Purposeful Parent Tip: Taking off your SuperMom cape gives you more power than you think.
I recently received a copy of Anna Quindlen’s book, “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake” for my birthday. Having just finished it a few days ago, I’m bursting with inspiration to write my own book one day. While reading about the life of Ms. Quindlen, one particular phrase has stuck with me. Coincidentally it ties in with my most recent workshop, “It’s Not Chronic Fatigue Syndrome…It’s SuperMom Syndrome.”
In the book, Anna’s daughter, Maria states to her mother, “If you want help, you shouldn’t act like a person who never needs any.” When I read this sentence, not only was I struck by its simplicity, but by its profoundness in my life. I believe this was an “aha moment” for Ms. Quindlen as well.
If you want help, don’t act like someone who doesn’t need it. For most of my life, this was my exterior to the world. A person who never needed help. A Type-A overachiever who reveled in her accomplishments while friends and colleagues stood in bewilderment. If I were a man, picture this as being a series of “chest-beating” moments. My ego soared when I heard things like “How do you do it?” or “You’re amazing!”
While the accolades were certainly nice to hear, they were fleeting. Their words did not help me when I was trying to raise two children as a divorced mother. They did not lift me up after my mother passed away and that deep black hole of sorrow filled my soul. They were not there to comfort me when I faced challenges that seemed overwhelming to me.
In essence, these ego-boosters did only that…boost my ego. And we all know that the ego is an insatiable beast. It can never get enough of itself. You must feed it and feed it continuously or it’ll lash out at you saying things like “You’re not doing enough”, or “What’s wrong with you that you can handle this?” Its joy comes at the expense of your own and it revels in seeing you overextend yourself and then beating you up when you can’t keep up the pace.
I think the ego muscle is hard at work in most women, moms in particular. It constantly badgers us to do more to the point of exhaustion and then when we do give up, it relishes in reminding us of our failures. It’s a cycle. And a vicious one at that.
I remember those days of trying to be all things to all people; of overextending myself to the point of self-neglect. Those were not happy times. I was overwhelmed, frustrated, and yes, even depressed at not being able to accomplish all that was expected of me. And my children saw this too. They saw their mother as always harried, not enjoying anything, putting work before play all the time.
Did I really need to be THAT busy? Or…now stay with me on this, were many of those expectations self-inflicted? Was I the one who was imposing the unrealistic expectations in the hopes of garnering some recognition that would feed the ego beast in me?
The answer is yes. It was I who was taking on more and more to the point of overwhelm in order to have my ego stroked and hear the congratulatory words from my friends and family. But what were the words I was hearing from my children (which really should’ve meant more than any other)? “Mom, you’re always tired”, or “Mom, you never have time.”
Hmmm…”you never have time.” They were right. I never had time. I had ignored the pleas of my children to spend more time with them and instead listened to the pleas of my own ego asking to be fed again.
Getting clear on what I needed to get done to care for my family and myself vs. what I needed to get to done to feed my ego was a painful process. There were many people who were disappointed when I removed myself from activities where they’d counted on my participation. In fact, there are still people who are taken aback when I say “no” to their requests or when I ask them about their own overextended lives and why they do certain things. I know exactly why. They’re feeding their own ego-beast, just like I once did.
Maybe it’s time to put your ego on a diet. Remove all the excess feedings and junk food. Stop the late night snacking. Put your ego in its rightful place and pay attention to your heart, which is screaming for attention. Start listening to that little voice that’s telling you to simplify or slow down or to just say ‘no’ to that project you know you don’t have time for. No is the shortest word in the English language – use it well and use it often as I sayin my workshops.
Begin to remove your SuperMom cape – even if only for a few minutes a day. You’ll be amazed at the power you have without it.