If you were a lucky child like me, you grew up with a Supermom. The Supermom has the self-control to push through career, homework help, cooking, cleaning, taxes, vacation planning, and so much more. Since Supermom makes it seem effortless, we don't think twice about asking her to do more and more. We think: it's no bother to her, right?
Recent research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests we might be over-burdening those in our lives who exhibit super self-control. Although the study did not specifically examine moms, lead author and Duke University researcher Christy Koval thinks that the implications "apply well to mothers who often exhibit high self-control."
Koval's work finds we misunderstand people with high self-control. "We tend to think people with high self-control don't find the tasks effortful or hard. In reality those with high self-control actually do find the tasks quite effortful, even draining."
Koval explains further, "Supermoms are amazing because they can persevere through the hard work. But the work itself is hard and can take a toll on them."
The study shows people do not realize how burdened the super others in their life feel. For instance, their research found that people in romantic relationships with super partners indicated that yes they thought their super partner sacrificed a lot for the relationship, but no they did not think the super partner felt very burdened by the sacrifices.
However, when Koval and colleagues asked these super people, they said that actually did feel more burdened than their partners thought. And not only did the super people feel more burdened, but they also felt less satisfied with their relationships, seemingly due to this burden.
So when we ask Supermom to do one more task, she might indeed be more likely to take it on and succeed. However, this does not mean the task will be painless for her.
"Most of us who pile work on our supermoms don't think we are burdening her or making her feel unappreciated. We love our moms deeply, but we need to realize our actions are not very loving," Koval concludes. "Supermoms are awesome at caring, but they need us to care back."
This Mother's Day and this year we should try saying, "I love you mom," with more than flowers and Hallmark Cards. Maybe we should all call our Supermom and let her know that if she needs help with work, family dinner, gardening, or vacation planning, she has support from the people who love her the most.
Koval and colleagues' research suggests Supermom could probably get it all done by herself, but she'll likely feel more loved and happier if she doesn't have to.
Troy Campbell is an assistant professor at the University of Oregon and a son who is very proud of his amazing Supermom.
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