By Rosemary O'Connor, author of A Sober Mom's Guide to Recovery: Taking Care of Yourself to Take Care of You Kids
I’d like to be the ideal mother, but I’m too busy raising my kids. —Anonymous
The baby is crying, the dog is barking, your husband is snoring, and you look over at the clock and realize you went to bed just five hours ago. You grab the baby, let the dog out, and sleepwalk to the coffee pot. The dishes from the night before are still piled high in the sink, and you’re out of formula for the baby. You run to the store to grab some formula, still in your slippers with a coat on to hide your pajamas. By the time you get back home, the other kids are demanding breakfast. You pour them some cereal, pack their lunches, and hurry them to the car because you’re late once again to drive the car pool to school and daycare. Oh, and you’re still in your pajamas!
Does this scene sound familiar to you? It’s someone trying to be a Supermom—running
around like a basket case with an endless to-do list trying to please everyone and ending up
frazzled and exhausted.
Before recovery, this was my life. I wanted to do it all: be the perfect mom, the perfect wife, the perfect employee. I wanted to live the picture-perfect Christmas-card life. Everything needed to look good on the outside. The house had to be spotless, like a model home where no one actually lived. The outfits my children wore were matching and of the latest fashion. My body needed to be perfectly toned and slim. Trying to keep up with the Joneses (whoever the hell they are) was exhausting and unachievable—and it conflicted with my recovery program and principles.
Over the years I’ve seen many other women—my clients, sponsees, and friends—fly around town in their own Supermom capes. One client told me about her nonstop schedule, which began at six when she got up to prepare breakfast for her family, and ended at eleven at night, when the kids were in bed, the dishes done, and the house was spotless again. She also worked six days a week. I asked what she did on her day off. She laughed and said it was spent preparing for the next week—doing laundry, grocery shopping, and attending to all the other details she didn’t have time to do during the week. I mistakenly asked her what her husband did to help out. Without batting an eye she told me he doesn’t help out at all. She said in the past she would ask him to help, but he never did. Tired of always being disappointed, she stopped asking.
I felt the hurt and disappointment in her voice, so I decided to pause and we sat in silence for a while. Then the tears started streaming down her face. I could see that she was trying to hold them back, but I encouraged her to just let the tears flow. My mom once told me that tears are the angels washing the pain away. I continued to sit with her for about five minutes while she sobbed. We ended that session together by her committing to hire a house cleaner twice a month. Yet her real takeaway was realizing why she was running at such a fast pace and 0verdoing everything: so she didn’t have to feel disappointment. I have witnessed many mothers (including myself ) fly around in the Supermom cape at speeds faster than lightning so we don’t have to stop and feel the feelings of not being enough. I teach my clients this mantra: “I have enough, I do enough, and I am enough.”
We often don’t stop to realize the impact our Supermom role has on our children. Not only do they grow up believing that moms must do it all, but most kids these days are overscheduled
themselves, pulled from one place to another. They’re up at six thirty in the morning, attend school all day, and then run from piano lessons to soccer until dark. When these kids finally
arrive home, they need to start their three hours of homework. It’s no wonder our kids are stressed out, exhausted, and cranky—just like their mothers—or that they, too, turn to alcohol
Then there are the single moms who do all the above without a partner to offer any help or financial support. The single moms who co-parent have the added stress of coordinating their children’s care with the other parent.
I remember one evening when my former husband and I were newly separated. Our kids were two, five, and eight. It was his night to have the kids, but I just popped by to drop off some
unnecessary item I knew they couldn’t live without. (The item I was dropping off was actually my fear that they were not okay without me.) But as I entered the one-bedroom apartment I saw my former husband cooking delicious food, with music playing and my kids dancing while they set the table. I was so shocked, I had to sit down on the couch to absorb that they were all surviving without me running the show.
In recovery, one of the best things I did was to make a commitment to myself that Monday nights were all for me. The kids spent Monday nights at their dad’s house, so this was my night to say no to the rest of the world and yes to me and my well-being. No work, no housecleaning, no meetings, no dates, and no going out anywhere. Giving myself this time not only improved my sanity, it also benefitted my kids greatly. I was able to be more present, grounded, and calm to handle all the challenges and blessings of motherhood.
Sober Mom’s Tools
to Stop Being Supermom
- Give yourself a permission slip to say no to the next ten requests for your time and energy. A polite way to say no is, “Thank you so much for asking me, but I have an appointment at that time.” Only you have to know that your appointment is your naptime!
- Take Erma Bombeck’s advice: “When my kids become wild and unruly, I use a nice, safe playpen. When they’re finished, I climb out.”
- Take a “mommy time-out.” If your kids are young, put on a video (even if it’s the fifth time they have watched it that day), make sure they’ll be safe, then go into your bedroom and lock the door for a brief time.
- Make a list of everything you think needs to be done today. Then review each item, asking yourself, “Will the world fall apart if I don’t do this today?” Now burn that Superwoman cape and post this sign on the refrigerator: Your emergency is not my urgency. Here’s your new mantra: “I have enough, I do enough, and I am enough.” Write it on the bathroom mirror in red lipstick. Post it on the refrigerator. Put it on your dashboard in your car. Stick it to the forehead of your children and spouse and if that doesn’t work, get a tattoo.