Are You a Supermom?

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March 21, 2014

Two weeks ago, needing a Hepatitis A vaccine injection, I went to the office of Dr. O’Connor, a family practitioner in Rockville and a fellow boot camper.  At the end of March, I will join a group of physicians from the Washington DC area for a two week medical mission in Myanmar, my first medical mission.  I am excited to finally get to serve a community in the third world where there’s severe lack of medical care.  I am also excited to see Myanmar itself, which once was called Burma, since the government only recently opened its doors to foreigners.

While waiting for my vaccine injection, I picked up the March/April issue of Bethesda Magazine and glanced at the picture on the cover.  It was a photo of the “Super Mom of Chevy Chase” in an elegant white suit, juggling the many tasks in her life.  Of course, she looked like a working mom, just like me and my boot camp friends. The article has a catchy title “The Nonstop Life —How today’s MOMS manage to juggle it all (or not).”

I read through the quite long but simple article about this very wealthy law partner living in Chevy Chase with her wealthy law partner husband and two young children still at home.  The writer, a mother of young children herself, described meticulously the fancy lifestyle of this mom who she believes to be “the supermom of Chevy Chase.”   She is the kind of mother that, according to the writer who happens to be an associate editor of the Bethesda magazine, just about every woman she knows aspires to be!

The “supermom of Chevy Chase” lives in a big, fancy home where a nanny comes every day, early enough to take one of the children to school and works until late evening to shuffle the children to their activities and serve them dinners.  One of the children has special needs and requires extra care.  The nanny also cleans the house and cooks while the supermom is at work. 

This supermom, like many working women, is wise enough to take care of herself while running her hectic household which sounds like a typical household in the Washington suburbs where kids often have numerous activities.   She wakes up before 6 a.m. to run with her friends or workout at the gym with a personal trainer who, she wanted us to know, used to be an NFL player.  She admitted to the reporter that she has a Type A personality while her husband is “Type C,” which is a cute term, although I don’t know what she wants people to think of the Type C personality?  Calm, careful, careless?  I admire the supermom for her honesty in admitting she has a Type A personality, unlike a Tiger mom who pretends not to understand the term “helicopter parent.”  I often jokingly tell my friends how I have a Type “Triple A” personality, when I carefully time every activity I do every morning, from putting on my lipstick, to drying my hair (each activity with its specific amount of time permitted) so I won’t arrive late at my office.  I know how long it will take my nurse Roxanne to put my first patient into the exam room, so that just as the patient gets into her gown, I walk into the office.  This precise planning is part of the neurosis necessary for me to get my 7 hours of sleep, see close to 30 patients a day, make or heat up a healthy dinner for my family, do the dishes, watch the news and, every other day during the week, squeeze in 30 minutes of intensive exercise to keep myself healthy and energetic.

Are we working moms “supermoms,” as identified by the writer, because we can “do it all”?

The writer confused me so much that by the end of the article, I couldn’t tell if she respected herself or not for staying home “part time” with her children and probably living a much less fancy lifestyle than that of supermom.  In one of the first paragraphs, she shared with her readers how she cried one day when her husband had to take her daughter to the ER while she had to cook for a catering party.  She felt as if she was the “worse mother EVER” for not being with her daughter in that moment of trouble.  In the next paragraph, however, she marveled at this supermom of Chevy Chase who seemed to “have it all”: a powerful job which takes her away several days a month (away from her children), a beautiful house with a French kitchen, time to exercise with a trainer who used to be an NFL player, a supportive husband who admitted his wife is the one who runs the family’s show most efficiently. 

This feature article in Bethesda Magazine confirmed for me my longtime belief that there is NO real supermom, that she is as mythical as superman!  The only difference between her and superman is that superman wouldn’t have cried if his fully decorated Christmas tree crashed, as supermom did in this story.  Superman would be too busy saving the world beyond his living room that he probably wouldn’t even think about crying over a crashed Christmas tree! 

By outsourcing some of the routine housework, such as cleaning or gardening, I admit to having an easier life than the other moms who can’t afford to do it.  That lifestyle, however, should not make me a “supermom.”  Indeed, it is the nurses, teachers, police women, secretaries and office assistants who make their own macaroni and cheese, plant their own vegetable or flower gardens, clean their own homes, and brush their own kids’ hair who should have been featured in Bethesda Magazine.  I can’t decide if my feeling should be described as “sad” or “comical,” as I looked at the photo of supermom, standing by her 11 year-old daughter at the breakfast table while the Asian nanny was brushing the girl’s hair.  Maybe supermom should have shown the world she is even more “super” by brushing her own daughter’s hair, or even better, by showing her daughter how to brush her own hair at the age of eleven!  I’ll bet the writer’s daughter will know how to brush her hair by the time she reaches eleven, as her mom will be too busy cooking breakfast or cleaning the house. 

We all are good moms if we try the best we can to bring up happy and well adjusted children.  No life is perfect.  Life is full of exchange systems.  Nobody can “do it all,”  – this is the biggest myth about working women.  I know, I am one of them!  We working women do a little bit of everything, and that makes us far from being super, far from “doing it all.”  The supermom of Chevy Chase even admitted she’s not sure she’s parenting the right way, that she is always “racked with guilt about something.”  

The moms at home often do much more housework, but that does not qualify for them as “supermoms” either.  The time they spend doing housework could be the time supermom of Chevy Chase does her push-ups at the gym with her elite trainer.  These are two different lifestyles which hopefully lead to the same path of being happy and raising happy children.  Most children feel loved and secure in their household, whether we are physically in front of them 24 hours a day or not.  They understand that just because their moms do not see them every day, as in cases of some immigrant moms who work and send money home to their children, does not mean their moms don’t care about them.  On the other hand, just because some moms do not bring money home to make the material life more comfortable does not mean those moms are incompetent or inadequate.   Secure children realize not all moms are the same, but most moms have good intentions.

I think we all should retire this term “supermom” and replace it with “caring mom.”  Maybe then, all the moms would be more relaxed and get rid off their inner guilt.  The mom at home would not envy the French kitchen of a high paid working mom; while the working mom doesn’t end up on a therapy couch complaining how she had to buy her kids’ Halloween outfits off the Macy’s racks while her homemaker friends’ kids get their home made costumes, or how the cookies for her children’s classes came “home made” from Mrs Fields! 

Better yet, no mom will need to cry when her fully decorated Christmas tree crashes.  She would shed tears only when she hears the news about the ten of thousands of Syrian children who have been killed since the beginning of the latest Syrian war, or the millions of children in the third world who never got to see their fifth birthday because of malnutrition or childhood diseases.  Now, THAT would be the true tragedy to a mom.  Maybe supermom of Chevy Chase will learn to be clever and have a “backup” tree in case her real Christmas tree crashes.  While having her nanny cleaning up the mess, she can always have her Type C husband go to the basement and carry up the artificial tree with all the ready made decorations.  I bet she will learn how her “true” friends and families would not care whether her Christmas tree was decorated by her or came pre-decorated.  As Antoine de Saint-Exupery would have told supermom of Chevy Chase from his book “ The Little Prince”:

“ ONE SEES CLEARLY only with the heart.  Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”

To think of it, maybe the true “supermom,” if there is such a person, should have been the nanny.  After all, she practically takes total care of somebody else’s three children while her own income probably goes to support her own family.  Hopefully, in this case, her family is not far away in some other country.  Her sacrifice alone would have qualified her for a “supermom” contest, if there is such a silly contest.