Have you ever felt like a fraud? Like an impostor trying to do something you have no business attempting? Or an unqualified poser just faking it?
Here are some times when I have felt less than confident in my abilities. The first time I taught a class on my own. Presenting and publishing my first academic journal article. When I wrote my first (second, fortieth) blog post. That time I had the audacity to start a podcast. Each instance felt totally scary and above my pay grade.
Especially that time when the nurses handed me a newborn baby. And the next time when they handed me two newborn babies.
I’ve never felt less qualified to do anything than I have felt to be a mother.
I am just not one of those people who is confident that she was made to be a mother. I think maybe I was made to make cookies, watch easy TV, do yoga, and write.
Despite surviving trials and tribulations over the past 8 years, I often still wonder what in the world I am doing playing the role of the mom. And moreover why the heck I feel like I can write and talk about motherhood when I feel like I am just faking it until I am (maybe, one day) making it.
Impostor syndrome is a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
The Mom Guilt
I think this impostor syndrome (or Mom-postor if you will) is the second side of the same coin as another big brain racker-Mom Guilt.
Recently, my cohost and I tackled the issue of Mom Guilt on our podcast, and listeners responded. It was clear that we were not the only ones feeling like we were constantly doing something wrong in our motherhood journeys.
Left unchecked, that Mom Guilt can run rampant. It take over and becomes a constant battering ram. The image that resonated with me while researching for that episode was what psychologists nicknamed the “Dobby effect.” Harry Potter fans know Dobby as the self-punishing house elf who was quick to blame himself for the smallest slip up. And then take it very personally.
I’ve been taking the mom guilt stuff and this impostor stuff to heart. Some days, I find myself right back in the place I was when the nurses handed me my newborns and gave me a look that said, “Good Luck!”
The only thoughts in my head then were, “really? why do you think I am qualified to take care of this thing? When is the real parent going to show up?”
My thoughts now are often still, “what am I supposed to do now?” And, “I have no idea what I am doing.”
Will the Real Mom please stand up?
I am not sure if there was a mom episode of to “To Tell the Truth”* that the celebrity guests would pick me as the “real mom.” I volunteer at the schools, pack lunches, give hugs, and do all of the “things” But at the end of the day I don’t feel like a “real” mom.
Because at the end of the day I still feel unqualified to do this job.
But then I look back.
To when I brought my oldest son home I was completely unprepared, but I did it anyways.
Which makes me think that someday I will look back in disbelief at all I managed when I felt completely inept.
I think that is just how it works.
Like high school calculus. I don’t know how I ever did it, but I did.
For now I am satisfied that someday I will reflect on what I did when I thought I couldn’t do anything.
And if I can encourage other moms to have the same thoughts, that is a bonus.
What I (and maybe you) need to realize
When I start to think that maybe I have no place to have a life built around being a mom, talking about motherhood, and writing about mothering, I fall back on one thing.
My willingness to admit I have no idea what I am doing, but that I am trying really hard encompasses an important life lesson I want my kids to learn
- Humans are not perfect
- We cannot beat ourselves up for not knowing the things we do not yet learn
- All of us are trying, failing, and getting up again
To me, this is a quintessential human experience, and I want my kids to have a front row seat at my failures, insecurities, confident moments, and triumphs.
I want to let other moms know that when when their kids are refusing to eat or do homework, are jumping off the piano and using terrible language they are not alone. And moreover, if they are unsure about motherhood or they feel like a fraud, I’m with them.
And to promise that even when we are scared, confused, unsure, and ready to throw in the towel we all are the real thing.
*“To Tell the Truth” is a long running television game show. Three contestants, two imposters and one “non-imposter” would try to convince celebrity guests that they each are an olympian/beekeeper/mortician/etc. At the end of the show, the host asked the “real” contestant to please stand up.