Friday, December 10, 2010

The Super Woman Myth

(Background to this post - I worked as an attorney for several years at a large law firm- a rather prestigious position making great $ that I worked very hard for. I accepted a new position with a company that subsequently folded and left me high-and-dry and my family without an income.  Fortunately, Mark (previously a SAHD) found a position quickly.  Since then, I spent some time at home with my kids, then working full time at a far lower paying (and less time consuming) job, which I have since been able to turn into a partial telecommuting position, allowing for more time at home).

"Every woman has the ability or the drive to do it all and have it all ... We're machines." 
~Christina Aguilera~


The whole superwoman concept has really started to piss me off - because she doesn't exist.  You CAN'T do it all. No one can. No one does.  

We women (professional, stay at home, or otherwise) all pretend that we do/can meet this ideal.  I work full time and like to bake cookies, which sometimes results in those "supermom" comments.  But my house is a wreck!  And I probably should have finished that memo first... 

Our inadequacies are often carefully hidden away - until we can't do it any more and the many plates we are balancing plummet to the ground.  Everyone hears the crash and turns around and whether they unleash accusing stares or not, we feel them.  And we despair - we aren't the wife we want to be, the mother we want to be, the employee we want to be... everything is lacking

I have come to the conclusion (for myself) that this belief in superwoman - believing that someone could accomplish all of these things... such belief sets me up for failure, guilt, worry and stress.  It is like believing in some false idol - a whisper on the wind, always just out of reach.  

Sure, there is always someone out there - we all know her.  Size 4, perfectly made up, beautiful children, immaculate house.  She is also probably a successful orthopedic surgeon who de-worms orphans in her spare time and never misses a classroom party.  Right? Isn't that what we are all shooting for? The perfect balance of objective success and loving family?  I'm sure she's out there somewhere.

But what drugs does she take to avoid that pesky need to sleep? When was the last time she made love to her husband?  Or had a snowball fight with her kids just because?

Society - and even feminism - have sold us on this myth that we can have it all.  And that if things are getting hectic, family should be the thing that gives. Oh, no one says this stuff out loud.  It doesn't need to be articulated. We are surrounded - fighting uphill battles at work with men that often times are single or who have a wife at home with the kids. Or men who don't understand because dads and moms are different... And those of us at home struggling with the many who believe these women don't really "do" anything all day and heck your kid is in kindergarten now, surely its time for a "real" job?

I have started to come to painful conclusions about myself.  I found the mirror to be ugly.  

I am intelligent.  I am a good attorney.  I should be able to find another job (eventually) back in with the big dogs.  But when I was doing that work, my energy and focus didn't align with my "supposed" priorities.  I'm not sure I can allow myself to go back to that.

Sometimes I still dream of the big firm days- I miss that feeling of importance, success.  And I realize - I didn't go into and stay in that line of work because I "had to" for financial reasons.  Oh, I certainly thought that at the time - after all, I was the only one making $$, my potential income was great.  And when I took that job at the company... I was thrilled - still great $, slightly different (but still prestigious) environment. Oh, I told myself it would be different - more family time, etc.  But I don't think it would have been. Maybe even worse.  

After the rug was pulled out last year, I fell hard. I feel off that cloud I had put myself on. I fell back to the real world. The world where my kids needed their mom and Dad was back to work and I didn't have any employment prospects and I was scared.  I lost my identity for awhile.  Who was I if I wasn't doing  "the best" (and for me, the "best" was all tied to that prestigious job)?  Who was I now - normal? typical? middle-of the road?  I spent my entire life avoiding that!  

I am fortunate in many ways that my current job landed in my lap. For one, financially I needed something at that point and it worked.  But two, it allowed me to gradually figure some things out that I wasn't allowing myself to think about when working at the law firm.  I'm still working through a lot of these things... I don't know that I would have allowed myself to do that if I wasn't forced to change.

Now I am essentially down to part-time (away from home).  I'm still barely holding things together many days. I guess that all to say that I am still searching, yearning to be super-mom and still falling short every day.  But I'm doing my best to re-focus my goals and ideals.  I've put a LOT more time into my marriage.  At first this seemed to result in more fights - but each bit has brought us closer...

I can't pretend I don't stare longingly at job postings by large firms or other positions I know pay top dollar. My mind whirls at what the extra $ could do for us right now... but I know that - for me, right now - that move would put a negative impact on my family.  For the first time in a long time, I stopped putting myself first.  All those years I felt like I was the martyr, that I was doing it all for others (and resented them at times for it) but I have come to realize that nearly all those choices were for me.  Law school, Law Review, the firm... those were my choices, my rewards for hard work. My idea that this is what I would have wanted if I didn't have a family and a family shouldn't hold me back!!

I had to stop looking at my family in this negative way and realized that was holding my family back.  And, at this point in my life, I have a duty (and desire) to push our family forward, even though it feels pretty unglamorous sometimes. Even though I have to watch the bank account far more carefully and forgo little treats that I used to consider "needs." Our combined income in 2010 (both working)  will be about 60 or 70% what it was in 2008 (just me working) and our expenses are higher now (more kids, daycare). In 2008, I would have argued that a pay cut could NOT be done.  We couldn't make it.  But in 2009 we were simply forced to make it - and we did.  We never missed a payment on our house, we are current on our bills and able to put away a little here and there.  Oh, retirement savings are worse than pitiful.  ;)  We still have debt (student loans) that I would rather not.  But those are worries I have had to let go of....

I didn't write this to make anyone feel guilty or to condemn those that have made choices different from my own, one way or another.  I also don't wish to appear as a martyr now - selfishly, I'm happier than I have been in a long time!  I finally feel as if we are on the right path.

I just wanted to share my story as to how I realized that superwoman doesn't exist and the constant search to BE her is part of what sucks the life out of us as women. At some point we do have to just suck it up and say, yep, I failed (x,y, z) and could have done better one (a, b, c). Tomorrow is a new day.  And I'm going to put my energies to my priorities and the rest will have to fall in line where it may.  

And I had to list my priorities as (1) my marriage; (2) kids (3) everything else (including work).  Because I just can't survive otherwise. 

I'm still struggling - struggling with ideals and plans I have had for myself since before I can remember. Struggling to see how my life fits within those plans. Mostly struggling to simply accept that my ideals and goals have changed. I don't need to keep myself in a box any more.  I need to keep my eyes open, searching for the next opportunity.  Looking for the next chance I can demonstrate to my family that they are my priority.

They have put up with a lot from me. :)


  1. You go girl! I love your honesty.

    Our finances changed dramatically when D joined our family-- I went from working 48 hrs a week 12 months a year (teaching full time plus night and summer school) to working 40 hours a week 10 months a year (just teaching full time).

    And yes, our expenses are much higher (daycare, new car (my 2 door sports car wasn't so family friendly!) and an extra mouth to feed/body to cloth etc).

    But, just like you guys, we're settling into our new "normal". Who knew that lattes aren't necessities? Or that I can survive by wearing last year's pair of heals (and no one has come out and said, "aren't those from 2009?") Or that Cover Girl lipstick works fine when MAC isn't in the budget?

    Who knew that I'd much prefer our new (less lucrative though less stressful) "normal" a hundred times more than the "super-woman" mode I was living only 18 months ago?!

  2. I am working on realizing this right now :)