprised by their response. Not only will it be good for you when they step up to the plate, it will be good for them as well! They will be more invested and you will get more assistance. It’s going to be awkward at first but with time, it will become more natural and the whole family will grow through the process.

It's better late than never to recognize that Superman and Superwoman are fictional characters!