Moms without capes
If you're looking for a domestic superhero, try Martha Stewart. Meanwhile, imperfect mothers have found a new home on the Web.
By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN
Published May 11, 2007
Tanya McGowan never liked getting together with other moms during playgroup. Their homes were too neat, their children too well-behaved. Everyone was always smiling.
"It was just weird," said McGowan, mother to 3-year-old Maya. "They were the stereotypical housewife type who didn't work. They had four kids and their kids were in every activity. They were constantly meeting and their kids were perfect. They were perfect. You can't walk into my laundry room without having to shove things out of the way."
McGowan, a marketing graphic artist from the suburbs of northwest Tampa, stumbled across an online support group recently that didn't make her feel so bad: Unsupermoms.
They are mothers who have screamed at their kids and let them eat french fries. They have bags of unwashed laundry, and homework doesn't always get done. Bedtime is when they get around to it.
The group's motto: "Imperfect moms raising almost perfect children."
"Mothers are sick and tired of having the syndrome where everybody expects us to get it all done," said Nicole Henry-Clark, the New York mother behind Unsupermoms. "The new breed of moms don't want to do it all."
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In five weeks, almost 900 mothers nationwide joined the group, including some from the Tampa Bay area.
Among them is Pamela Moore Shear, a 27-year-old single mother from St. Petersburg. She lives in her parents' Pinellas Park home, where she shares a room with her daughter, 1-year-old Raven.
"There's no floor space; you have to play hopscotch to get to the bed," Moore Shear said. "There are Cheerios on the floor, but I do try to vacuum every other day."
Moore Shear said she used to wonder, "What's so hard about being a mom?"
"I realize how wrong I was now," she said.
She loves the support she gets from reading the Unsupermoms' rants. In a 15-day period, members posted an explosive 1,200 messages. They talked about cooking - or not - and about cheating spouses and annoying mothers-in-law. About money woes and sleeplessness, about medication and sex.
Their e-mails were inspirational and enlightening, self-deprecating and maddening. Above all, they were funny. Some even include pictures of messy homes.
One Unsupermom complained of a hamper full of socks, of which none matched. To which another woman replied: Hey I just watched a show on HGTV this morning that a guy makes stuffed animals out of extra socks and gloves. But who has the time to sew!!!!
Of their cluttered homes: I knew a girl with 4 kids who literally cleaned her house with a rake. She raked everything into a big pile in the living room and announced to her kids "you have 15 minutes to get whatever you want out of this pile and put it away . . . the rest is going into the garbage!" And that's just what she did!
One Unsupermom asked: "Should I move instead of cleaning my house?"
They posted so many messages about their husbands' video game addictions, dirty clothes and hyper kids who beat up on their younger siblings that one member issued a plea: Please take my e-mail off your list. I received 155 e-mails in my in box. I have 6 kids with one more on the way, I don't have time to read e-mails all day.
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Marlena Studer, a former visiting scholar at the University of Michigan, published an article this year in the Pepperdine Law Review about work and family responsibilities and what "supermoms" juggle.
She said in an interview that women who try to do it all are the most overburdened. She said all moms - super and unsuper - tend to neglect their own needs.
"We have so much demand on us to fill all the social expectations out there," she said. "Sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves. Women who care for themselves as well as doing something productive with their lives are very good role models for their children."
Rhonda Meek, a 37-year-old mother of two from Philadelphia, thinks it is possible to do it all.
Her musings, titled "Self-proclaimed Supermom," can be found at selfproclaimedsupermom.typepad.com. She writes about raising her kids, suggests a cookbook for busy mothers and tells of going to a strip club with her husband to keep things spicy.
She wakes up at 5:30 each morning to get ready for work as an administrative director and then gets her kids ready; she has a color-coded calendar to keep track of the family's schedules, and bedtime for her kids is at 8:30 every night. Dishes and chores get completed each evening.
