As a mother myself, I have heard the term a time or two (or twelve). As someone who peruses social media on a pretty frequent, daily basis, I have seen the word used a term of endearment, or compliment. In both cases and in all instances, I shudder. I don't want to be rude, of course, but I just can't help but think of all the reasons why we need to stop calling moms "superheroes," especially when I see or read or hear it happening.
I get the idea behind the term. After all, I'm pretty positive I'm guilty of buying my own mother a few Mother's Day cards in which the inscription proclaims her to be superhuman and doing "all the things" and being just "out of this world" amazing. Of course, that was back before I was a mother myself, and I didn't realize that calling a mom a "superhero," while endearing in its intentions, was more hurtful than helpful. I didn't realize that when I was calling my mom a "superhero," I was overlooking all the very real, very human emotions she was experiencing on a daily basis as a mother. I didn't realize that I was actually downplaying how difficult motherhood really is, because even horribly difficult things are easy to "superheroes" because, hey, they're "super." I didn't realize that instead of taking the time to really sit down and explain all the ways my mother (and all mothers) really are doing incredible things and working so hard and are so appreciated, would have been much more meaningful than simply calling my mom a "superhero" and going about my day.
Which is why, at the end of the day and even though I realize it's said as a term of endearment, I am not really all that thankful when someone calls me a "superhero" for being a working mother. It's also why you won't see me calling another mom "superwoman," no matter how incredible she is or how much she accomplishes in a day or how thankful I am to know her and learn from her. At the end of the day, women (and mothers) should be able to be human and feel very human things and mess up in very human ways. So, with that in mind, here are a few reasons why we should just nix the term "superhuman," altogether:
It Puts A Ridiculous Amount Of Pressure On New Moms
When we call mothers "superheroes" or "superwomen," we're essentially putting an unrealistic amount of pressure on new mothers. I mean, talk about an intimidating title to live up to. When you're trying to just keep your head above water and adjust to a new life with a new baby (on zero sleep and probably a sore postpartum body) you feel anything but superhuman. So, when someone goes on and on about how mother are superheroes, and you don't feel like one, you won't be able to help but feel like you'e failing (even when you're not.)
I vividly remember feeling completely defeated a few days after my son was born. I hadn't slept, I was breastfeeding continuously and I was so very sore. Still, I didn't want anyone (including my parenting partner) to take my son from me or handle any of the even small responsibilities I was learning, because I felt like I had to do it all. I felt like I had to be "superhuman" and, if I wasn't, I was destined to fail as a mother.
It Reinforces Unrealistic Expectations
Telling a mother that she's "superhuman" is basically reinforcing the idea that she doesn't need very basic, very normal human things. Hey, you don't need to sleep, you're superhuman. Hey, you don't need a break, because you have lasers shooting out of your eyeballs on the regular, right? Hey, you don't need to vent your frustrations to a caring, understanding and supportive set of ears, because you're out of this world amazing.
A mother doesn't "do it all" without having a single human need. That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works. In order for a mother to accomplish all that it is she needs or sets out to accomplish, she has to take care of herself. She has to put herself first. She has to be human.
It Doesn't Encourage Self Care...
I used to think self care was just a nice thing people said that made it alright to spend fifty dollars at some nail salon, on occasion. I didn't realize just how important self care was, until I became a mother. I also didn't realize how guilty I would be made to feel for taking care of myself and putting myself first, until I became a mother.
Because mothers are often labeled as "superhuman," they're told they don't (or shouldn't) need a few minutes or hours or days, or even weeks, to themselves. They're told that if they feel like the need to be "alone," they don't love their children enough or their family enough or they might have, in fact, made a mistake in becoming a parent. I can't stress just how incredible unfair that sentiment is.
