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The Superman Complex

Have you ever heard of someone having a Superman/woman complex before? I think a lot of parents have it, and dare I say even more special needs parents do.

The Superman/woman complex is when someone feels it’s their responsibility to take on every problem, big or small no matter what the cost. People with this complex also have trouble trusting others to do the job “properly” - AKA: the precise way THEY want it done.

When we were younger, many of us played with superhero toys, watched the cartoons and even dressed up like them. We idolized strong and invincible heroes who came to the aid of innocent people in need. Fast forward to today and many of us try to fill the shoes (or capes) of superheroes in our own ways. We try to fix everything and rescue everyone around us. But it’s really not a healthy way to live.

At times I think I may struggle with this.

But then again I wonder if a lot of what I do is just done out of necessity. It’s a fine line and that is what I struggle with the most. See, with special needs kids there are a lot of times where you NEED to step in and solve the problem; where there IS only one way to do it, and there is no one around to help. So, am I playing “Superman” when I run over to Madison to change the content on her tablet to stop her from getting upset? Is it wrong that I try to control all the elements of an outing with Ethan and Liam to ensure minimal outbursts and meltdowns? Or should I take a step back and let it play out naturally?

The reason I think I might suffer from this a bit more than I’d care to admit is that I’m beginning to realize it’s not a sustainable form of parenting. I’m constantly exhausted because [ I feel ] everything is on my shoulders. If I weren’t here, it wouldn’t get done; and having that on my shoulders stresses me out.

After Ethan bolted on me a few weeks ago while I was out for a walk with the kids, so many thoughts crossed my mind. One of them was that I wondered what someone else would have done had they been in my situation. When I got back I asked Lisa what she would have done - and she gave me a horrified look and said “I wouldn’t have been able to do anything - it was a good thing YOU were with him”.

It’s not the only example I have of something in my life where I am the only one who can do the job; where 100% of the responsibility rests on my shoulders. And I know I’m not the only parent who feels this. I have friends - some of you reading this right now - who can relate. So again I ask, is this the Superman complex or is this just parenting out of necessity? What would happen if I took the day off?

As I try to further identify and make sense of this conundrum of mine, it provides a good time for me to dig deeper into this complex and apply little “fixes” to maybe ease up on some of the demands.

To start, I think if we all just slow down a bit and really ask ourselves if we are truly needed in the situation. Did anyone ask for help? Or are we just assuming there is a problem and there are people in need of help? We may feel compelled to help or to react, but with a little more awareness of this complex, it may save you from acting spontaneously and in the end taking on too much.

A big thing that I’m working on right now is trying to empower and teach my kids how to be successful in solving problems on their own, rather than running around trying to fix all of their problems for them. This reminds me of the saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Essentially I am trying to work myself out of a job. But isn’t that one of the ultimate goals of parenting? To ensure your kids are ready and capable of surviving on their own? Sure, I’ve still got a minimum of 13-15 years until they’re even of legal age to be on their own, but the process starts now!

Another thought I had is that a lot of people are far too rigid in accepting help. They want everything done a precise way, and no one else can get the job done the way THEY want it done. So they swoop in like an overworked superhero and take over.

Lisa and I do everything differently; right down to how we load the dishwasher and fold the bath towels. So, this is another big opportunity for me to take a step back, be grateful that I’m getting help, and to accept that some things like this don’t have to be done in a precise way.

Finally, if you have others around you, let someone else be the hero once in a while. Take some time to yourself. Now, I am the last person you should be taking advice from on this matter. I know deep down that this is needed, but the process for me to find the time and resources needed for “self-care” is ongoing and way more complicated than I ever imagined.

The truth is that I believe “self-care” (if you can even manage to get some) is not enough. For three years now I’ve been the stay-at-home parent and primary caregiver in our family and I have had just about everybody tell me that I need to prioritize “self-care”. But it’s not like a simple act of “self-care” is going to magically cure everything that is overwhelming us as parents and causing us to burn out.

There is no bath or soak in a hot tub that will calm all my stress, tension and anxiety. No annual weekend getaway will undo the constant isolation I feel being a rare stay-at-home Dad to three special needs' kids. No nap will ever revive the energy I constantly pour into my family and to keep my home running. No amount of alcohol will take away the pain or ease the symptoms of medical concerns I haven’t had time to see a doctor about.

A lot of parents are burnt out and society needs to start paying more attention. See, we’re being asked to nurture our kids in an environment that doesn’t nurture us back.

So, yeah… I’m burnt out.

Maybe it’s because I play Superman too much, but maybe it’s because parenting is hard and so much of what I do is done out of necessity just to meet the expectations that have been placed on me as a primary caregiver.

I’m burnt out because I haven’t slept through the night in over four years.

I’m burnt out because often all I have time to eat in a day is leftover veggie straws and goldfish crackers, and MY only meal doesn’t come until I find the time and energy to make it after the kids are all asleep (which is often not until midnight).

I’m burnt out because I have an army of doctors and therapists coming into my (preferably clean) house who need to be scheduled, paid, met with and directed.

I’m burnt out because after listening to Peppa Pig songs all day, playing Angry Birds and bottle flip, and setting up “the floor is lava” for the tenth time, I still have a partner who needs me and wants me to be available for her when she gets home from work.

I’m burnt out because the news and current events are exhausting and defeating at the best of times, let alone with all this nonsense occurring in 2020.

I’m burnt out because I don’t know how to raise my kids “the right way”. Each one of them is so drastically different and because of this, each of their teams of therapists feel they have a unique strategy to implement - which just leaves me overwhelmed trying to keep it all straight and manage it all.

I’m burnt out because every time I make a wise financial decision, I get blindsided with a huge unexpected bill, and no matter what I do I can’t find a way to dig myself out of debt.

I’m burnt out because I’m lonely and I miss my friends.

So yeah… I might have a bit of a Superman complex, and maybe some time to myself would be good. But if all it is, is that we’re parenting out of necessity, and we’re barely keeping our head above the water, then we just need to accept that we’re not doing it “wrong”, it’s just really hard.

I see myself as being incredibly resilient, for still being on my feet even after everything in life has tried to knock me down. And the secret to how I do it, is to simply focus on the now. Focus on what you’re doing at that precise moment in time. Don’t worry about what happened yesterday, you can’t change that. And don’t worry about tomorrow, because there is no telling what’s going to happen. Focus on today… right now.

And don’t be afraid to be authentic, even when you are authentically burnt out. Be honest about it. Be vulnerable. You’re not alone.

So, today I left my Superman cape behind. I got out. I took a break. I went to do something just for me. It may not solve any of my problems or improve my life drastically, but for a moment I wasn’t concerned about my kids or my family. For a moment I blocked out all the stress and anxiety of my day. For a moment it didn’t matter that the house was a mess, and dinner wasn’t made.

For a moment, I wasn’t trying to be Superman; because for a moment today…

I WAS Iron Man!


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