I'm sitting on a park bench watching my kids chase each other around a playscape while chatting with a fellow mom. I've already asked her where she bought her floral-print sneakers and now I'm wondering how much longer I have to wait before I can ask her to be friends (I'm kind of starved for intimate female companionship, like most moms).
But then it happens: she finally notices that my kids are clearly too old to be hanging out on a random playground at 11 a.m. on a Monday.
"Why aren't they in school today?"
I squirm in my seat. "Oh, we homeschool."
Her eyes widen. "Wow. That's a lot of work."
"Yeah," I say smiling. "But it's also fun."
"I could never do that," she says, half-laughing. I'm not sure what to say, so the conversation shifts to another topic. We watch our kids dig in the sand and race down the slide together. We talk about Netflix binges and Starbucks and the new Lego movie. Then, somehow, it comes out that I also write part-time from home as a freelancer—and that's where I totally lose her.
"You work, too? You're basically like a supermom."
"Oh, no! I'm not a supermom."
"Still," she says, shaking her head. "I don't know how you do it."
I know she means it as a compliment, but I also know that this perfectly nice woman with the cute kids (and even cuter sneakers) will probably never end up as my friend now. Not because I'm actually a supermom and she's just some poor, pitiful, "regular" mom, but because she's already put me a pedestal after knowing me for about 15 minutes and I didn't ask to be there. In fact, I don't want to be there at all: it's lonely up on that pedestal, where everyone assumes you have it all together and everything is easy for you—especially when nothing could be further from the truth.
Do I juggle a million things every day? You bet. Does it all go smoothly? Nope. Some days my homeschooling, work-from-home adventures look like a Mary Poppins movie, but other days they look like a zombie apocalypse flick. I love what I do and I love how we live our lives, but I would also love to talk about all of it with other moms sometimes. When they call me a supermom, they rule out that possibility.
I struggle under the weight of my responsibilities and I need encouragement from other moms in the trenches, but being told I'm performing heroic feats of parenting by a stranger doesn't leave much opportunity to ask for support.
Instead of saying "I don't know how you do it," I wish the well-meaning mom at the park that day had actually just asked me how I do it. And not in a "tell me your secrets, oh wise one" kind of way—just in a way that could open up a dialogue between us and allow for a deeper connection. If she had asked me how I felt about being a homeschooling, part-time freelancing, SAHM of three boys, then I could have told her exactly what that's like: some days I enjoy it and some days I definitely don't, but I work really, really hard every day to make it all happen.
Also? I'm not superpowered. Like, not even a little. Most of the time, I'm totally exhausted. Most of the time, I question if I'm making the right choices for my family. Most of the time, I climb into bed at night and wonder if I did anything to scar my kids for life that day (I mean, probably, but how badly, you know?). Most of the time, I wish I was stronger, faster, smarter, more flexible, and could multiply myself—or at least be in two places at once.
If you're a mom this probably sounds familiar, because here's the thing: all of motherhood is tough. I don't care if you're staying home 24/7 with your teething toddler or driving the school drop-off carpool in the morning on your way to work. Homeschooling, public schooling, unschooling, whatever. Motherhood itself is the challenge, not the individual ways we choose to go about it. And we are all doing some kind of gravity-defying, quantum-leaping, villain-busting work worthy of Wonder Woman herself just to get through the day. We all need our tribes (a.k.a. other moms) to back us up and help us through the rough spots.
So the next time you meet an awe-inspiring mom who makes you want to shout, "I don't know how you do it!" try to remember that no matter how super she seems on the outside, she is definitely not a supermom on the inside. Whoever she is and whatever she does, she probably needs some kind of support. That could be a friendly ear, a sincere compliment, an impromptu cup of coffee, or an afternoon off from the kids. What she needs might even be as simple as you swapping out your "I don't know how you do it" for something like "I see how hard you work for your kids" or "You have a lot on your plate...can I help you out?"
Trust me, it would make a big difference—and you might even make a new friend.