"I consider myself a supermom because I work hard and play hard," said Meek in an interview. "I do everything I can for my children, my home, and take the time to take care of myself."
She acknowledges not all women can meet her standards.
"There are many unsupermoms out there," Meek said. "I don't think it is bad if people have laundry piled up and their houses are messy. That just isn't the lifestyle for me."
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Emily Pateman of Tampa has learned to accept that her minivan stinks. Someone spilled juice a few weeks ago and she never found time to clean it.
Her husband works out of the country three weeks out of the month, so Pateman, 27, often feels like a single mom to their three kids: Eli, 6, Jean, 4, and Adam, 22 months. Their days begin at about 6 a.m., when Eli starts the coffee, then wakes his mom.
"Then the race begins," Pateman said.
Sometimes she loses her cool, and that's when she really values her fellow Unsupermoms.
"Thankfully I am too scared to hit him very hard," she wrote after spanking Eli when he refused to help clean the minivan. "But I just couldn't control myself. He wouldn't shut up, and my daughter had been disobeying earlier, so I told him he wasn't going to Dinosaur World with us. . . . So I guess what I'm asking is, how to take him without letting him think he got away with anything. I just can't have him being that mouthy to me."
Nicole Henry-Clark, the 34-year-old mother of four from New York who started Unsupermoms, knows all about stress. She started the online group after a particularly stressful evening March 27. Her 9- and 7-year-old were being so naughty, she shipped them across the street to their grandparents.
"They came back like an hour later, smiling ear-to-ear!!" she wrote on the site. "Help . . . they never take me seriously!!!!"
Henry-Clark runs a mommy's helper service that offers everything from babysitting to help with household chores and said her clients are all strapped for time. She's now hoping to get a book published about her experiences, which she's titled Unsupermoms: Send the Kids on Vacation & Put on a Robe.
"Like Superman in the phone booth, we're coming out of the kitchen, and we're taking the S off our chests," she said in an interview. "We're great moms, the kids are doing well in school. But we don't want to be considered supermoms. It's so exhilarating!"
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at 813 269-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the web:
Find out more
To join the discussion: groups.yahoo.com/group/unsupermoms
Mom on the move
Here's the morning routine for one Tampa Bay area Unsupermom, Tilda Harris, who recently posted to the site:
4:30: Hear my husband's alarm clock.
4:39: Hear husband's alarm clock again, nudge him.
4:48: Hear husband's alarm clock again and threaten his life if it goes off again!
4:49: Figure I'm up already, so I get up, make coffee, marvel at how quiet my house is and look in on the kids while they are sleeping. . . . After all, they will not look this angelic the rest of the day!
4:55: Wash face, brush teeth, get coffee, check e-mails and read messages to start my day with a smile and knowing I'm not alone.
5:30: Empty dishwasher, reload dishwasher, wipe counters, set bowls out along with 5-million boxes of cereal on table.
5:57: Pick up the @$@%! Hot Wheel car I just stepped on!!!
6:00: Set clothes out for the 3 that do go to school.
6:15: Wake oldest 3 up.
6:30: Wake them up again.
6:45: Threaten punishments if they do not get up.
7:00: Breakfast, overhear some vague complaints about choice of clothes for the day . . . I ignore.
7:10: Tell the kids to get ready to load up even if we do not need to leave until 7:20 or 7:25 because it WILL take that long to find shoes, bookbags, tell me about papers that need to have signed, money sent to school again!!!
7:20: Grab Emily out of the crib, wrap her in her blanket . . . thank God it's Florida!, put her in her car seat while the boys argue over who sits in the front.
7:25: Finally ready to leave. . . . Logan is being awfully quiet. . . . Oh @#@@3!! he is still in the house, sleeping in bed! Go back in and get him. I wake him up and he yells at me to "leave him alone." Grab him, put him in the car.
7:45: SCHOOL DROPOFF . . . Made it!!!!
Now, for the rest of the day. . . .