Supermom in Training

When a high-achieving girl grows up to be a supermom ... what happens when they discover how impossible their expectations of "doing it all" are?
I happened to come across this New York Times article (For Girls, It’s Be Yourself, and Be Perfect, Too), and man, did it take me back to the “good ol’ days.”

The article features two high school senior girls in an affluent Boston suburb who are part of a group of “amazing girls”—defined as such because they are “high achieving, ambitious and confident.” They are “girls who do everything”: AP classes, volunteering, varsity sports, extra extracurriculars. They also feel like they’re never doing enough, and that looking hot is just as (or more) important than being smart.

Amazing girls will pressure themselves to do whatever it takes to get into amazing schools, which in their minds translate to amazing careers, and to eventually reach the pinnacle of success—an amazing balance of family, work, and life. Sound familiar?

The lives and words of these two girls, Esther and Colby, really hit home for me. In high school, I was obsessed with success. I was a girl who did everything. AP and honors classes. President of the Latin club. Marching band and jazz band. Drama club. Mu Alpha Theta (math geek society—and I hated math). National Honors Society. Swim team (freshman year—I was the worst).

Why was I such a high-achieving superteen (or just a total geek)? I could see the path stretched out before me, and in my mind, I had to do it all to get it all. Good college = good job. Good job = good pay and more opportunities. Someday, I figured, my achievements would pay off.

Clearly, these girls in the Times article are supermoms (or “Alpha Moms“) in training, just like I was. They pressure themselves to be the best at everything, impress everyone, and think “living in the moment” is something you do when you’re retired. They think it’s possible to “have it all” (whatever that means) and figure if they have every advantage in life, they are required to take it.

I’m happy to say I’ve calmed down somewhat since high school. I don’t feel ubercompetitive just for the sake of winning. I know what’s most important to me, and try to prioritize my life accordingly.

But I must admit, reading that article exhausted me, because I sometimes feel like I’m still a geeky high school student. Never getting enough sleep. Never getting high enough grades. Never doing enough. I hope to teach my daughter to have more fun and do less achieving. I don’t want to raise another “supermom.”

When a high-achieving girl grows up to be a supermom ... what happens when they discover how impossible their expectations of "doing it all" are?

Does this topic resonate with you? Here’s another post you might enjoy about the supermom phenomenon.

9 thoughts on “Supermom in Training

  1. I read that, too, and also found it exhausting. Yikes!

  2. Dang! I was never that stressed out in high school–I played a bunch of sports (basketball, tennis, track, summer softball), did all the extras (Student Council, Class Treasurer…), and got the good grades, but I never felt pressure or got stressed out about it. And I certainly never thought about my future much. Guess I figured it would all work out, and it pretty much has.

    But, on the other hand, reading your post certainly did stress me out!

  3. Selfmademom says:

    Susan- I read that article too, and I usually agree with everything you write, but I have to say, I found the article to be more disturbing than inspiring. It made me so nervous about all the pressure we put on our children to succeed and how we define success. It used to be that kids could just play in their backyard and now all kids are so scheduled and organized, it seems to be more stressful than fun. While I’m all for ensuring that we create young successful women (hopefully I’ll have a daughter one day to help this cause), I just felt bad for those girls more than anything.

  4. Oh, I’m not saying this is inspiring. Far from it. I think the pressure these girls put on themselves is ridiculous. I did it to myself back in the day (though my parents had nothing to do with it–it was all me). But now I think, what if I hadn’t freaked out so much back then? I’d probably be just as “successful” as I am now, but maybe a lot happier? I don’t know. I just see a pattern here of “never enough.”

  5. Anonymous says:

    I was also very disturbed by the article. Yes, I ran track and cross country. Yes, I did school plays. Yes, I was editor of the high school newspaper. And I took AP classes. But I never thought twice about taking a season off from a sport if I was tired of it or of skipping a play try-out or dropping an AP class if I felt like I needed to. My parents never objected, although they’d rightly question whether I was sure it was what I wanted to do. Like Tela, I did this stuff because I wanted to, it was interesting and it was fun. I never thought about how it would help me get into a top college–although in the back of my mind, I knew it was a good idea.

    Then again, the top college I did go to now has a median SAT score 170 points higher than when I arrived and my SAT score wasn’t even at the median back then. So it’s not just the pressure on the homefront…

  6. Selfmademom says:

    Ok, phew! you scared me with your “good old days” reference…

  7. Geez, I never felt the need to take on so much in HS. I was never that concerned about testing high on SATs, getting involved in clubs and organizations all so I could get into a “good” college. I got involved in activites to have fun and hang out with friends. What teenagers should do!
    Maybe these girls just feel like they have to excel to meet their parents approval? It sounds like they live in these affluent neighborhoods where the parents are achieving in their careers. So maybe they feel they have to follow suit? It’s definitely not healthy.

  8. just4ofus says:

    Sad to say, but I didn’t have an academic activity over involvment problem.
    perhaps a social over indulgent problem.
    Can’t say I stressed myself out too much : )

  9. JobMom/crazedparent says:

    i read the article as well and i was actually felt quite sad about it. you’re right…supermoms in progress. imagine how these young women will feel in 20 years when they start having kids, the need to multitask at warp speed and always wanting more. nothings wrong with that, so long as you’re actually having fun in the process. it doesn’t sound like these gals are having much fun.

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