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Dispelling the Myth of Supermom

I’m buckling my two year old into his car seat as I remind my eight-year-old twins to do their seat belts, then assure my six year old that there is water when we get home, and ask my four year old to climb in the car, when I hear a voice behind me. “You’re like supermom! I don’t know how you do it! I can barely handle two!” It’s one of the ladies from the mother’s group we’re leaving. I cringe and take a deep breath. She probably means well, but there was a time that word “Supermom” would have sent me to a dark place. 

I’m no stranger to people commenting on the size of my family. In fact, sometimes I feel I should wear a shirt that says, “Yes, I have a lot kids. Yes, they are all mine. Yes, I know where they come from.” However, once my initial annoyance subsides at someone’s astonishment of seeing me with my five children under the age of eight, I realize it’s more of a compliment or curiosity in a society that sees children as a barrier to joy, rather than a path to it. As the years have gone by, I’ve gotten better at brushing these comments off, but the one that still always stings is when another mom calls me “Supermom,” because my journey is far different than she knows. 

Almost three years ago, I had my fifth and, unbeknownst to me, final child. We had a little boy named Harrison Finch. He was christened after a favorite mountain pass in Nevada, a borderline unhealthy fascination with Star Wars, and To Kill a Mockingbird, which I read while I was pregnant and couldn’t believe I had just cliff-noted in high school. To put it simply, he was a delight. I soaked up those newborn days with the knowledge that they disappear too soon. Even with shuffling three older children to preschool and wrestling a toddler, I never minded those early days watching our family mold into our new, chaotic normal. 

However, family dynamics ebb and flow, and when Harrison turned three months old, I had to abruptly start pumping and supplementing, and two family members suddenly passed away within days of each other. On top of the emotional turmoil I felt, because of these losses and the guilt of not exclusively breastfeeding anymore, I had all five little ones at home since our with their preschool was on break for two months in the dead of Winter. I was overwhelmed, underwater, and felt like I was drowning every minute of every day. I would continually break down crying. I couldn’t function at home and felt like my life was a monotony of laundry, diapers, bottles, and tantrums on repeat. 

As I fell deeper into depression, the perfectionist inside felt like I had to be “on” at all times outside of the home. Even though many meant their comments as compliments, the wonder and awe at “being open to children” felt like pressure to be the perfect Catholic family. Whenever I went out in public, I had intense anxiety and fear of being judged. Judged for my weight, judged for the five children I had, and scrutinized on whether or not I was handling it all correctly. Whether or not these feelings were rooted in any truth was irrelevant; I started self-medicating with alcohol to lift the depression and calm my anxiety. Whenever I felt stressed, I drank. Whenever I felt anxious about going out and seeing people, I would be at least a bottle deep. This consumption continued for months, until I found out I was pregnant… again.

While this is a story for a different time, I lost my baby at 14 weeks, and the sorrow, guilt, and pain sent me spiraling. I blamed my husband for not showing emotion. I blamed my Church for putting too much pressure on me to have more children. I blamed other moms around me for not caring or not reacting the way I thought they should. But above all, I blamed myself, for initially wishing the pregnancy test was false and the baby wasn’t there. 

If my drinking had been bad before, it quickly spun out of control, but this time, my rage and emotional eating did too. I put on 40 lbs., numbing my pain with food and alcohol. I was disgusted by the way I looked and felt, but still outwardly felt I had to uphold this myth that I was a Supermom. I pushed myself to take care of and be there for my children, my husband, and everyone else, but not once did I take time to be there for myself. 

Until one day, the following April, I saw a sign for a 5K. I hadn’t run a mile in over a decade, let alone a 5K ever in my life. Still, for some reason it sparked a fervor in me, just to see if I could do it. I started training, and I told myself just to put one foot in front of the other, just keep moving forward. With every mile, I shed just a bit of my pain. As I ran (and sometimes walked), my tears fell on the pavement, mourning the loss of my baby and all the time I had squandered with my children. Bit by bit, my anxiety started to lessen and my depression disappeared, and I discovered the happy, healthy, strong mom within. 

I wish I could say that running a 5K is the cure to depression and anxiety, but what running reminded me, is that I can do hard things…. Including forgiving myself and giving up feeling like I need to live up to being a “Supermom.” Whenever I share my story, most people reach out and tell me how sorry they are I had to go through all that pain. But as I’ve healed, I wouldn’t change that valley and the lessons it taught. I learned to be vulnerable, that it’s okay not to be perfect, and not measure my worth by whether or not I can live up to being “Supermom.”

Because moms, “Supermom” is a myth, and we need to dispel that myth. Motherhood is innate: There is no greater or lesser mothering. There is only our own, authentic mothering. We are the perfect mother for our own children already, deep inside. There is nothing you need to change, nothing you need to strive for, nothing you need to “work on” or add to your plate. In fact, you need to take things off your plate and dive into who you truly are inside. I learned that by rediscovering that beautiful woman, you can find the joy in motherhood again.

The only mother I need to be is a happy mother. Happy, strong moms raise happy strong children, and it’s time for us all to rediscover the wonder of motherhood, without being supermoms. 

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