Go back to the middle part of the 20th century, as recent as the 1970s, and you’ll find that the “typical” family consists of a father who works outside the home for no more than 40 hours a week, a mother who stays at home to take care of the house and children, and at least a couple of kids happily causing all sorts of trouble for their parents.
While some of today’s families still follow this “traditional” model, I’d venture to guess that most of them — at least in Canada and the United States — do not. This is especially true in urban areas where it is increasingly difficult for a family to make ends meet on two incomes, let alone trying to get by on the income of a single (male) breadwinner. Through this dynamic and other shifting circumstances, the myth of Supermom is born.
You probably know it.
Supermom wakes up bright and early before the kids get out of bed. She cooks them a nutritious breakfast from scratch, gets them ready for the day, drives them to school, commutes to the office for her day job, takes care of some errands during her lunch hour, picks up the kids from school, returns home to perform a myriad of household chores, prepares a beautiful dinner for everyone, cleans up the house and does the laundry, helps Timmy and Sally with their homework, and finally tucks in the kids after reading them a bedtime story.
And then she can finally have some “time to herself” as she begins the third shift. Oh, and let’s not forget that she is expected to look stunningly beautiful with nary a hair out of place the whole time. She also needs to be a dutiful and gracious wife to her husband, who is off in his man cave doing whatever expensive hobby happens to tickle his fancy this week.
The Supermom retains the “traditional” role of housewife, with all the duties that accompany that role, but she also gains the responsibility of the modern, independent, professional working woman. The myth of this balancing act is eloquently summed up by a passage in The Wife Drought, a book by Australian journalist Annabel Crabb:
“The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job”
It is unrealistic to expect any woman to live up to these impossible standards. Anyone can quickly discern how the Supermom myth can be harmful to all mothers who feel like they need to do and be all these things to all these people. However, the myth can be and is incredibly harmful for Supermom’s (male) partner too.
By perpetuating the myth that only mom can take care of the kids and manage the household, we also perpetuate the myth of the incompetent and clueless dad. Clearly, the father can’t change a diaper, cook a meal, or read a bedtime story. Clearly, there is no place in this world for work-at-home dads or, perish the thought, a full-time stay-at-home dad.
Put another way, the perspective put forth by Crabb can be just as applicable should we decide to switch the roles:
The obligation for work at home dads is a very precise one. The feeling that one must abandon work at any given moment to tend to a child, while raising the child as if you have no work obligations whatsoever.
We can’t expect this of Superdad just as much as we can’t expect this of Supermom. We shouldn’t expect the working mother to shoulder all the burden as a matter of fact or assume that this balancing act isn’t incredibly taxing. We shouldn’t shower praise upon the father for being “such a good dad” just because he managed to change a diaper without making a complete buffoon of himself.
Parenting under even the most ideal of conditions is still an incredible challenge and not one to be taken lightly. By accepting the myth of Supermom, we encourage a culture of martyrdom and one of inept and disengaged fathers.
I am not Red Forman and this is not the 70s. It’s about time we move forward as equal partners, because Supermom simply does not exist.