Conversations: How Do You Handle Parenting Imposter Syndrome?
Parents gather in all kinds of communities to talk about things that matter most to them. Here, three moms discuss the widespread parenting anxiety of feeling like a fraud.
I’ve heard people use the term “Imposter Syndrome” at work but when we use it for parenting, it seems to be more about pride vs humility than anything else. I don’t know, maybe I can appear to be doing a decent job as a mom to the outside world, but inside I don’t always feel like it, so maybe insecurity is a part of it too. I think everyone has something they’re naturally good at in their parenting, and so that’s what I focus on.
Maybe the first step is deciding what things you want to do well. You choose some things because you enjoy them, others because it just seems really critical for your kids. But picking your battles is for sure the only way to stay sane. And trying to figure out that mix is an ongoing process. Just when I think I’ve got it covered, this new baby comes along and she needs something entirely different from me than my other kids. I suddenly need to develop new competencies just to keep up this idea of what it means to be a good mom.
I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this term Imposter Syndrome because everyone in this room knows I just call it as is. I don’t edit much or have my guard up. But, I don’t know, maybe in a different mix of people I might. I guess that’s what’s important about having a circle of friends like this–where you can be totally candid. That’s how I feel around you guys. It feels good to be in a setting where I can be honest about feeling less than perfect—even if I’m wrong and I am perfect (laughter).
I knew pretty early on how hard it would be to become a perfect mom. I had to get shots every day of my pregnancy because my baby and I had incompatible blood types, so I had pretty much already run the gauntlet before I even gave birth. By the time I became a mom it was already clear that this is about doing your best, and being exhausted and feeling great, all at the same time. We’ll never have it all nailed down. And who does?
We also realize that there are other people in our lives who can take on some of our workload. My husband, mom, siblings…they don’t judge me, they just try to add something. Honestly, if someone is close enough to you and your kids to judge, they are close enough to help. I managed to enlist my unmarried brother to look after my kids for a long weekend away and he totally delivered. He also didn’t let me feel like a bad mom, or an imposter—and I didn’t let me either. We all survived the long weekend, including my older kids who totally rallied to help with their youngest sister. They got to flex muscles they didn’t know they had, and I got to actually rest mine. Honestly, I was shocked when I first found out just how much work it is to have kids. So-much-work. I guess that explains why everyone keeps that part secret.
Yehhhh, they don’t tell you until it’s too late! But if I’m being real, I actually wasn’t so surprised about how hard motherhood is. My mom made it look hard. And, I mean, she was all in—really involved with us. But she did not front. She didn’t try to make it look easy. She could be frustrated and short-tempered and tell us exactly what was on her mind, and when I had my own kids I was like help! And she was like—nope; I’m done. These four are on you! And now I think back on how I was as a teenager and I’m terrified about raising four mini me’s. So maybe I front just a little. I think I’m trying to appear more pulled together to my boys than my mom was to me. So: Imposter Syndrome it is. I’ll own that.
I have a parenting style that’s similar to my mom, but very different from my mother-in-law. She’s very organized and meticulous and I’m much more casual. But it seems to work for our little family. My goal isn’t to become a totally different mom than I am naturally. But I do think my goal is to sell it better—my version of motherhood. As long as my mother-in-law knows I understand and appreciate her style, it gets easier for her to look at my way of parenting and be OK with it. And I have to admit, my husband was incredibly well-trained by her—I think he had changed more diapers than I did by the time our daughter was born last year.
You made me think of something. There is possibly too much attention spent on doing things perfectly and not enough time on how to fix things when they don’t go according to plan. Maybe that sets us all up for disappointment. Maybe that’s why so many of us feel Imposter Syndrome and just anxiety about parenting in general. I still remember the day when my kids were sitting with me during a lecture and my toddler starts wandering around and visiting people in the rows near me. When she approached this one man he started looking around really obviously for her mom…like: lady, come get your kid. Please stand up so the entire audience can see you come get your kid—who, of course, will only be off sprinting again 30 seconds later. At that same lecture I saw the mother of a friend of mine roll her eyes at her daughter for letting her granddaughter wander as well. So this guilt comes from the people closest to us and from perfect strangers. The trigger is people expecting a perfect public façade when I don’t think one is needed.
I think this is what is needed (looks around the room smirking). And this is what we’ve got!