What Price Are You Paying To Have It All? The Supermom Myth

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2008-02-0435

Do you believe in a perfect life? Or “having it all”?

This message is to those who aim to have everything.

When you’re told that you are a perfectionist or an achiever, it’s something you’d normally be pretty happy to hear, because this would mean that you’re probably all set to be one of those exceptional people who’ll find success in life and rule the world in some way. This, coupled with the common desire to “have it all” has encouraged a lot of high achievers to develop the so-called “Supermom” or “Superdad” mentality once they begin having families.

But when we take a look at what our lives are all about, we see that it’s filled with daily slices of time appropriated to these various things of great value to us:

Family: we enjoy our kids and hope to be good parents
Health: we’d love to live a productive, comfortable existence
Money: we aim to be financially independent
Personal Time: how about some time to ourselves?
Friends and Community: we seek social interactions
Church (for a good number of us): we nurture our spiritual side
Leisure and Recreation: we’d like some time for play
Business: we hope to build something both fulfilling and profitable
Job: we’re looking to further our careers
Household Obligations: we’ve got a house to run

and so forth. And when our desire to excel intersects with these things that matter, we can end up living in a pressure cooker, because that desire to do our best extends to all the roles we play in our lives.

supermom

I don’t know about you guys, but I feel this modern life can be pretty exhausting. It doesn’t help that I’d like to do a fantastic job with every aspect of my life, with demands that just keep growing by the day. As a full time IT engineer with an 18 year old career, a couple of school-aged kids, a growing appetite for online businesses, investments and a myriad other interests beyond my nine-to-five job, the strain of trying to do it all is finally grating on me.

Why I Don’t Believe In The Supermom Syndrome

So on the outside, it looks like a perfect existence. It seems to be a perfect existence when you get to do everything you’ve always wanted to do. And in my case, I’ve poured every ounce of effort in all of these different life slices and daily activities to ensure I’m doing the best job I can and that I won’t be “failing anyone”….especially myself. With my persistent, ongoing self-dialogue, and with high expectations I’m accustomed to setting for myself, I could be my own worst authority.

For a time, I was able to make it work, with all the gears of my life moving along seamlessly like a well-oiled engine. But the reality is that this “perfect equilibrium” doesn’t usually last long, and soon enough, I found myself realizing I couldn’t keep up with all these activities without some sort of sacrifice. I’ve come to believe that there’s no such thing as “having it all forever” and something eventually has to give. Though our time is an extremely limited resource, so are our energy and our health. For me, my health — thanks to a persistent lack of sleep, questionable dietary choices — was what finally started to give out as I wrestled with balancing all these moving pieces.

In order to avoid the effects of long term stress, I’ve since decided to make some lifestyle choices that would end up doing away with one or more things that clamor for my time. If you’ve been a regular reader here, then you may already know that I have decided to say sayonara to my corporate career and day job. Yes, a huge step, but it’s freed up my time to pursue the true loves of my life:

  • spending more time with my kids
  • running a more efficient household
  • feeling better with improved physical health
  • living a life with hopefully less stress
  • and being able to do business projects more in line with my interests and goals.

How much is this change costing me? Oh, about in the low six figures, but where was this money going anyway? I determined that I was basically shoveling my salary into taxes, growing health bills, herbalists, parking fees, gas and child care. It looks to me that the whole thing may be a wash anyway, so once I do away with the job, I’ll probably do away with a lot of these expenses as well.

So what’s your take on this? Do you believe you can have it all? I actually don’t believe we can have a life that just constantly expands to accommodate anything that we bring into it. It’s more like an enclosure that can only hold so much, such that by adding one more thing into it, something else needs to go.

Let’s be honest with ourselves and see if there’s something in our lives that we’ve been ignoring lately or missing out on, because there’s just no more room.

Copyright © 2008 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Kacie February 4, 2008 at 12:18 pm

This is an excellent post.

You can’t have it all–at least you can’t have it all at the same time. Something DOES have to give.

You can have more money from working a 9-5 (or more job), but your house might be a wreck, you might be eating junk convenience food, paying a ton on job-related expenses…the list goes on.

I’d rather not be in the rat race trying to “have it all.”

I’d rather live a modest lifestyle and enjoy my family.

