The movie I Don’t Know How She Does It, starring Sex in the City alum Sara Jessica Parker, takes on the myth fed to many professional women that we can have it all—a fantabulous career, healthy, well-behaved, clean kids, a sound marriage to a sexy, amazing man, a Mistolin-clean home, a cute dog and a gorgeous well-appointed brownstone on a tree lined street—all the while looking quite thin and fabulous in our Christian Louboutins.
Yes, it’s Hollywood, and while the movie, set for a fall release, seeks to debunk the myth, the fact is that many of us secretly harbor romantic notions that this Superwoman is real and attainable and that if we just incorporate military-style time management into our lives, this ideal is in fact, achievable.
Spoiler alert: this Latina Superwoman only exists in Spanish novelas, cable television and films, or in some half-evolved male brain. It’s about time we kill her—for good.
Of course, all women, not just Latinas grew up listening to the Superwoman Myth, but this is another gray area where Latino culture hasn’t caught up with the reality. Affluent women, many of them white, got it and have been outsourcing a lot of their to-dos, in many cases, ironically, to Latinas and other immigrant women. But even when Latinas can afford to outsource, hire a cleaning lady or a nanny for example, some relatives may raise eyebrows and judge our choices.
Such was the case when my youngest son was 5 years old. I was working odd and intense hours as a producer on a highly rated morning television show. Not having any relatives in the city where I live, and being a single mother, I hired a British nanny to help me. She was a friend who needed a job and I needed help.
Oh, the drama that ensued in my family, especially from the more traditional relatives. Women and men called me all kinds of names, behind my back and to my face. Rather than congratulating me for admitting that I needed help and finding a trustworthy, responsible person who loved my kid, I got, “You have another woman raising your child?”
Judgments happen from those we love most and, because we want their approval, we feel guilty for not living up to their expectations. (Hint: No one can make you feel anything, you have the power to reject the haters.)
What happens is that for many of us, being a mother and holding down the fort completes our definition of what a good mother and a good wife is and those two things are somehow directly linked to our self worth. Add to that a career and you have a combustible equation. My mother, who was born in the 1940s, defined success as keeping a clean home, healthy, well fed and adjusted kids, and a good husband. Mom and many of her peers weren’t negotiating office drama, i.e. a bitchy boss, deadlines, meetings, etc. Today’s modern Latina mom is being challenged by stressors that are different—not less intense—but a different kind of brainpower-depleting stress. Just think of what email, social networks, the Internet have done to keep us connected to our jobs, 24-7!
But here is one truth that many professional Latinas with amazing careers, and even more amazing kids and hubbies have accepted, myself included: We just cannot have it all, especially at the same time. To think that you can, is to rob yourself of sanity; to try to attain it all is to seek insanity.
Once I let her go, this mythological Superwoman, I found freedom. Don’t get me wrong, there are sacrifices. I let the house be a little dirty sometimes if it means that I can go do hot yoga instead. Or I order some nutritious takeout if it means that I can use the time instead to go bike riding with my youngest son. Or I let the laundry pile up if it means that I get to go on a special date with my girlfriends. The list of negotiating priorities is constant, and I discovered that when I choose quality over quantity, reality over myth, when I choose movie night with my boys over a professional gala where rubber chicken is being served, life is a little bit sweeter.
Coming to terms with the fact that I am not a Latina Superwoman has also freed me from all the guilt that could have potentially consumed me. I’ve had to turn off well meaning—but nosy—family members who I am sure criticize my choices behind my back. This has given me a license to be stress free.
Here is another truth that I discovered: I am not defined by my womb, how well I keep my house, how neat and clean I keep my kids, or whether or not I am in a relationship. I am defined by so much more, including: the quality of my relationships with the people I adore and with myself, the quality of the character of the children I am raising, and by how consistently I nurture my gifts so that I can live my life to its grandest expression. These are tangible, realistic and attainable goals.
Killing Superwoman—three easy tips you can try today:
Something’s Got to Give
Get help. If you can afford it, hire someone to do as many chores as possible. When you can’t afford it, put the entire family on chore rotation. Laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, dishes, everyone chips in. My motto: I am not my family’s sirvienta, travel agent, event planner, etc. Everyone rows to keep this boat afloat.
I can’t have it all at the same time, but I can have a few at the same time! How important is that meeting versus your daughter’s school trip to the zoo? Only you know from moment to moment, decision to decision what you can or cannot miss. Once you make the choice, fight off guilt! Remember what Jennifer Lopez said about guilt, “It’s a useless emotion.” Remember: Jobs are temporary, memories are forever.
Ignore the Judgments
This is challenging, but attainable. With practice, you will learn to tune out the haters. Everyone—even those you truly love—will always have something to say about the choices you make. If you remind yourself that even la santa, Mother Theresa, was criticized, then you’ll feel just a wee bit better about your choices. Focus on the intention, being present and the quality of relationships, starting with the one you have with yourself.
Sandra Guzmán is the author of the critically acclaimed, The New Latina’s Bible: The Modern Latina’s Guide to Love, Spirituality, Family and La Vida. (Seal Press 2011)