It’s a tale as old as time. You’re living the mom life, enjoying your family, when out of nowhere something sets you off and you respond in a not-so-perfect way. Barely a second later, you’re riddled with all kinds of negative thoughts towards yourself and your ability to parent. At some point, those negative thoughts spiral into believing you’re no good at being a mom, or that someone else would do a better job than you. That, my friend, is what Imposter Syndrome sounds like for a mom.
The first time I heard of Imposter Syndrome was when I first started The Overcoming Mom, and I only heard it when it came to starting a business. Most of the advice I found was centered around building up your confidence and essentially “silencing the haters.”
Though all of that advice is valid and great, our biggest haters as parents are ourselves.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
According to the Harvard Business Review, Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. Often we experience these feelings when it comes to career or education. The truth, though, is that we can experience imposter syndrome in just about any part of our life!
I’m sure imposter syndrome has existed for all of eternity, but the rise of social media has only made it worse. Instead of constant comparison with only your social circle or people on TV, you can compare yourself to any mom who wanders by your feed from anywhere in the world!
How can imposter syndrome appear in motherhood?
Have you ever had the thought that your child deserves better than you? Perhaps you’ve found yourself comparing yourself to another mom who seemingly had it all together, and wondered if you’d ever be able to live up to that standard of motherhood. Maybe your child had hundreds of tantrums, or a bad day at school, and you spent the evening wondering if you did anything right in raising your kids.
All of those moments would leave anyone feeling inadequate, worthless, dare I say…like an imposter.
Like anyone experiencing imposter syndrome, such a struggle could immobilize anyone’s ability to grow in life. When moms find themselves feeling like imposters in raising their families, it could lead to burnout, depression, detachment, and running to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
So how do we make the imposter flee, and feel like the capable parent we were meant to be again?
1- Spot the warning signs
Imposter Syndrome tends to follow a classical pattern of self deprecating thoughts. When something bad happens, our thoughts tend to follow a pattern. Think about if you’ve ever thought these or something similar:
- “I’m not a good mom.”
- “Someone else could do a better job than me.”
- “My child doesn’t love me/My child deserves better than me.”
- “If only I could do as good of a job as _______.”
- “If my child could just do ______, I’d feel like a better parent.”
Now think about what happened BEFORE those thoughts? Did your child do something you didn’t want them to do? Did they have a negative reaction to something? Were you having a bad day, and said something you regret? Maybe someone made a negative comment towards you or your family? What you’ll probably discover is that when everything is going your way, you don’t feel like an imposter! But the minute things don’t go perfectly, BAM you feel like a fraud!
Spotting the patterns will make any other work you do at ending imposter syndrome much simpler.
2- Replace And Renew Your Negative Self Talk
One of my favorite Bible verses is Romans 12:2, the first half says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
We all fall victim to negative and imposter-like thought patterns. The truth is, you’re probably never going to stop having the imposter thoughts. Instead of making a feeble attempt of stopping the thoughts, you need to replace and renew them with the truth.
Take note of the negative imposter-like thoughts you have, and practice replacing them with the truth. This doesn’t mean you replace them with some pollyanna positive thought that feels fake to you, but replace it with a neutral, growth-mindset like thought. Let me give you some examples.
If you’ve had a history of thinking negatively about yourself, doing this practice can be challenging. To some extent, it could feel like you’re lying to yourself. If you’re finding yourself struggling with this, remember these universal truths:
- Everyone makes mistakes, but you can grow from them.
- You are the best parent for your child.
- Other people are good at what they do, and you are too.
3- Don’t aim for perfect, aim for growth
Back in my teaching days, I spent a lot of time studying the differences between having a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. To put it simply, a fixed mindset is the belief that you are who you are, and you will never improve. A growth mindset is the belief that you can improve and learn from everyday shortcomings. Often in motherhood, and life in general, we find ourselves falling into the pattern of a fixed mindset. The problem with that is if we believe we can’t become better, then we will always try to be perfect.
You are absolutely going to make mistakes in all parts of your life, especially parenthood. If you are living parenthood with a fixed mindset, you’ll find yourself striving for perfection and failing every time. Changing the way you think by challenging your perfectionistic thoughts, and exchanging them for growth thoughts, you’ll be more likely to give yourself grace in difficult times and therefore actually improve in what you come up short in.
For example, if you are struggling with yelling at your kids, thinking with a fixed mindset might sound like, “all I do is yell. I’m such a mean mom.” You could aim for perfection by saying you’ll never yell at your kids again, but more than likely fall on your face because aiming for perfect is always a trap.
Instead of saying something like “I’ll never yell again,” consider something that aims for growth such as, “I was short with my kids this time, next time I’ll be more mindful of my needs and think before I speak.” This changes the mood from aiming for perfection to aiming for growth.
4- Stop comparing your reality to someone else’s highlight reel
Comparison has always existed, but social media makes a longtime problem so much more prevalent. Seeing the latest expert share their “foolproof” tips on fixing this issue and that can be helpful to some and crippling to others.
When I first had my son, I started following ALL of the Instagram baby experts. I read their words with almost as much voracity as I would God’s own word. Within what felt like no time, I was so anxious. I was comparing every single thing I did to their sage advice, and feeling like a complete failure. I even told my husband, ” why is it that they can do it all so well, but I’m failing miserably?”
I was literally comparing my real, tangible life to their perfectly curated pages. Of course I’d feel like a failure if I was comparing myself to something that isn’t sharing all of the seedy underbelly of actual parenting! Who wouldn’t?
Next time you find yourself feeling like an imposter, check how much influencers are influencing your reality. Are you treating a perfectly curated Instagram page as your model of success? I’m not saying they don’t potentially offer useful advice (heck I’m technically one of them), but I am saying that you must discern their curated business model to reality. They’re not going to share all of their failures with you, just the ones that drive business.
I’m not saying unfollow all parenting influencers, but I am saying that if there are some who make you feel inferior, cut them off. Advice can be found anywhere, but if it comes at the expense of your sanity, it’s not worth it. That even includes advice from me.
This doesn’t just apply to our social media influences. Are you comparing your parenting to a friend or family member or yours? Is their seemingly “perfect” motherhood making you feel inferior? I’m not saying you need to drop them like a hot potato, but take some time and assess whether they are really sharing all the details of their life. Are you seeing their highlight reel, or are you getting the uncut version of their life?
From “Imposter” to “Improving”
In today’s social media age, it’s almost impossible to not compare your parenting abilities to someone else. Whether that’s a family member or a friend, or some unknown influencer, parenting often feels like a competition. In this mythical contest, the winner is crowned “parent of the year,” while the rest of us just try to live up to their supposed standard.
The truth is that there is no award for being the best, and the best doesn’t really exist. As parents we’re all trying our best to do right to our families, which inevitably leads to many mistakes. At some point, we’re all going to question our actual abilities to be good parents. When those moments come, we can either allow the hands of imposter syndrome to suffocate the life out of you, or you can accept that we can always improve.
Allow the challenges of motherhood to grow you, not keep you stuck in the “I suck as a mom” hole we dig ourselves far too often. Because the truth is that there is not perfect parent that we have to aspire to be, there’s only the perfect sides we’re showing the world. When we remember that, we liberate ourselves from those unrealistic expectations, and we begin to accept that we’re not going to nail it all the time, but we’re always allowed to improve.