By Claire Bischoff
Yesterday, I received a second-hand compliment that gave me pause. My friend Sarah arrived for a play date, lugging her six month old son in his car seat, and announced how happy she was to hang out with me since our mutual friend Dave had told her that she “just had to get together with Supermom Claire.” On the one hand, it felt great to be recognized for my work as a mother, a job for which I rarely receive any accolades. On the other hand, however, I worried whether the image I project to the outside world was of a completely unflappable, unstoppable, all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful mother.
This seemingly innocuous comment got me worrying. I spent a good part of my adolescence and young adulthood donning my super capes and the façade of effortless perfection that went with them. “Super student Claire” garnered all A’s with ease but rarely had any interesting ideas of her own to offer. “Super friend Claire” listened endlessly to the problems of others, supplied sage advice, but never burdened people with the struggles she was experiencing. Through long hours of prayer, writing, and yes, group counseling, I came to realize that being “super” anything was an unsustainable quest that left me exhausted and confused about who I really am. As a new mother, growing into the most challenging role of my life, the last thing I want to appear as is super. Competent? Sure. Good enough? That would be great. But perfect? It is not humanly possible.
Herein lies the key for me. Perfection is not humanly possible because we are human, not gods or God. God created us, God called creation good, and part of that creation is that we are fallible and vulnerable. It is good that we are not super beings, but instead simply human, muddling along, doing the best we can. We exist in the tension of the possibility of all that we may do and the reality that we cannot do it all. While that tension may make us uncomfortable and lead us to seek relief in the projection of perfection or in denial bought through drink, drugs, entertainment or a whole host of other escape mechanisms (my favorites being chocolate and crappy television), the reality is that we are always and only human.
I have come to believe that living into my Christian identity means giving up the image of being super, and, instead, being honest about my hurts and joys, my struggles and my strengths. In a word, acknowledging my vulnerability. It is not my place to commend this path of vulnerability to others, cognizant as I am that those in power often ask those without power, invoking the name of Jesus the Christ, to remain in positions of vulnerability in order to retain their power. Yet in my own journey, I have reached a point of agency and identity where I can make the choice to share my humanity with others. So when people like Sarah ask me how I like being a mom, I strive to be honest—to present myself as a human, good enough mother, instead of as a supermom. It is scary to say out loud that I do not like every part of it or that there are days when I want to be anything but a mother, but I am finding that this bearing of vulnerability creates space for true relationships and conversations to flourish.
Claire Bischoff is a stay-at-home mom and Ph.D. candidate in religion at Emory University in religious education and practical theology. She co-edited My Red Couch and Other Stories on Seeking a Feminist Faith.