Supermoms – Are They Real? Unraveling The Perceptions of Indian Employed Mothers

Working mother

Supermom is the term for mothers who are employed or running a business, effortlessly juggling their career and family all at once. What needs attention is, whether the ‘effortlessness’ is real or just a figment of our collective imagination? And whether this notion of supermom is healthy or problematic for employed mothers. Well, let’s dive into the world of supermoms and see if they truly exist and how this notion of ‘supermom’ affects them.

Women have come a long way from joining the workforce in small numbers at the lower levels in the hierarchy several decades ago, with the workforce now comprising a fair share of women. Women proudly hold middle, senior and even top-level management positions, and it is no secret that being an employed mother is no walk in the park. As a result, balancing work and family has been a concern (Byron, 2005). Being a supermom means to not only have the ability but also the willingness to expend efforts to maintain a harmonious family life along with their jobs/careers.

Also Read: The Toxicity of “A Mother’s Strength”

Whether moms have paid support or support from other family members, a large part of planning, organizing and implementation of caregiving to children is the responsibility of moms. From the moment their little bundle of joy enters the world till the time the children grow to be self-reliant adults, moms are faced with a plethora of responsibilities. Mothers of young children have the charge of helping the child adjust to school, with social adjustment sometimes adding to arranging playdates to the errand list.

Demands of Motherhood, Career, and Self-Care

Mothers of middle school children have to ensure they are attending the infrequent but very important parent-teacher meetings, Cultural and Sports Day in school, birthday celebrations to the daily grind of pick up-drop to school and extra classes with the day ending with making sure homework is done. But wait, there’s more! If you are a mother, it’s like being a circus performer, juggling flaming torches while riding a unicycle – except with more responsibility and less applause. Mothers of older children need to navigate the teenage identity crisis as well as help the child figure out career choices. Do moms need to embody supermom qualities to become the ultimate multitaskers, ensuring that they meet their family’s needs while still carving out time for themselves? Indeed, employed mothers are Supermoms! It’s like they have a secret power source hidden somewhere, fueling them with endless energy and determination.

So far the literature shows that supermoms not only accept and excel at their motherly duties but also manage to climb the corporate ladder. They could be handling clients, customers, board meetings and deadlines while also being the backbone of their family. But let’s be real for a moment – even superheroes have their limits. So, the idea of a supermom who can effortlessly handle all of the household responsibilities, excel at work and also simultaneously create a work-life balance, while taking care of their own well-being seems almost too good to be true and therefore, an elusive goal.

Also Read: Being A Single Mother Is Tough, But What About Single Fathers?

Understanding Indian version of Motherhood

Given this backdrop, is it possible for supermoms to have a high level of well-being? Let’s take a sneak-peak into the minds of Indian mothers to see how the supermom notion affects them. Traditionally, Indian culture majestically celebrated motherhood and the religious scriptures represented women as “Shakti” a source of energy depicting – a goddess with multiple hands symbolizing the multiple tasks a woman is capable of. The Manusmriti (the ancient Indian text in Sanskrit) mentioned the glorified role of motherhood. Verse 2.145 says, “The teacher is ten times greater than the tutor; the father is a hundred times greater than the teacher; but the mother is a thousand times greater than the father” (Olivelle, 2004, p. 34).

Bhattacharji (1990) writes about how the status of a woman in the ancient patriarchal Indian society was equivalent to a land, considering it was primarily an agricultural society. Ironically, such a society also attached a lot of importance to sons as potential breadwinners and as inheritors of the family property. With passage of time, motherhood in the Indian context earned its glory as a “compensation” for the age-old declining status of women. This also explains the societal and familial pressure modern Indian women experience while trying ‘to do it all’.

Voices of the Indian Employed Mothers

We conducted a study on 322 Indian employed mothers aged between 25-50 working in the areas such as Education (schools, colleges, universities), Manufacturing, Start-up/Business, Information Technology, Art, Fashion, Media, Marketing, Travel & Tourism, Medicine (Doctors), Pharmaceuticals, Banking, Finance, Insurance, Health, Mental health, Fitness, Hospitality and Aviation. We wondered how these modern Indian employed mothers viewed the supermom notion and whether they found it beneficial or not for their well-being? In a survey targeting different parts of India, we asked the respondents to answer three open-ended questions: Who is a supermom according to you? Secondly, do you think that you need to be a supermom to achieve success in all domains (family, work, life)? And thirdly, is being a supermom beneficial for you or is it a trap? The responses were qualitatively analyzed using content analysis, which allowed a systematic analysis and deduction of relevant themes and phrases that were coded later.

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In the next step, these codes were categorised to uncover perceptions and beliefs related to supermom notion. Several relevant quotes were deduced from the data which clearly deepens the understanding regarding the supermom notion and perceived benefits associated with it.

Perceptions of supermom notion

The positive descriptions of supermom notion of all employed mothers when analyzed in depth resulted in two main categories. One of the categories was that of positive emotions the mothers attached to the notion namely happiness, love, care, comfort, peace, excitement, and satisfaction. For them being a supermom means feeling these emotions while engaging in various roles they played. So, these women are likely to experience eustress – a type of positive stress that motivates them to take action. The second category was that of personal capacities and competencies.