Mrs. Micah February 4, 2008 at 12:44 pm

Great post. We only have so much time and energy to give. I think this starts for a lot of people in highschool and college where we’re expected to keep on top of our classes (and excel!) while being good friends, working, and staying active in a number of student organizations. This can be exhausting.

One year I was president of one student organization, secretary/treasurer of another, research assistant to a professor, assistant to a librarian, keeping up a 3.9 GPA, helping two of my friends deal with messy relationship issues, trying to be a good daughter to a mom with terminal cancer….and battling suicidal depression. A year later, I stepped down from everything but the research assistantship, the friendships, the daugher”ship”, and the GPA. To get some extra money, I took a bathroom cleaning position. Not glamorous on my resume, but I was a lot happier.

There were also some anti-depressants and a year of therapy involved…

fathersez February 4, 2008 at 1:32 pm

Congratulations!

All the best in your new life.

Almost everyone dreams about doing what you have decided to do. For many, like me for example, fear keeps us back.

I am motivated by stories of people like you.

Millionaire Neumes February 4, 2008 at 3:32 pm

Add me to the list of those who whole heartedly don’t think it is possible to “have it all” all at once. Women I know who have been trying for years have suffered serious health issues: panic attacks, marriage issues, chronic sleep problems, etc.

I hope my daughter’s generation is easier on itself for what it expects her to accomplish and not feel like a sell out.

thewild1 February 4, 2008 at 6:26 pm

I really think it depends on the person’s interpretation of what “having it all” means; however, in order to achieve whatever that is you always have to give up something.

Ron@TheWisdomJournal February 5, 2008 at 5:25 am

I’m glad you posted this. We’ve gotten to a point in our society that we try to squeeze every last minute for all its worth. I think it’s wearing us out. There needs to be some balance.

plonkee February 5, 2008 at 5:28 am

Yeah, you can’t have it all unless you’ve got a partner that is sacrificing a lot in your place (as in like a 1950s housewife).

I’ve pretty much decided that neglecting the kids aspect will be best. I don’t actually have any to neglect, so I’m going to not acquire any as a second best solution.

RetiredSyd February 5, 2008 at 8:21 am

Have it all? I don’t even think it’s possible to have most of it! I am retiring from my job at the end of the month for the very reasons you mention, to have more time to myself, to nurture my health, spirit and creativity, to have time to participate in my community and to spend more time with friends and family. And here’s the kicker, I don’t even have kids! I am feeling like I can’t have the life I want because my job is getting in the way; I honestly don’t see how those of you do it while also adding raising kids to this list!

Yes, you can do it for awhile, but ultimately somethin’s gotta give!

Jenn @ Frugal Upstate February 5, 2008 at 8:28 am

Honestly, I think we women have been sold a faulty bill of goods. We read articles about people “having it all”, the women we see highlighted as role models are doing it all, and there is just a pervasive attitude out there that this is how it should be for you to be happy.

But as you rightly pointed out, it starts to grate after a while. I got to the point where I felt that I wasn’t doing anything well-just getting by with everything. And that isn’t good!

Like Kacie, I think you just can’t have it all, at the SAME TIME. For me, there are several hobbies (like my acting) that I have put on hold for a while till the kiddos are a bit bigger and more self sufficient. I’ve taken on additional responsibility at church, so now I have to constantly remind myself to not over-reach by volunteering for more things.

Even staying home, as I do, it can become hard to stay focused on what your goals are. You can become heavily invovled in volunteering, kids school etc because you “have time”. I realized about a year ago that I wasn’t spending as much time with the kids or hubby(the reason I was a SAHM) because of other things. So I had to force myself to cut back.

Thanks for this great article-I hope it gets folks thinking.

Shirley February 5, 2008 at 9:26 am

Ten months ago I did the same… fear put off the decision for a long time, until finally I realized “I” had it all, but my family didn’t! It also “cost” us six figures, but we have “earned” so much in return.

The children asked once or twice why we “don’t hardly eat at Wendy’s any more”… but as I see them enjoying big brother’s homemade lasagna or sister’s ‘famous’ cocoa drops cookies, I see they know they ain’t missin’ a thing!

