THE BLOG

Battling the Alpha Mom Syndrome

09/03/2013 06:32 pm ET | Updated Nov 03, 2013

Have you ever had the dream where you are standing on the edge of a canyon, and then out of nowhere, you take a step forward and fall, which wakes you up with a start? Well, that happened to me, but I wasn't sleeping. Well, it didn't actually happen to me, it's more of a metaphor for my life right now. The summer is such a relaxed and laid-back time; long, sunny days with no schedules, no cold rinks, no PTO meetings. But as the school year starts, my calm summer moments quickly plummet into a fall schedule filled with hours in the car transporting kids, stretched-out minutes in meetings with various committees and what seem like endless volunteering commitments, all to be completed in a day, even though the sun goes down hours before the "to do" list is all checked off. And while I promise myself not to take anything else on other than what is already on my plate (PTO president, committee chairperson for numerous committees, Board of Education member for the religious school, member of the district Wellness Committee, small business owner, nutritionist, not to mention all of my kids' commitments that I must make sure they get to on time and in the right uniform), I always seem to say "yes" when asked to help. I am one of many women that suffer from a disturbing illness that I like to call the Alpha Mom Syndrome.

You know the Alpha Mom when you see her: She is the one in the school parking lot with a backpack on one shoulder, a purse on the other, a plate of baked treats for the Teacher Appreciation breakfast in one hand and her phone in the other (texting someone to agree to yet another volunteering opportunity), while her kids follow behind in slow motion. She is the one who says "yes" when you ask her to head a committee, decorate a room for a graduation reception, make a spreadsheet for a fundraiser and paint faces at a school carnival. She is the one collecting money for a holiday teacher gift, "bugging" you to get her the money so she can shop before the stores are so crowded that it cuts into her already hectic schedule. She is the one selling water bottles on the soccer field at a tournament on a hot day to raise money for the local organization and she is the one standing in a raincoat on the corner of Main Street holding a sign that reminds you to vote for the school budget. Yeah, you know her. She may even be you.

If you recognize any of these symptoms, you may be an Alpha Mom. And if your schedule is about to overwhelm your every moment, you may have Alpha Mom Syndrome. I have had this syndrome for many years now, and have yet to find an effective treatment. It all started when my son entered preschool 11 years ago. As a stay-at-home mom, I felt that it was my duty, even my responsibility, to make my community (be that the preschool or the soccer club) the best it can be, for his sake and the sake of his peers. Once I got involved, I met other Alpha Moms, some more intense than others, and the brainstorming of programs, fundraisers and family events was astounding. There are some amazingly talented parents in our midst and those people are both inspiring and exhausting. You see, when you first acquire the Syndrome, you think you are doing enough. You think helping out, being a cog in the wheel house, is enough. But then you meet moms who aren't cogs, but are the wheel house, and you begin to feel like you aren't doing enough. If she can do all that and have more kids than you do and have a paying job, you must be able to help more. So, you start to say "yes"... all the time. And soon, you have all of the symptoms of full-blown Alpha Mom Syndrome: a sense of being overwhelmed, a sense of worry that you will disappoint someone, a sense that you are sinking fast in quicksand and won't get everything done. And finally, you start to question why you said "yes" in the first place and how the heck you are going to climb out of this hole you dug for yourself. After all, you put yourself in this position; you participated in the risky behavior that caused you to contract Alpha Mom Syndrome. You could have said no. (Gasp! Really?)

As the school year begins, I feel somewhat in control of my symptoms, but I know in another month I will be in full-blown Alpha Mom Syndrome mode, and for the first time, I am mindful of it and I am dreading it. It's not that I don't want to sit in a cold rink while my son skates, or sit in a three-hour meeting listening to what the other local schools are doing to raise money for programs, but I just don't want to feel like there is not a moment to sit and do something non-Mom, or sit and do nothing, even for an hour. So this year, I plan on getting my "symptoms" under control so that I am not overwhelmed by Alpha Mom Syndrome, but able to live my Alpha Mom life in a healthful way. I know I have a lot on my plate for this year, so I will not say "yes" to anything else. Even though I leave the elementary school at the end of the year and there are openings on the middle school PTO board, I have not raised my hand (and I don't plan to, so don't ask me -- you know who you are!) I will follow the lead of one Alpha Mom friend who has control of her syndrome and has vowed (actually swore on a Bible in front of her kids) not to join another board. And I will make the effort to be a cog sometimes rather than the wheelhouse. Sometimes, the cogs are the solution to the wheelhouse's problems; if there are more people willing to get involved, there is less stress on the Alpha Moms. Some of the most talented people step away from helping because they fear the Syndrome -- if the whole "village" does a small piece of the work, our school, sports and religious organizations will thrive and no one will suffer.

So, in my effort to be present in my children's lives so that I can savor every moment of their childhood until the first baby leaves for college in five years, I have also set an intention to extend that mindfulness to my own life. I am still going to be an Alpha Mom, as I believe there is a benefit to it too: I have made wonderful friendships, been inspired by incredible women and have witnessed my children and their peers benefit from my hard work. That said, I have to alleviate my symptoms by reducing the number of commitments in my life. I have already given up one position at my synagogue, and found a co-chair for an elementary school committee that is important to me, but that is a lot of work. I can't do anything to reduce the number of activities in my kids' schedules at this point, but I can find other Alpha Moms with whom to carpool, thus reducing my drive time and helping out a fellow Alpha. Hopefully, these small changes will leave me with some breathing room. And if I find some free time once my Alpha Mom Syndrome has cleared up, maybe I will explore my passions. Maybe I will find a new hobby. Or maybe I will just sit on the couch and do nothing... even if it's just for an hour.

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