Do you consider it awful to make a parenting error, to not be properly prepared or do everything perfectly?
Is constructive criticism regarding your parenting methods a trigger, viewed as evidence that you are not doing good enough?
Do you have a secret fear that you will be found out?
Despite love, time, support and effort, many parents suffer from deep self-doubt.
My extensive work with families has shown me that nearly every parent experiences bouts of self-doubt from time to time when it comes to parent decisions, e.g., “Was I too harsh? Not harsh enough?“ This is especially true when crossing a new parenting path, from potty-training to dealing with the start of homework to navigating the child’s friendships. But for the parent-imposter, these self-doubts are chronic.
A parent can feel self-doubt without experiencing the hidden shame that parent-impostors do. It’s also possible to doubt your parenting abilities without believing that your parenting successes are due to some sleight of hand, or that you are fooling others. A parent could imperfectly get a child potty-trained, off to their first day of school or administer a consequence in regards to a new troubling behavior, and then draw from this experience to feel more confident about handling it the next time. The impostor doesn’t think this way. Because no matter how well you planned, followed-through, or tried to encourage and teach, you always think you could have done better, or that you just had a stroke of “good luck,” or that “they did it all on their own,” with no real bump in confidence.
Researchers have found that many people who believe they are successful on paper nonetheless have high degrees of self-doubt. Inauthenticity and a difficulty with internalizing successes have led them to believe that they are “faking it.” There are many reasons why parents don’t think they measure up. Parents that get too caught in the “perfect trap” are prone to over or under react to a problem, often letting self-doubt creep in. For instance, they might respond to their child’s negative behavior by letting them off the hook too early, or working on a problem longer than needed.
To become more aware of parent-impostor thinking, look for stereotyping and self-defeating attitudes that can be reflected in speech, such as prefacing sentences with disclaimers like, “This may not be right, but…” and discounting accomplishments with, “Anyone could have done it,” “He/she did it all on their own,” or, “It wasn’t much.”
Other signs of parent-imposter beliefs include:
1. Engaging in black & white thinking. “I am either OKAY or incompetent.”
2. Not attributing any of their efforts or child’s successes to their own positive qualities. “I got lucky.” “He/She is just smart that way.” “It must be somewhere in the genes.”
3. Not internalizing their or their child’s achievements, and constantly raising the bar. “They are doing well in school – but others are doing a lot better.” “They have to be the best in order for me to be doing a good job.”
4. Focusing on where they could have done better, and over–focusing on the mistakes or omissions. Always failing to put attention to what went right.
5. Engaging in the “comparing game” and rating themselves less favorable to others that may have access to more resources and or means.
If you are plagued with parent imposter syndrome, there are things you can do to help. First, accept yourself as human. If you were a robot you would be perfect but still be lacking in warmth and affection. You can also keep a running list of “atta-parents” (a running list of positive parenting things that you have done over the course of a day to be reviewed on a daily basis). You can trade the idea of “comparing” (otherwise known as the “Facebook syndrome”) for the belief that: “Overall I do a good job, and that other parent does a good job as well. Though I will never really know what their family is like, I know we do the best we can.” You can dispute the critiques that come in with the “Yeah-buts,” and give yourself a fair shake by focusing on the positives that make the success, e.g., “Yes, it was a rough night, but I certainly didn’t allow myself to get triggered, and still showed that I am in charge.”
The parent-imposter syndrome 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.