The Mental Toll of Being a SuperMom

Where would we be without mom? For many of us, we would be lost without mom. They do so much for their children that it often goes unnoticed or unappreciated. That coupled with trying to live up to unrealistic expectations can lead to serious mental health issues.

There are have been multiple studies that show that mom, if it were a profession, should be earning a lot more money for what they do. In an annual study done by Salary.com, they found that working moms should be making a salary of about $90,223 and stay-at-home moms even more at $143,102. 

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? If only it were a reality. Salary.com says they “surveyed more than 15,000 moms to find out what their most time-consuming jobs are and how much time per week they spend on each. Then we applied our extensive salary data to each job, factored in the number of hours worked including overtime, crunched all the numbers and POOF – we get an estimate of what mothers would make if they were paid an annual salary.”

This large salary is from all that moms do from cooking, cleaning up the house, helping kids with homework and taking care of them, etc. And that doesn’t even mention if they also work as well. Keeping up with the daily tasks can be stressful enough. In today’s world of technology and social media, people are constantly looking for validation from others. This need to seek and gain acceptance of others adds a whole new level of stress and anxiety to being a mom.

Social Scrutiny

A recent blog by Lorraine Discoll says, “We are bombarded with messages every day about what our bodies, our homes, our children and our marriages are supposed to look like. If you’ve read any of Brene Brown’s books, you know how pervasive shame is in all of our lives—how often we feel inadequate and unworthy—especially under the scrutinizing microscope of comparison.”

This constant bombardment of messages is fueled by social media networks, like Facebook and Pinterest, where pictures and videos of the “perfect” life, marriage, home, etc. are portrayed for others to emulate.

Katherine Stone, founder of Postpartum Progress, said recently in an article on Today.com, "The Pinterest society of looking at all these pictures of people who have perfectly decorated homes and reading on Facebook about children who are always perfectly dressed and way ahead of all developmental milestones — it puts a lot of pressure of mothers, especially those who feel vulnerable and not fully confident in themselves.”

The ridiculous expectations and actual outcomes of many things presented on social media like Pinterest, have created a meme where people show off the results of trying to live up to the perfect online standards. While these are often humorous results showing sad, deflated cakes and other creations, it speaks to the difficulty of measuring up to these standards.

Having high expectations and being unable to reach them can do a lot of damage to someone’s mental health. This need for validation and approval of others can increase stress and anxiety and even lead to depression. 

Effects on Mental Health

Katrina Leupp, a graduate student from University of Washington, did a study on how women respond when they try to do everything themselves and be a SuperMom. She found “that among the working moms in this study, those with the super mom attitude (those who as young adults consistently agreed with the statements that women can combine employment and family care) are at a higher risk of depression compared with working moms who had a more realistic expectation.”

This means that women that have expectations of maintaining a balance between work and family are going to understand that they can’t do it all and are more likely to make compromises, such as leaving work early to pick up the kids.

Those who are SuperMoms and trying to do everything are more reluctant to make compromise and may end up feeling like they have failed if they can’t get everything done.

Professor Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan recently conducted a survey to test how social media affected moms, especially new moms, and their mental health. She states in an article, “One of the first things we discovered was that certain mothers – specifically, those who were more concerned with others validating their identities as mothers and those who believed that others expect them to be perfect parents – were more active on Facebook. They reported stronger emotional reactions when posted photos of their child received more or fewer likes and comments than anticipated.

We then tested whether Facebook use was associated with elevated depressive symptoms in the first months of parenthood. Indeed, we found that mothers who were more prone to seek external validation for their mothering identity and were perfectionistic about parenting experienced increases in depressive symptoms indirectly through higher levels of Facebook activity. Moreover, greater Facebook activity was also linked to elevated parenting stress for new mothers.”

Trying to do everything yourself and have a picture perfect life can lead to major mental issues in women, especially moms that are doing so much already. Not only are they handling many aspects of their family’s life, but also comparing that to others online and looking for approval from others, leading to feelings of being a failure and inadequate that increases stress and anxiety. This effect on a mom’s mental health can, not only impact her, but also affect the whole family as well. 

Family Impact

Moms often run the household from family calendars, cooking and cleaning, the kid’s schooling and after-school activities, social events and more. While traditional gender roles are changing and more dads are staying home and helping out around the house, as more moms are working, a lot of this still falls on mom. And the stress and weight of that coupled with trying to measure up to the perfection on social media can have big impacts on mom and the whole family. Stress, anxiety and depression are all mental health issues that left untreated can become more serious and make daily life almost impossible.

The article, mentioned above, from Today.com, looks at several different parents stories about how mental health issues caused by trying to be a SuperMom or SuperDad affected their families.

Jennifer Marshall, hospitalized a few weeks after giving birth for postpartum psychosis, said, "I did feel that pressure from society — as a mom, you should have it all together, you should be able to breast-feed. I was doing well breast-feeding, but my mental health was completely disoriented."

"Even if the message from social media or your friend or world at large is more nuanced, what you home in on is that belief that unless you're happy 100 percent of the time, you're not a good mom," said Sara Vancil

Making sure that you spend time on your mental health and being positive instead of focusing on being the perfect SuperMom, will not only benefit you, but also your family. As Lorraine writes in her blog, “When I neglected myself, I neglected my child. As I was forced to invest time and energy into my own health—my daughter’s health also synonymously improved.”