Silicon Valley Blogger February 5, 2008 at 11:41 am

@Kacie,
Agreed. I really think that unless you are super duper lucky (and even when you are, many people still feel like they’re missing something — but THAT’s another story), you can’t really “have it all”, ESPECIALLY all at once. I feel that I’ve come close on many occasions when I’ve felt I was close to “having it all”, then I get all paranoid that things can change on a dime and things don’t last.

Having the perfect scenario is fleeting it seems. After some time, circumstances change and you’ve got to adjust. Many times, a slight imbalance on how things work brings down the perfect house of cards. Hence the saying: the only permanent thing is change.

Trying to juggle many things at the same time makes one more prone and vulnerable to imbalances that make it easier to bring down the perfect set up.

@Mrs. Micah,
Thank you so much for sharing such information. I know many people who’ve gone through similar situations as you have.

@Everyone,
At one point in my high stress existence, I was told by my GP that anti-anxiety pills were going to solve my problems. I REFUSED to buy into that advice. There are many many side effects from going on this kind of treatment which I dared not take on (based on personal stories by my friends who went through this)! Instead, I took a step back and made the decision to take a break, take it easy and CHANGE MY LIFESTYLE.

THAT HELPED. That’s all it took for me to get my bearings back. If you can, don’t fall immediately for the medicated route. Try natural therapies. Change the environment around you and you may be surprised how big a difference that makes. I understand though, that certain conditions may be too difficult to resolve this way, but it could still be worth the shot.

Oscar February 6, 2008 at 8:33 am

I would have to agree with the tone of the article and discussion. You can’t have it all, but I think the things that matter to you should be approached with all you’ve got.

Personally, Family & personal relationships come first, then the income to support basic needs; food, shelter and health. Then all the other things I want to do and explore. And when I explore a new I usually give it 110%.

After a while, based on many factores (stress, cost, value, etc) I decide if it, whatever *it* may be should become part of my pseudo-permanent life.

Brip Blap February 6, 2008 at 7:32 pm

I’ve said a lot about this on my blog (mostly pro-parent-staying-at-home) but I’d like to point out that simply ditching the job won’t be “having it all” either. My wife is a former fast-track finance professional who jumped off to be a stay-at-home mom. While she loves staying at home and doesn’t miss corporate politics, etc., she would be the first to tell you that a complete divorce from “outside work” – outside kids and home and community – is tough, too. The trouble is that people DO need it all. I support our family and _I_ want it all – I want to be home, spend time with my son, etc., and I can’t – but she can because I’m willing to shoulder the whole cost of living. She, on the other hand, has to put up with significant “domestic burdens” because of my long commute, even though I have moderate hours.

I guess my point is that cutting free of a job may seem like a complete solution, but the trouble is that people DO want it all, and rightfully so – that is the human condition. I’d love to have a part-time job AND be able to take my son to the Little Gym on weekdays AND provide a reasonably-sized home AND health insurance AND save for retirement on that part-time income.

Tough choices in America these days.

Wendy Spiegel February 9, 2008 at 11:11 am

I’m envious. I’m a single mother by choice and that choice forces me to be the sole breadwinner for my family. If I could just chuck it in and spend the time on my health and my child, I’d do it in a heartbeat…but I’ve still got the bills to pay.

My question is how will you find the financial support over the long term if you are a solo operator?

Wendy

Tina February 9, 2008 at 11:35 pm

Great commentary! This articulates how I have been feeling for a very long time. I want it all and also have realized that it takes a very long time to achieve this. In the end I wonder if we would say it was worth the effort. I quit the corporate world and started my own cleaning business, am an Independent Distributor for an Anti-Aging, Long-Lasting Cosmetic line, attend Clayton College of Natural Health online and eighteen years and two little kids later I am wearing down. I know I don’t earn enough to compensate for all the hard work put forth and by the time I pay for daycare and gasoline it’s almost not worth leaving the house, but I think the kids are receiving experiences by attending daycare that I can’t give them. Most people would think I have it made because I set my own hours and for the most part my income (we are not talking 6 figures here), but when the kids are sick and you are your own boss, you don’t have any “sick leave” to use. There isn’t anyone else to fall back on either. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. I can’t remember the last vacation I had. (my husband gets 4 weeks). I turned 40 this year (that’s not possible… or so I found out it was). My oldest begins kindergarten this fall and my youngest two years from now.