They attached importance to balancing work-life domains, time management, prioritization, multitasking, problem solving, and adapting to change. Another set of competencies they mentioned were nurturing, caregiving, bringing up a responsible child. This suggests that these respondents perceive a mother who can utilize these competencies as a supermom. The overall analysis also revealed certain attitudes directed towards self, which make a woman a supermom. According to the participants, having a relaxed and calm mindset, self-confidence, self-growth, self-care, independence, level-headedness, rationality, progressiveness, assertiveness, being ambitious all are signs of being a supermom.

The following quotes from participants clearly reveal their perceptions of the supermom notion:

“Being a supermom makes me so happy and fully engaged.”

Teacher, Education, mother of one

“A woman who can maintain a balance between personal and professional life.”

Operations Manager, Hospitality, mother of two

“A supermom is the one who handles everything right from morning to night with reference to office, home, children, family, friends, parents and making everyone happy including herself”.

A public servant, Indian Navy, mother of two

“Supermom is a woman who is walking a tightrope, trying to balance her professional duties and her duties as a mother, wife, etc and does a fairly good job of it.”

Vice President, Marketing Communications, mother of one

“Super-mom and super-women go hand in hand. The first personality takes care of her kids, gives them good education, teaches them life skills and supports them to become a good human being. The second personality is the person who takes care of herself, enjoys her job, relationships and life. Takes time to explore and grow everyday.”

Scientist, Biotechnology, mother of one

“Being a supermom means to strive harder each day, but these days end with a lot of pride, satisfaction and a sense of achievement that I did it. You grow each day and become more confident and capable.”

Trainer, Education, mother of one

Benefits of being a Supermom for Indian mothers

Our study also found that 49% believed the supermom notion to be a myth or trap, they perceived it to be overwhelming, that it is building up pressure to be perfect in everything they do and believed that this may impact their physical and mental health. So, these women are likely to experience distress, a negative form of stress which may lead to exhaustion and burnout. Although our study is reporting negative perceptions of the supermom notion, there is a silver lining to every black cloud. The authors want to focus on the 51% participants who saw merit in this notion. We believe it is supremely important to redirect our attention to the positive aspects of being a supermom.

The past and current literature around motherhood and the notion of supermom reports many negative outcomes (Oliver, 2011), however, there is also a discussion around how some women have integrated their work and family roles successfully and achieved leadership positions (Cheung & Halpern, 2010). We would like to highlight this positive aspect in the Indian context. This positive trend reflected in the quotes below implies half of the participants in our study believed that being a supermom has somehow helped them to achieve success in all domains of their life.

“Supermom is a concept that makes you think and believe it is possible, we don’t have superpowers, but we are awesome at some things. You don’t get to fail in any one aspect cause, then you become a failure in all three… Work, family and life.”

HR Manager, E-Commerce, mother of two

“You have to be a strong, confident woman to achieve anything in life. Titles don’t make you succeed; success makes the titles. Being a Super woman makes you achieve success in any sphere of life.”

Principal, Education, mother of two

“I am currently a supermom! It’s definitely beneficial to achieve success in personal and professional life as it changes your outlook completely of Life and teaches you how to be more efficient in managing your time and also to keep moving forward.”

Vice President, Non-banking financial Corporation, mother of one

“Being a supermom is beneficial as it is a great achievement and gives a sense of satisfaction.”

(Assistant Professor, Education, mother of two)

Media often portrays supermoms as these invincible beings who never break a sweat. They seem to have it all figured out – glowing skin, perfect hair, and an unshakeable confidence. But here’s our study showing – even supermoms have bad hair days, moments of self-doubt, and occasional meltdowns. Taking care of oneself is crucial for mental and physical well-being. So, supermom or not, it’s important for all moms to give themselves a break and prioritize their own needs.

What can we learn from this positive view of supermom notion?

We can infer that supermoms may not be mythical creatures with supernatural powers, but they do exist in their own unique way. Motherhood alone is a full-time job that requires giving constant attention and care to your children. Adding work into the mix only amplifies the chaos. Employed mothers may not have it all figured out all the time, but they strive to do their best for their families while navigating the challenges of work and personal well-being. While framing supermom as a negative notion remains a matter of personal beliefs for any employed mother, our study suggests recommending that employed mothers cultivate positive beliefs around the notion of supermom.

Also Read: Let’s Consider the Mental Health of Mothers

It seems like these positive beliefs lead these employed mothers to perceive and link the notion of supermom to positive emotions and personal competencies. The psychology literature well-establishes that attitudes are significantly shaped by beliefs and emotions. Attitudes in turn influence shaping and development of skills, competencies and behaviors. Since positive emotions have been linked to higher emotional well-being (Fredrickson & Joiner, 2002), perceiving the supermom notion positively may contribute to higher psychological well-being.

Beauty of Real Motherhood

Not to forget, mothers’ own well-being is essential for them as well as their families. Similar to the safety instructions on an airplane, prioritize putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. We can’t pour from an empty cup, so it’s important for mothers to prioritize self-care and give themselves permission to take a break every now and then. So, whether they are a mom who feels like a supermom or one who struggles to keep up with the superhero facade, it is important to acknowledge that they are doing an incredible job. So, let’s celebrate the messy hair and the unwashed dishes sometimes, because that’s what real life looks like!

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