I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has called me that. Or supermum. It alternates between the two, and for a long time, I thrived off it. I blossomed under the praise of family, friends and even strangers, who were in awe of everything I was managing to achieve. And with each compliment, I added more to my plate, desperate to prove to myself, and the world, that I could have it all.
It all started when I went back to full-time work when my younger son was three and his brother was five. It had been the hardest three years of my life; an endless, thankless cycle of breastfeeding, sleepless nights, cooking, cleaning, vomit/wee/poo, Peppa Pig. The baby was one of those clingy ones that would growl at anyone who smiled at him, and clutch onto me like I was his life buoy. I was beyond exhausted. I no longer recognised who I was anymore.
When the little one turned three and stopped waking up six to seven times a night, I decided it was time to do something for me. I saw a post on the Muslim Mamas Facebook group about the Aziz Foundation offering Master’s scholarships to British Muslims, so I applied for one. I’d always wanted to do a Master’s in Creative Writing, maybe this could be my chance. I could do it part-time and it would give me a reason to go out once a week, meet people, use my brains.
Around the same time, I was headhunted for a full-time job locally to me. I applied for it on a whim, just to see what would happen. I got the job, the scholarship and the University place all around the same time, and before I knew it, I went from being a SAHM with the odd freelance project, to working a really demanding full-time job, doing a Master’s part-time and writing a book. I also had two young children and a husband to look after, not to mention a household to manage. My days became intensely busy and I had no time to just pause or even deviate from my routine. Piling on more chores, tasks and hobbies became addictive. I kept pushing mind and my body, trying to see where the limits were, when it would break.
Things came to a head during the pandemic because suddenly, on top of everything else, we began home schooling as well. I was signed by a literary agency so now I had writing commitments outside of Uni. And, of course, being the project junkie that I am, I also started co-hosting a podcast.
I was exhausted again, like I was when the kids were younger, but this time it wasn’t a physical and emotional exhaustion; it was a mental one, too. I started forgetting things, maybe because my brain was so full of everything that I needed to do. At any given moment I was keeping track of work deadlines and projects, Uni assignments and reading, my book deadline, the kids’ school work and activities, whether I needed to do laundry, if there was food in the fridge, and other commitments towards my friends and family. My mind was so full of dates and times and things that needed to get done, that it felt like it was spilling over; and I began to forget things.
Superwoman. Supermum. At one time, I felt like both; but now I felt like neither.
I had started working and writing so I could find myself outside of motherhood, but I hadn’t found myself. In fact, with no time to spare for me, I felt more lost than ever. I hated working from home and constantly telling my kids to be quiet while I was on calls and in meetings. It no longer fulfilled the purpose of why I went back to full-time work. I didn’t need the stimulation anymore, I didn’t need that validation anymore. My life was full, but in a good way. It was full of family, and love, and my passion projects.
I decided to resign, and it was the best decision for me, and my kids. Yes, I would miss the extra income and financial independence but it was worth it for my own mental health. I was lucky that I never reached breaking point, but I could see that I was on the trajectory.
As women, society places a mountain of expectations on us; often unachievable. We’re expected to be brilliant, present mothers, without sacrificing our partners or careers. We’re told we can do it all. We expected to do it all, and look attractive while doing so. We’re praised when we do; and for me, it was this praise that kept me going when I wanted to stop. I became so used to being called a ‘superwoman’ that just being an ordinary ‘woman’ wasn’t enough anymore. The pressure mounts, and for some of us, there comes a point when it’s not even other people pressuring us; we do it to ourselves. The quest for perfection is relentless, and impossible, and the more we try to achieve it, the more devastating the consequences can be.
Alhamdulillah, with the grace of God, I got out before it was too late. Now, my days are full but in a manageable way. When the kids are at school, I write my books, I read, I meet my friends. When they come home, I’m all theirs. I don’t have meetings to attend and calls to take. And unless I’m on deadline, I have time to chill with my husband in the evenings, too. And I won’t let anyone make me feel guilty about it.