Every few months, it seems, we head to the movies for the latest adventures of our favorite superheroes. (We will admit that the Feldhahn clan falls into the Marvel mega-fan category.)
When our son was six, his superhero of choice was Superman. He wore the capes, his action figures littering the floor of our playroom. But one day he suddenly felt like he was old enough to ask us the question he must have known the answer to: “Is Superman real?”
I answered in the same way I answered his 8-year-old daughter the month before, when she wanted the truth about Santa Claus: “Do you want to know the truth, honey?” In that case, after careful consideration, our daughter had said no—she wanted to hold on to Santa Claus a while longer. But when I put the question to our Superman-cape wearing son, he nodded.
I smiled at him. “No, sweetheart, Superman isn’t real.”
He nodded again. “I thought so.” Pause. “Are any superheroes real?”
“Nope. They’re just pretend. But it’s sure fun to play pretend, isn’t it?”
“Yep!” And off he went in his red cape. He gracefully let go of the notion that the myth was real, accepting that it was just part of growing up.
It is interesting that many of us who are busy, involved, accomplished women today haven’t really embraced that same reality check about a much more adult myth: the idea that we should be able to be Superwoman. The notion that we should be able to do it all, all at the same time. We may not don a cape, but we may as well have one as we try to accomplish the impossible task of juggling far more than any human can, in our families, jobs, ministries and friendships.
When did we buy into the Superwoman myth?
The Superwoman Myth
Years after that exchange with my son, I found myself wondering why our children are able to let go of myths and legends but we are not. For far too many of us, deep inside, we think we are supposed to be Superwoman—specifically, Supermom—even though we know there is no such thing.
I regularly see articles, blogs and books that construct or celebrate the myth that we can have it all, do it all and be all things to all people—all at the same time. We hold our mythical Superwoman superhero up as the ideal on radio and television.
I’m a fan of the main Christian radio station in our city, and remember listening to one of the main morning radio programs during my 20-minute trip to drop my kids off at school one day. They asked for callers on the question of whether we can “have it all.” I was surprised and a bit saddened to hear every single caller (all women) exulting in the fact that of course we should expect to have it all, all at the same time: a demanding full-time job, two kids, a great marriage, fulfilling activities and friends. . . . In other words: we should expect to be Superwoman.
Having It All, All At The Same Time?
I’m the first person to be thrilled that we live in an era that provides so many spectacular opportunities for women. If I had been born in the 1800’s, I really doubt I would have had the chance to get a graduate degree, work on Wall Street, be a social researcher, or be a best-selling author. But as our culture has “grown up”—we haven’t. Too many of us cling to the notion that we are supposed to have it all, do it all and be it all, all at the same time—and then we feel guilty if we don’t meet that imaginary standard. We live through headaches from too little sleep, “Mom guilt’” from not letting each of our children do that third sport this season, tension from snapping at our spouse for “not helping enough” (when he is probably facing his own immense stress and pressure from trying to meet a similarly impossible standard), and worry that we are “letting people down” because we only agreed to chair one committee at church this year.
The reality is that if we try to do it all, all at the same time, nothing will get done well. And learning how to prioritize and make healthy choices is liberating.
And here’s why this is crazy: deep down inside, every one of us knows that the Superwoman ideal isn’t actually an ideal but a piece of fiction. If we really stop and think about it, I believe we know that meeting this “standard” is as impossible as putting on that red cape and taking to the sky. The problem is that in the face of such a pervasive-seeming expectation—and the insane pace of life that results—we don’t bother to think about it!
I know I certainly didn’t. When I was approached years ago about creating a video-driven bible study that would help women think through these things, I realized how little biblical knowledge I actually had on this subject—a subject that literally impacted everything in my life! Creating that study—Find Balance: Thriving in a Do-It-All World— was one of the most personally impactful projects I’ve ever undertaken. And in the end, I pray it is encouraging and helpful to millions of other women as well.
There is a God-given peace and relief that comes when we stop trying to use superpowers that don’t exist, and instead embrace the beautiful design and callings that do exist, realize that we have to make choices and live according to different seasons of life, prioritize rest as much as accomplishment, and celebrate the fact that we may in fact be able to “have it all” over the course of our lifetime—just not all at the same time!
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Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her latest book, Thriving in Love and Money, uncovers the issues that cause money conflicts and provide couples with truths that are relationship game-changers…because you need a better relationship, not just a better budget.
Visit www.shaunti.com for more.