Feeling like a fake - Dealing with parent Impostor Syndrome
If you ever worry that you don't know what you're doing when it comes to parenting, you're far from being alone. Olivia Willis advises on coping with Impostor Syndrome
Despite all the love you give, the time you spend, the support and efforts that you make, many parents suffer from deep self-doubt when it comes to parenting.
Do you worry about making parenting errors or not being properly prepared? Does it grate on you if you're not doing things perfectly? Is criticism (constructive or otherwise) regarding your parenting methods a trigger for you, viewing it as substantiation that you are doing the parenting thing wrong? Do you have a secret fear that you will be found out?
Since launching www.familyfriendlyhq.ie I've discovered from conversing with parents that so many of us experience bouts of self-doubt from time to time when it comes to parenting. 'Was I too tough on him/her? Not tough enough?'… and when it comes to navigating a new parenting milestone - like potty-training, starting 'big school' or their first sleepover - it can be a minefield. But for the 'Parent Impostor', the parenting self-doubt can really take over.
To some extent we are all impostors. We play roles on the stage of life, presenting a public self that differs from the private self we share with those who are close to us, and we morph between both selves as circumstances demand. Displaying a facade is part of the human condition. Indeed, one reason the feeling of being an impostor is so widespread is that society places enormous pressure on people to stifle their real selves. The same goes for parenting.
Parents can feel a hidden shame for the façade they perform. Some even doubt their parenting abilities, believing that they had whatever parenting successes they experienced by accident.
Although some parents can imperfectly get a child potty-trained, packed off to their first day of school or discipline troubling behaviour and then emerge from this experience to feel more confident about handling it the next time, the Parent Impostor doesn't think this way. No matter how much they prepared and planned and followed-through, they always think they could have done better, or that they just had a strike of good luck and their little win has no real positive impact in their parenting confidence.
There are some parents that have high degrees of parenting success, but nonetheless, have equally high degrees of self-doubt. They believe that they are 'faking it' and have a real inability to internalise their successes as parents.
When a child displays negative behaviour, they can let the child off the hook too early or let a problem continue on for longer than necessary. They can sometimes over or under react to a problem because self-doubt has crept in. They can display self-defeating attitudes through how they talk, such as beginning sentences with 'disclaimers'. For example 'This may not be the right way to do it, but…' or discounting their parenting accomplishments with phrases like 'Ah sure, anyone could have done it,' or 'Johnny did it all on his own' or 'It wasn't a big deal' when it was a big deal.
Parenting is really hard work. In fact, it's the hardest job of all because it's just so important! We place enormous pressure on ourselves (and others) to always get it right.
Eight years ago, I became a mum for the first time and I have been singing the 'I-Think-I-Can' song ever since. Sure, I've often had days where I am like 'What am I doing? I don't know what I am doing as a mother. I'm out of ideas. My children are doomed. And I'm not even 40. Now what?' But let me let you in on a little secret: that's normal. There is no way to be the perfect parent. There is no manual to follow, it doesn't exist
When I was pregnant, I thought that some magic hormone would triumphantly show up in my system and turn me into the picture- perfect mum that existed in my imagination. A Disney-type mum with a firm visage and gentle smile, always ready to tackle the conflicts of life with a freshly baked cake.
This was the mum I believed I would be once my bundle arrived. I was going to be "the perfect mother".
But I'm not. None of us are. We never received that ethereal hormone, or the instruction manual... and I hardly ever bake.
'Impostor Syndrome' is an unwanted parenting vehicle. It gives you the absurd idea that you are a fraud. All of the decisions you have made for your family are wrong: bottle instead of breast? Organic versus jar? Are you up to date with your kids' vaccinations? How is your marriage?
It makes you believe that the perfect parent can't have a tattoo or think that iPads and Netflix are the best thing ever. It creates an expectation none of us can't meet. It fosters this ridiculous idea that there is 'something' all parents should become, and that anything less will have catastrophic effects on their children, their families, and themselves.
I asked someone recently to give me an example of the perfect mother. The answer was "Mary Poppins". Ironic, because Mary Poppins wasn't the mother. She was the nanny and when her shift was over, she popped that magic umbrella up and flew away with Dick Van Dyke.
At the end of the movie, it was Mrs Banks, the mum, holding her children's hands as they walked home from their day's adventure - she was the one who got them into their pyjamas and tucked them into bed.
Just like I do. Just like you do. So it got me thinking: I am the mother I had actually always wanted to be. I am my children's mother. It's not easy. I'm not perfect, but none of us are.
Being a Parent Impostor can impede your ability to enjoy being a parent to the fullest. Working at it will help you feel more empowered and enjoy your family even more
■ Firstly, accept that you are only human and that all humans make mistakes and errors in judgment. You are not a machine because you have wonderful qualities such as warmth and affection.
■ Keep a positivity diary. A running list of great parenting things that you have done over the week. Then, at the end of the week, make yourself a cuppa or pour yourself a glass of wine and celebrate your successes that week.
■ Stop comparing yourself with other parents, or as my friend likes to call it "fakebook syndrome". Stop beating yourself up over all of those pictures and posts of other parents on social media. Believe that, overall, you do a good job as a parent, and they do a good job as well - but you're both different, and sure, isn't that what makes the world go around. You will never really know what that other family is really like, so just know that you do the best you can for your family.
■ Stop with all the "yeah, buts" and give yourself a break. Concentrate on the positives in your family life. For example, say, 'Yes it was a rough day, but I am certainly not allowing myself to get disheartened. Tomorrow is a new day and I'll be in charge.'
■ Parenting is not black and white. There are no professional or incompetents when it comes to this job. Trust that every day, a parent struggles with something or other. They may be different struggles, and some bigger than others, but they are still their struggles none the less.
■ Open your eyes and quit the tunnel-vision approach. Stop focusing on what you could have done better, or over focus on your mistakes or omissions. Pay attention to what went right and try and instil this in your kids too.
■ Money has nothing to do with parenting. Just because some have access to more resources and or means, doesn't mean they are a better parent, so stop trying to measure up.