Women: Stop Holding Yourself to the Impossible Standard of Superwoman

UPDATED: May 27, 2024
PUBLISHED: April 27, 2017

Ever wonder how superwomen do it all so well? Wonder no more. They don’t. They are lying.

(And using Photoshop to camouflage the bags under their eyes along with the enormous team of professionals helping them get by, while carrying the groceries and answering email.)

Trust me. It’s high time we pull the cape off this utterly impossible ideal.

Let’s be honest. We all know her (and pretty much hate her). She’s the high-powered working mom who somehow never misses drop-off—sending her silent, spotless children into school with a lunchbox full of nut-free, gluten-free treats and hand-pressed carrot juice, after knitting winter hats for the homeless, qualifying for her 10th marathon and mastering the art of applying self-tanner without creating any streaks.

She’s perfect.

I’ve been sadly mistaken for one of these annoying superheroes myself, but I’m very quick to correct the record and immediately bare my unsightly cellulite as proof. Let me be the first to say I am not seamlessly juggling motherhood, a high-profile job and a two-career marriage. I’m just barely getting by. I leave our home every day with wet, disheveled hair that would frighten a jail warden, barking at my kids to hurry, only to find I’ve forgotten my keys (or one of my children). Then I get to work and discover their field trip permission slip folded in my purse instead of in their backpack where it belongs. Inevitably at that moment, I feel like the worst mom on the planet, and for the zillionth time that day, I tell myself, I’m doing the best I can!

Actually, while we’re at it, I’m going to let you in on the dirty little secret of working moms everywhere: Monday is our Saturday. That’s the day we leave our squabbling, delightful yet messy children at home and head into the office to rest and recharge. That’s the day we collapse at our desks, let out a big sigh and have a cup of coffee—while it’s still hot. Without someone tugging on our sleeves to butter their toast while they light their little sister’s hair on fire.

“You know what? Maybe don’t lean in. Instead, sit down and take a load off. You’ve earned it.”

So when I hear a “superwoman” telling the rest of us we can have it all—we can climb the highest mountain, collect a bigger paycheck, etc., if we just lean in—I want to hand the women listening (and now covered with hives) a glass of screw-top wine and say (with apologies to the truly brilliant Sheryl Sandberg): “You know what? Maybe don’t lean in. Instead, sit down and take a load off. You’ve earned it.”

Related: 3 Simple Ways to Slow Down in Life

I’ve witnessed some of the dangers of holding ourselves up to this impossible standard. One negative externality of this hard-charging ideal is a “full throttle or nothing” mentality. If you aren’t out-earning the men in your field and outperforming the women, you aren’t succeeding. So why bother? Why not just give up? If you aren’t growing your children’s lunch in your pesticide-free, hydroponic garden and speaking to your offspring in Mandarin in the morning and coding Python at night, you’re falling short as a mom. As a result, we all walk around feeling guilty all the time! Guilty we weren’t on that field trip, guilty we left emails unanswered at work, guilty our elbows are flabby. Come on! When did being less than super become as shameful as owning a flip phone?

I know what you’re thinking: She’s a fine one to talk! That’s what we always say to the person who has the nerve to talk. But let me be upfront with my disclaimers nonetheless: I do have a job that provides a ton of perks (like hair and makeup magicians), that give me the appearance of juggling 1,000 balls at once, when in reality I’m just a wreck with a bunch of help, who often embarrasses her children and annoys her rather patient husband.

I’m not trying to be anyone’s example. I’m just saying: To superwomen, supermen and wannabes everywhere, lose the cape. Because when we are constantly trying to look fabulous, leaping tall buildings in a single bound, we fly right past the joy that’s right in front of us, on level ground: the love of our children, the simple pleasures of today and the joy of the messy, imperfect life we already have.

Related: Relishing an Imperfect Life

Broadcast journalist Melissa Francis is an anchor on Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network, and a regular contributor on financial, economic and political issues on shows such as The Five, Outnumbered, Happening Nowand America’s Newsroom, among others. As an actress, she appeared in numerous motion pictures, television series and more than a hundred television commercials, and is best known for her role as Michael Landon’s daughter, Cassandra Cooper Ingalls, on Little House on the Prairie. She earned a bachelor’s in economics from Harvard University and lives in Manhattan with her husband and their three children.