Woman Up: It's about time we redefine what being a supermum means
“Supermum, my ***. Some say I am one, but I am just trying to hold on,” read a friend’s reply to me when I asked her: Do you think you are a supermum?
According to Google, supermum is a real word.
The definition: An exemplary or exceptional mother, especially one who successfully manages a home and brings up children while also having a full-time job.
What Google's definition is missing is that thanks (or no thanks) to mumfluencers on social media, you need to look good while doing all the above, too.
A typical mumfluencer on social media:
- Works; better still if her earning power is on par with or exceeds that of her partner’s
- Looks amazing while donning designer wear, her own fashion label(s), or #sp (sponsored) items
- Decorates her home, especially her kids’ rooms, to Instagrammable perfection
- Has many kid-free, luxurious date nights with her partner
- Creates Instagram Reels showcasing lavish holidays thinly disguised as #travelhacks #tipsfortravellingwithkids
- Never looks like she’s ever having a hard time with anything in life
But, you know what? Social media and mumfluencers are recent phenomenons, while the pressure on mothers to embody feminine perfection is a long-standing tradition.
Before the internet, I recall attending school assemblies during which illustrious male and female alumni returned to talk about how they had "made it".
The women among them were always powerful career types doing something great for society, and who were also mothers.
I never once saw a housewife or full-time caregiver take the stage.
So girls in Singapore have it steeped into our consciousness that the woman who does it all and has it all is the supermum all of us can and should aim to be. Mumfluencers are simply following the blueprint and adapting it to a digital age.
HOW HUMAN MUMS STRIVE TO BE SUPER
I’m a mother of two. I don’t have a helper and don’t live in a big house.
My kids’ rooms are Ikea-basic and more cluttered with toys than Insta-worthy decor, and my husband and I feel a great sense of triumph when we can score a lunch date with each other.
I also recently made the difficult decision to stop working.
Based on Google’s definition and the precedents set by the role models put forth by our schools, I would fail to qualify as a supermum.
I know I don’t have it all, and will never be able to do it all.
But that hasn’t stopped me from desiring to have more and do more.
I might not want the same markers of success that mumfluencers exhibit on social media but I do have my own personal set of motherhood stretch goals that I invest great energy into achieving.
What are they?
I strive towards being a mother who can surpass my own mother’s standards of "perfect motherhood", who runs the show without the help of a maid, who does my utmost to be there in all ways for my children and husband.
In my mind, I have somewhat "made it" if I am successful not only at home, but also at work, and have my mother’s approval and praise.
I asked several mum friends: Do you try to be a supermum?
Many of them were resistant towards the term supermum because it connotes the need to be more than human. It slaps upon all women a taxing, do-it-all expectation.
But we all know that we are imperfect, normal human beings, so the term leaves us with the sinking feeling that we will never be enough no matter what or how much we do.
Yet, when pressed, all my friends reluctantly agreed: Yes. They do try, whether subconsciously or intentionally, to be supermums.
Like me, some believe that perfection can be attained if they can improve on their own mothers' parenting skills, but because we were all raised differently, the nuances of what this means also differ.
Others, also like me, feel that they are "lousier", "lesser" mothers if they choose to get helpers, and/or if they are unable to work. But there are also those who feel no shame in hiring help and feel little regret about choosing family over careers.
Isn’t it (darkly) funny? We might chafe at the word supermum, yet each of us has found ourselves subscribing to lofty standards of of our own making.
None of us see ourselves as having achieved supermum status yet, but we are each in pursuit of our own ideas of perfect motherhood.
IT'S TIME TO CUT OURSELVES SOME SLACK
It’s horrible, really, what we do to ourselves.
Motherhood in itself is already a long, tumultuous journey that begins when we conceive. There’s also so much learning to be done along the way as our children grow, change and develop.
And we do all this often while managing the home, maintaining a relationship with our partner, friends and families and, sometimes, juggling a career too.
Every day, mothers spend all day trying to be all things to all people.
Having to contend, additionally, with the idea of being a Supermum is an unnecessary burden when we have enough to deal with as modern women: Fighting back against the toxic ways we may have been brought up, against expectations heaped upon us by our families and against socially constructed archetypes of successful womanhood.
The result of trying to be a Supermum on top of it all? Constant, endless striving that only results in feelings of inadequacy.
Recognising the problematic forces that place undue pressure on mothers is one thing, but, what then? How do we move forward? Mothers, how can we help ourselves and one another?
To answer those questions for myself, I thought about what I find unhelpful.
For me, a lack of empathy, be it from my own mother, fellow mothers, friends, or my husband, is what frustrates and demoralises me the most.
For example, when people impose their own motherhood journeys upon mine and make me feel like my story needs to read like theirs, or when I’m trying to share my innermost struggles vulnerably but am given dismissive platitudes.
Empathy can go a long way, because mothers are not superhuman.
We are mere mortals who crash and burn, hurt and cry and at times, even wish to cast off our responsibilities and escape from the mania and weight of our super-full lives.
AUTHENTICITY VS ASPIRATION
Mothers, let’s not make life any harder on ourselves by allowing the allure of mumfluencers to get to us. You and I know that their show of perfection is not reality.
Mumfluencers seek to invoke aspiration in fellow mothers through their feeds, and aspiration can continue to exist only if there is a perpetual gulf between influencer and follower.
Taking it further, we should stop encouraging only a certain type of mother to dominate the social media narrative of motherhood and shape for us a vision of parenthood we know is unhealthy and unattainable.
Why should the power of our Follows, Likes and Views serve to enable the needless competition of women against women?
If looking at a mumfluencer’s feed demoralises us rather than builds us up, perhaps we should consider drawing social media boundaries to protect our own mental and emotional well-being.
Dear reader, I submit to you that Supermums are mothers struggling:
- With breastfeeding
- Against losing themselves physically, emotionally or socially
- To juggle career and family
- With their choice of family over career
- To mother alone
- Against their own mothers’ expectations
- Against perfectionism
Let's champion authenticity over aspiration.
Let’s stop buying into incomplete social media storylines about Supermum-hood, and start celebrating motherhood for all its pain and suffering.
Let's focus on what all mothers have in common — all of us are fighting battles as we juggle all our various responsibilities, dreams and ambitions.
As I write this, I’m grappling with a fresh season of professional loss and wrestling against believing the lie that I’ve lost my Supermum shine. I’m learning how to be kind to myself.
I know I am not alone in relating deeply to that popular internet catchphrase, "the struggle is real": As a mum, it can sometimes feel like you need superhuman strength and courage to keep swimming through everyday challenges.
On that note, I’d like to say: Are you a mum? That’s super. You are super.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Bryna Sim is a mother of two. She most recently worked as TODAY’s social media editor. She strives to share authentic reflections about life and motherhood @brryyynanana on Instagram