It’s OK to take off your mask sometimes
As a Solo Mom, you are a superhero. You fill the role of Mom and Dad, the lone point person for providing your kids a loving, nurturing, healthy life. Though at times you feel like you are on the verge of falling apart, you never do. Sure, sometimes you might just survive instead of thrive, but even those days are a victory.
Eventually, instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment for providing a decent life for your children, you begin to equate self-care with guilt or accepting help with incompetence. Outside pressure and your own internal voice drive you to do even more. You might see other moms volunteering for the PTA and think, I should really do that, too. Instead of taking a nap on a day your kids are out, you dedicate that time to household chores. After all, you are a superhero, and doing it all is your superpower.
Couple that mentality with societal pressures to be “strong,” and you might end up going down the road of burnout and self-judgment. Today’s definition of strong is essentially extreme stoicism and self-denial. You might end up on autopilot, getting through your day without enjoying it. Or you might begin to define yourself by your strength, judging yourself when you even think about asking for or accepting help. Weak is a four-letter word you want to avoid at all costs. The result? You end up putting on your “I’m just fine” mask and power through. The more you power through, the more that becomes your identity and persona.
Sometimes, though, circumstances hit that force you to take a step back and make you realize that you aren’t invincible. Even if you’ve been an unflappable paragon of competence, illness and other crises can be a huge reality check that cause you to question your identity. You might even tell yourself, I guess I’m not a superhero after all. Your next question might be, Who am I then?
Guess what? When confronted with your own mortality in this world, your vulnerability makes you an even more authentic superhero. No superhero is in superhero mode around the clock, and no superhero is perfect. In the latest Spiderman movie, Peter Parker spends quite a bit of time as a normal(ish) high schooler. Bruce Banner (aka the Incredible Hulk) is a regular guy until he is overcome by stress. Only then does he go into superhero mode. He is not running around green and ripped all the time. It would be too exhausting. Superheroes even have dysfunctional relationships like the rest of us. (The Atom’s relationship with Jean Loring will make almost anyone feel better about her relationship history.) Superheroes make room for their humanity. They have downtime to be normal people with normal jobs, normal flaws, and normal responsibilities.
What does that mean? You can allow yourself to be someone who gets sick, occasionally loses her patience, or says, “No, I cannot do that today.” You can allow yourself to be someone who asks for help and accepts offers of help. You can be someone who can look at her schedule and decide, “We don’t have time or money to add another sport or musical instrument to the docket this year.” You can be in crisis, physically, emotionally, or psychologically. Most important, you can be someone who gives herself space to be mortal, fall apart, and make mistakes just like real superheroes.
When superheroes are in superhero mode, they can be intimidating and distant. When they take off their masks, they deactivate their superpowers, but they are able to relate more closely with others. They are able to walk among the people they usually rescue. In accepting your weakness and providing yourself the acceptance and patience you provide others, you set a strong example for your children and open yourself up to the possibility of deeper, more authentic relationships. Perhaps your crisis is a chance for you to evaluate what kind of superhero you want to be. Dare to take off your mask and be human. Take care of yourself as you’ve taken care of others. Grant yourself the same patience and grace you provide for others.
When you are faced with the reality that you aren’t superhuman, accept your limitations without self-judgment. Your value is not tied to your productivity, health, or stoicism. Just like the comic-book heroes that all our kids are obsessed with, you are allowed to take off your mask and embrace your humanity. Your time of crisis might be a reality check, but allow that reality check to confirm you are a true hero.
While you’re at it, take off your cape and settle down with other unmasked superheroes in Sister Chat for no-judgment, Solo Mom conversation.
Danielle Bostick, a former Solo Mom and ESME’s Wellness–Mental Health Resource Guide, is a Latin teacher, an advocate, and a mom to six kids in Winchester, Virginia. When not working as an educator, Bostick writes about the National Football League for various sites and sexual assault and child sexual abuse for the Huffington Post. You can find her on Twitter: @danibostick, and on Facebook: Dani Bostick.
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