...Or A Mother Cultivating Her Individuality
Thanks to society's expectations of mothers and motherhood in general, the moment a woman who has decided to become a mother, becomes a mother, her entire personality and sense of self-worth and identity, is linked to her child. Now, she's a "mom" first and a person, second. Now, she is suppose to sacrifice every other aspect of herself, in order to be the mom people assume she should be.
I guess, in that respect, "superhero" is a pretty great title for a woman who has decided to become a mother. After all, Bruce Wayne is Batman before he's Bruce. Wonder Woman is hardly ever known as Diana Prince. We all know who Catwoman is, but we don't really know who Selena Kyle is. I mean, superheroes are no one without their secret identities, and it seems like society is constantly telling women that they're no one without the title of "mom."
It Downplays Very Real, Very Valid Human Feelings Every Mother Experiences...
Superheroes don't necessarily have human emotions. Or, if they do, they're able to "fight through them" with incredible tenacity. Yeah, that's not real life. When we call mothers "superheroes," we're telling them that they shouldn't feel tired or overwhelmed or frustrated or angry or anything other than what society thinks they should feel. They should always be happy and smiling and capable, even when it's unrealistic (if not completely impossible).
So, when a mother does feel tired or scared or anxious or depressed or frustrated or like she just doesn't want to parent at all anymore, she feels like she's failing. That's horrible, and no mother should be made to feel like she is doing her children a disservice simply by being a normal human being.
...And Makes Mothers Feel Guilty When They Do, Inevitably, Experience Them
There have been so many moments when I've felt like I can't do motherhood anymore, and overwhelming feelings of guilt always follow those feelings of frustration. So, not only do I feel overwhelmed or frustrated, but I also feel guilty. I start to stew in my worthlessness, assuming that, perhaps, there's someone else that could be a better mother to my son. I start to feel afraid, and inevitably begin to wonder what's wrong with me. Look at all these other mothers with their picture perfect lives on social media, being called a "superhero" or "superhuman" or "superwoman," and I'm crying in the bathroom because I just need two seconds to myself and away from my toddler and his fifth tantrum of the day, or I'll explode.
Motherhood is difficult enough without making moms feel like they can't feel very real, human emotions. The weight of your responsibilities as a parent to another human being are heavy enough, without the added pressure of unrelenting guilt.
It Promotes A Competitive Environment
The mommy wars (a term I honestly can't stand) have made motherhood out to be some sort of silent competition. Throw the term "superhuman" into the mix, and mothers start to feel like they need to present a particular picture of parenthood in order to qualify for that coveted superhero status.
Now, as a result, we're collectively not honest about motherhood and how hard it is, because we don't want to be judged and shamed and made to feel guilty or less than. In turn, women start to distrust one another and mothers feel like they're competing against other mothers and, well, it's just a freakin' mess.
It Makes It "OK" For The Majority Of The Parenting Responsibilities To Be Put On Mom
When we call mothers "superheroes," we're essentially saying they can handle anything and everything. Perhaps, not even "can," but "should," because, hey, look at how capable they are of doing all the things! There's no reason for their partner to be an equal member of the parenting team. Oh, no way. The "superhero" has it under control, and we all know everyone loved Batman more than they loved Robin. So, you know, take a load off, dad. In the end, you're just a glorified babysitter anyway, right?
In Other Words, It's Not A Compliment
I know that when people call mothers "superheroes" or "superwoman," they're trying to pay that mother a compliment. I get that when you see a mom doing multiple things in a 24 hour period and you're left in awe, you want to let her know that you see her efforts and you're appreciative or you're just impressed. So, say that instead. Like, literally take the time to tell her that you know what she's doing is probably very hard, probably very taxing and probably very time-consuming. Remind her that while doing all of those things is amazing and wonderful and valiant, she should also be taking time to do things for herself, too. Tell her that you appreciate her for everything she truly is, not everything you think she needs to be now that she's taking care of another human being.
Seriously, just leave the world "superhero" out of it, because a mother is so much more than some fictitious character we can read about in comics or watch in a movie theater. She's real.