When I think of the term “supermom” I’m reminded of a dad at a BBQ I attended years ago, when I was in my 20’s. He had given this unwarranted and unsolicited advice to anyone listening: “Don’t do too good of a job cooking and always tell your wife she’s the best at it – that way, you’ll never have to do the work yourself.”
Are we, as modern mothers, innate heroines? Or are we doing far more than our fair share at home, with the kids, and at work?
After several waves of feminism aimed at stemming the pay gap and providing choice to women around how we spend our time juggling work and care, in 2022 we are still behind by nearly 2 million jobs, and a woman makes just 69 cents on a man’s dollar. A 2020 New York Times article found that American women perform an average of four hours of unpaid work per day compared to men’s two-and-a-half hours. Additionally, Ohio State University shared a report that burnout is a public health issue among parents, and mothers are the most at risk.
In her New York Times essay entitled It’s 2021. Why is ‘Supermom’ Still Around?, Lisa Selin Davis writes: “Many Gen-X women, some the daughters of feminist activists of the 1970s who fought for the right to work outside the home (and be paid equally for it), grew up believing they should work full-time while also overseeing everything in the domestic sphere, with very little support in the form of legislation that might facilitate this zeitgeist shift, like subsidized child care or paid family leave.”
It comes as no surprise that American mothers still subsidize both.
These same women just lived through a pandemic that bore out the frustrating reality that when care became a global priority, it was women’s professional investments that weren’t protected. And yet they (we) were expected to become super-caring machines, sidelining and sometimes forfeiting the investment and progress we’d made in our careers. It didn’t help that the Biden administration’s Family Rescue Plan calling for federal paid leave and childcare subsidies was sidelined by lawmakers in early 2022.
It’s easy and cheap to call moms “super” to acknowledge all that we’re carrying, but the flattery is falling flat.
Thought leaders like Reshma Saujani are asking that mothers get “paid up” for the time we spend caring for our families, which is currently set up at odds with our ability to spend time uninterrupted at work.
Eve Rodsky is encouraging those of us in CIS-hereto relationships to invite our partners to share the household labor – but it’s hard not to resent the expectation that we be the ones to lead that shift. It’s also maddening that we’re taking up the mantle that our mothers and grandmothers took up before us, over the very same issues.
Dr. Hillary Goldsher, PSY.D, MBA and mother of two has a lot to say about the idea of the “supermom” based on how she sees this archetype impact her patients: “The very idea of a supermom suggests that mothers can accomplish things that are beyond regular human capacity. But that just isn't true. Moms pay a toll in the form of depression, anxiety, shame, and a chronic sense of failure when they’re stretched too thin. We don't need supermoms. We just need real moms who take care of themselves, who get support.”
Maybe there should be a new badge? One for the superdad, partner, legislator – anyone who shows up for mothers and families consistently… even when it’s inconvenient.
And then all the supermoms can take a super-nap.
Erin Erenberg is a mom of three, attorney, serial business builder, fund advisor, and the founder and CEO of Totum, an advocacy firm for modern mothers at the intersection of ambition and motherhood. She is also a co-founder of the Chamber of Mothers and serves on the Equitable Business Council for Have Her Back. Before launching Totum, Erin practiced as an IP attorney for Moore & VanAllen and SESAC, served as the Executive Director of ACM Lifting Lives, ran business development for social impact-driven tech firms Indiegogo and Omaze, and worked as an agent for William Morris Endeavor.