Being a superwoman is a lie

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As she compares a recent family photo to one from six years ago, doula and homeopath, Dr Taryn Turner reflects on how far she has come in achieving balance between being a successful career woman and mother.

A few weeks ago, I came across a photograph of my children and me on the pier in Durban. My daughter, a few months old at the time, was in the pram, lulled to sleep from our walk along the promenade. My boys were arranged around me in a boisterous huddle.

My oldest had his arm slung across my shoulder; at 12 he was almost my height and the knowledge of this was bright on his face. My middle son’s (9) broad features were pale with a smattering of freckles, as he leaned in on my other side, grinning. My youngest son (6) wedged between me and the pram, looked shyly up at the camera, his pixie-face angled slightly down. He held my hand tightly in both of his over his shoulder, but his smile was sweet.

I stood there smiling with my young family of four; smiling for my husband to capture this moment of togetherness. I remember this moment. I remember thinking this picture captured us at our best. And, in a way, it captured us perfectly because when I look back at that picture now and see that woman, that mom, I see a hollowed-out husk.

There are deep, dark circles under my eyes; my skin is sallow from a leftover tan covering underlying anaemia; my hair was dry and scraped up into a ponytail on my head (an actual messy ponytail not a YouTube ‘perfect messy mom style’). I look wrecked – and it isn’t really surprising!

“I am grateful beyond belief for what those women did for the advancement for women in the workplace but I think we bought too easily into the idea that we can have it all at the same time.”

At the time, I was pumping breast milk for all my daughter’s feeds. I’d been doing this since her birth because despite everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) she couldn’t nurse. Because of a series of events worthy of Lemony Snicket himself, we had three children at three different schools, so I was doing three different school runs plus homework, keeping track of events, sports, fundraisers and, and, and… I was also maintaining a practice full time in a busy health shop.

My daughter came to work with me so that I could spend time with her between consults. I was on call 24/7 for births and would go out at all hours to deliver babies on farms and homes up and down the KZN coast, sometimes driving two or three hours at a time.

I constantly felt like I was failing someone and lived with the perpetual feeling that I’d forgotten something. I was trying to be superwoman and to have it all. This is the lie we’re sold: the 80’s superwoman image; that corporate-slayer goddess ruling Wall Street then coming home and ruling her household.

I am grateful beyond belief for what those women did for the advancement for women in the workplace but I think we bought too easily into the idea that we can have it all at the same time. We just can’t. There’s only so much of ‘me’ to go around. So, my word for the year in 2019 has been “balance”.

In 2012, we started homeschooling (sounds nuts, I know, but it meant no more running in three different directions, and no more homework!). Seven years into it and I’m happy with where we are. I spend my days with my children doing ‘school’. We unschool (where the “curriculum” is learner-interest driven) so it’s different every day and I spend a couple of afternoons per week consulting or writing. This feeds my soul. It also shows my kids that I have something for me; that as much as they mean to me, it’s not all about them. I think that’s important.

I still get frustrated sometimes and wish I could have a day – or week (who are we kidding here!) – all to myself, but I can acknowledge that with less guilt now. I’m one person. I’m allowed to do just what I can do and express what my limits are. Using your voice empowers your children to use theirs constructively, too.

Looking at our latest family picture, my youngest son is my height, standing proud and straight at my side; my middle son towers over us all, smiling with his father’s eyes and his long arm firm around my shoulder. My oldest is standing behind me, his mane of unruly hair tied in a knot at the nape of his neck, as he holds a chameleon aloft like a prize with laughter in his eyes and his other hand resting on his little brother’s shoulder. My beautiful daughter, now seven, all long limbs and fairy tales, leans into me, looking up at her dad through her lashes as he takes the photo.

It’s Mother’s Day. I’m smiling. So wide. So happy. It brings tears to my eyes just writing this.

Written by Dr Taryn Turner

Also read:

You’re good enough
5 things motherhood has taught me