I am struggling with trying to decide to quit altogether or continue working. If I have to find someone to watch my oldest after school is out for the summer, I really don’t see how I will be working for anything but school and childcare. I don’t want to work more I want to spend more time with the kids, but the cost of living seems to be skyrocketing out of control. I am a Dave Ramsey listener and I can tell you there isn’t any waste in this household. My intentions are to get the house paid down a little more, cut my hours back to only working 3 or 4 days a week so I can spend time with my children and some needed time for myself. I have said many a time, “If you don’t take time for yourself, then how will there be anything to give of yourself to the kids, husband, friends, etc.” We all have to renew our spiritual and physical selves to have a source of energy to draw from.

That all sounds so depressing and I am sorry. I would like to end on a positive note. I came to the conclusion one day that life really is what you choose it to be, how you look at it. Every day there are struggles and trials. The kids get along one minute and are screaming the next. This is how life is and you have to let go of the negatives and focus and hold in your heart the positives. Choices one person makes for themselves would not be the right choice for someone else. I know my kids will soon be grown and I will wonder where all those days went. I will long for those little finger print smears on my windows and the “wuv u mommie’s”. You have to make the choice which feels right and stick by yourself in your decision knowing you tried… and that makes all the difference in the world.

Tina

Frugal Babe February 20, 2008 at 5:13 pm

This is a very timely post for me. We’re expecting our first baby in May, and I’m considering giving up my 32-hour-a-week library job when the baby is born. I also work about 20 hours a week at an insurance agency that my husband and I own, and I would keep doing that. The library job only pays $13/hour, but I enjoy it – so it’s not an easy decision. It would cut our after-tax income by about $1000/month, but I think that it would give me some much-needed breathing room. I’m trying to get out of the mentality that I can “do it all” and instead figure out what do I really WANT to do. I’ll be 30 this year, and I’ve worked at least 40 hours a week since I was 19 (back then I was going to college full time too… I think I’ve always been a bit of an overdoer). Thanks for this post. Good luck to you!

Sue February 20, 2008 at 9:43 pm

Well, I think that every couple should find a balance of life and work. I just know that I don’t want to be a full time housewife, (been there done that) so I’ve found a job that allows me to have a modest income while giving me the freedom to leave my job at work at the end of the day.

I’ve found that I need to work (for my mental health), but I don’t have to choose the most demanding job out there. Thanks.

Lori February 21, 2008 at 3:01 pm

“You can have it all!” I’ve got it all and I’ve decided, Why would anyone want it all?

I’ve missed a lot of my children’s activities. One of my children has a behavorial problem that could have been prevented if I had been a stay at home mom. Instead, I was too tired at the end of the day to deal with her.

I’d give it all back (well, the career half anyway) in a minute. Unfortunately, we’ve managed to dig a financial hole that relies on my income to make it from month to month.

Congrats to those who are deciding to stay home. It is the best decision you will every make!

emilyg February 25, 2008 at 1:49 pm

Thanks for this great post. I’m a young woman recently out of college, and while my boyfriend and I are in no rush to get married and have kids, I always worry about how I will manage and juggle things when we get there. I always wonder how people do it and stay sane, and still have a life. I’m glad to hear that it’s possible to balance it and that it’s OK not to be perfect. Thank you for the encouragement!

JHS March 9, 2008 at 1:18 am

Thanks for contributing this post to this week’s Carnival of Family Life, hosted at This Full House. Be sure to stop by on Monday, March 10, 2008, and support your fellow participants by checking out all of their wonderful contributions.

brian November 24, 2009 at 7:53 pm

I have enjoyed the info given here and have enjoyed the comments. I believe you can have it all, it’s all mindset and knowing where you are going and believing you can have what you want and going after it by taking action. Family is the #1 reason for desiring financial freedom and you build everything around that to make it work.

megscole64 March 30, 2010 at 10:27 am

Excellent. And something I’ve been wrestling with since…forever. I constantly over extend myself. Now that I have a baby it’s a lot harder to do this because he demands much more attention. So I quit my day job and will be taking a sales commission position. Scary. But allows me to be near home (right now have a long commute and a future even longer commute when the company headquarters moved further away) and the flexibility to go get the boy and do something fun during the day. Or just have lunch together. It’s a huge shift in our income, especially to start, but it gives me the ability to focus on what is really important. My family. :)

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