Years ago, a dear friend gave me a personalized coffee mug for my birthday. On it was a woman dressed fabulously for a business meeting holding a soccer ball and a laptop bag with a carefree smile on her perfectly made-up face with beautifully styled hair - below her was written
TRACY – I CAN DO IT ALL
Clearly my friend meant this as a compliment as this mug was meant to represent me and all that I do. I can’t describe the emotions that coffee mug stirred in me – wow, I CAN do it all – career, family, style, happiness…or at least it appears that way. At the same time, I felt like a complete fraud.
Do people really think I can do it all and be so carefree? Does one of my closest friends not see through me – the self-doubt, the anxiety, the frazzled nerves, the guilt, the struggle to do it all? Am I fooling people into thinking “it’s all good” when I’m really feeling like my house of cards of To Do lists, schedules and deadlines will fall apart at any moment?
In reality shouldn’t this woman on the mug be missing one shoe, have a toddler around her leg and dark circles under her eyes? Honestly, it also made me feel a bit sad because I so wanted to be that girl on the mug, and I felt like I was so far from it. I was trying to do it all, and truthfully, I did try to make it look easy because I didn’t want my decision to take on so much, to burden those around me. I looked like Superwoman on the outside but inside I was so far from it.
Sometimes my husband would say in amazement “Wow, you really are Superwoman.” One day, I defeatedly pleaded, please don’t call me that. I’m not; I’m really not. I need help; I just don’t know how to ask for it.” He kindly said, “Tell me, what can I do?”
I needed to delegate so many things but I feel pressured to do it all with ease. Not by my family – it’s me who has put these unrealistic expectations on myself and it’s slowly wearing me down. Since we both work full time, we were all about jumping in to get things done – but somehow I’d taken on a lot of the invisible work – the worrying, the scheduling, the planning and the juggling – even though he was more than capable of doing anything I was doing.
As Moms we wrestle with our choices – the ones we make for ourselves and our families. We do the best we can but we second guess those decisions then we feel bad if we let anyone down. Hell, sometimes we even feel bad for the things we take on when we didn’t have a choice.
For years (many more than I’d like to admit) I felt guilty for having a career. I won’t get side-tracked here because that topic has books written about it and many different (and strong) opinions. Suffice it to say that I love my career but sometimes it impacted my family (both positively and negatively) and when the impact was negative it really got to me.
Whatever the reason, we tend to take on a lot – and sometimes we don’t know our limits so we keep running and smiling and saying “It’s fine. I’m good. I’ve got this.” The image of the swimming duck comes to mind…The view from above - calmly gliding across the water. The view from under the water –those little two legs paddling like crazy!
One afternoon I came back to my home office after a day of client meetings to find a sticky note on my desk written in my son’s handwriting which read “Thank you for working so hard Mom.” I have no idea what made him write this note on this day but it was such a boost for me – it’s amazing what a dose of appreciation can do for your spirit.
Another time there was a note saying “Thanks for cleaning my shower curtain – it really needed it!” These unexpected, occasional notes were so important to me that I’ve held onto them all these years. We don’t mind working hard so when someone recognizes our efforts or achievements, we take them to heart.
We hear a lot of negative comments and they can stick with us – some come from other people but much of it comes from our own thoughts. Those things we say to ourselves, about ourselves, that we would never say to someone else (nor we would tolerate someone else saying to them to us). Why are we so hard on ourselves? Why do we hold ourselves to standards that no one can attain? For me it’s because I do want to do it all – with ease.
Moms sometimes have a hard time saying no to things we know to be important to ourselves and our families – volunteering, cooking, cleaning, playing, and working. It took years for me to be okay with asking for help. I had to learn that it’s not a sign of weakness, and allowing others to help is good for everyone. A little heartfelt acknowledgement of gratitude never hurts either – giving it and receiving it is tremendous.
This simple note is one of my favorites - it was written by my son after his first day at his law firm on a note pad with the firm's name. It had been a long and hard 3 years through law school and him studying and passing the Bar - he'd done the hard work but we'd been with him through it all. This note was the culmination of everything in these two words - Thank You!
We opened his text during dinner and immediately I was crying - we knew exactly what he meant - we felt it deeply. It meant so much to us both. Words really do matter and so does appreciation. Never underestimate value of gratitude!
A former boss once told me – “You have to ‘Link and Label’. Sometimes you have to tell people you’ve just done something for them and what you’ve done.” (“That raise you asked for? I got it approved because you’ve earned it, and I was able to make a strong business case with the management team.”) She was right – this was effective at both work and home.
Realizing this I tried something with my two boys. When they asked me nicely to do something for them (get them a snack or retrieve a lone shoe from the other room), I would always say “OK but only because you said ‘please’ and because I’m the best Mom in the whole world.” You could say I was brain washing them to a degree – I say I was just trying to remind them that I have a choice to help them or not and I chose to help. I wasn’t going to be taken for granted and, I wanted them to think I was the best Mom in the whole world.
After a time, I would ask – “Who’s the best Mom in the whole world?” “You are!” was the enthusiastic reply. I realize they didn’t have a lot to compare me to but I believe what Maya Angelou said “You teach people how to treat you” so I made to sure to teach them right!
I had to laugh one day when my son, home visiting from college, said “Hey Mom, since you are the best Mom in the whole world, would you mind give me a hand with my laundry?” Maybe they were on to me – how could I say no?!
Over the years I’ve changed my view on what “doing it all” means – I don’t literally try to do everything all alone anymore nor do I try to act like I’m perfectly fine all the time. I do my best, ask for help when needed, give appreciation generously and receive it gracefully in return. I’ve learned that setting boundaries is healthy not limiting. Even the best Moms in the world can’t do it all – nor should we. We teach our children that they are capable and independent when we delegate things to them.
Even if you can’t literally do it all by yourself and even if you’re a bit frazzled and harried while you try, it’s worth it. Moms are multi-taskers – by nature and necessity. We recognize that in each other, and sometimes when you see a Mom giving it her all it never hurts to say – “You go girl – you got this!” and maybe add “But if you need some help, just ask, I’m right here. I got you.”
We have to remember that even Superwoman needed Superpowers to do all it all - and we certainly don't have her Superpowers!
No, I can’t do it all – and neither should you.
So, the façade is gone – am I’m good with that. More than good in fact. I still love the mug and my friend for helping me see myself so clearly!
But please, whatever you do, don’t call me Superwoman. I'm far from it, and that's just fine!