Recently I came across a very profound article written by Saturday Night Live cast member Casey Wilson.
In it, she describes her experience with motherhood impostor syndrome. It’s just like impostor syndrome, but specific to mothers and the experience of motherhood.
During a struggle to find a diagnosis for her son, who was experiencing mood swings and lack of appetite, Casey realized that she wasn’t having the same parenting experience as other moms.
When she realized that her little one had stopped growing, she immediately internalized the cause and blamed herself for not feeding him nutritious meals and not breastfeeding long enough.
Because she had no other explanation for her son’s condition, she felt like a fraud. She felt as if, despite appearances, she couldn’t properly mother her child.
In the end, her son was diagnosed with celiac disease and she could feel her life moving forward again.
Her story has brought attention to an issue many mothers face on a daily basis – feeling like a phony even when they have the knowledge and experience to properly raise their children.
What is Motherhood Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome is the feeling of inadequacy that persists despite being successful. It occurs when someone who has experienced success or has knowledge and education still feels as if they are fake or phony.
This leads to chronic self-doubt and feeling like a fraud.
When it comes to being a mother and experiencing impostor syndrome, it is the belief that you are not a good enough parent even though people think you are and your children are being well taken care of.
Motherhood impostor syndrome is likely the reason that moms feel guilty ALL THE TIME. Nowadays, it’s an accepted part of being a mother.
We are expected to accept these feelings of guilt as a normal part of motherhood – and if we don’t feel guilty, we wonder what’s wrong and then feel guilty anyway.
It’s a vicious cycle.
Why Do Mothers Feel Guilty All of the Time?
As mothers, we have a superbly innate ability to question everything we do.
Am I doing it right?
Is everything going according to plan?
This generally stems from the enormous expectations forced upon us by society, media, family, and friends. If our mom life doesn’t look like an Instagram account, we must be doing something wrong.
And if we’re doing something wrong, we must not be good enough.
We are shown on a regular basis what mothers “should do” and are presented with unreasonable expectations of happiness.
I’m sure you’ve been bombarded with these sorts of expectations:
- Your baby needs to breastfeed or else they will not get the proper nutrients to be healthy.
- You should be happy to have a baby, not depressed.
- You need to be enthusiastic and cheerful around your child at all times.
- You can’t discipline your children or they will grow to be maladjusted.
- If you’re a stay-at-home mom, you should have a perfect home.
- If you’re a working mom, you’re spending too much time away from your children.
It’s hard to feel confident as a mother when you have so many sources telling you how to “do it right”.
Signs of Motherhood Impostor Syndrome
Motherhood impostor syndrome involves so much more than guilt (although that is a big part of it). It also manifests as self-blame and shame as well as constantly comparing yourself to other mothers.
Here are 7 signs that you may be experiencing motherhood impostor syndrome:
1. You fear that people will judge your parenting.
You are paranoid that other people, especially other mothers, will overtly or silently judge your parenting skills. You are reluctant to bring your child out in public or to social events.
I know we’ve all had those moments where our children have embarrassed the hell out of us in public, but there’s a difference between feeling embarrassed and feeling shame.
Shame occurs when we internalize guilt and turn negative feelings toward ourselves. So when our child acts slightly outside what we think other mothers consider “normal”, we feel shameful about our parenting skills and we assume that we are being judged.
2. You Believe that if you are not perfect, you are failing.
Somewhere, somehow, a standard was established for mothers that determined what “perfect” parenting looked like.
You feel like if you’re not achieving this perfection then you are failing as a mother.
And the more you strive for this perfection, the more you feel like a fake – but this is because motherhood perfection does not exist and anyone claiming to have achieved is, well, a fake.
3. You assign negative labels to yourself.
“I’m a terrible mother.”
How many times have you told yourself this?
As soon as your child behaves in a way that defies your idea of “perfect mothering”, it must be your fault. Therefore, you label yourself negatively.
Or you define yourself based on mistakes you’ve made as a mother.
4. You have negative thought patterns.
Also known as “thought distortions”, negative thought patterns are unfounded thoughts that pop up despite no real evidence.
For example, you may catastrophize stressful events by blowing them way out of proportion. You view a typical grocery store meltdown as an explosive and dramatic display – assuming that everyone was staring at your screaming child and assuming that you are a bad mom.
Or you place high expectations upon yourself, thinking that things should be a certain way or else you are failing. For instance, you should be able to control your child’s behavior at the grocery and, if you can’t, you are a failure.
5. You compare yourself to other mothers, either in real life or on social media.
It’s almost impossible to avoid comparing yourself with other mothers, especially since so many of them display their “perfect lives” to the world through social media.
You look at their children and wonder why your children are not like them. You blame yourself for not raising them properly.
Or perhaps you see how other mothers buy fancy clothes and toys for their little ones and you attribute your lack of resources to bad parenting.
6. You are afraid that other people will find out you are “a terrible mom”.
On the flip side of that, maybe you are the mom who puts on airs of having a perfect life to everyone else because you are so scared that people will find out the truth – that your life is not perfect.
You overcompensate on the way you portray yourself and your family to the world. You make great efforts to draw attention to the happy moments in your life in order to distract from the reality of parenting.
It’s almost as if you wear a mask to hide that you’re a “fake”.
7. You have difficulty accepting praise for your mothering skills.
Whenever someone offers praise and positive feedback regarding your mothering skills, you dismiss the compliment and portray yourself as a bad mom.
It might go something like:
“Wow, your little girl is so sweet and polite. You are an amazing mom!”
“Haha, I wish I was amazing when I have to fight for her to get to bed at a decent time.”
Because you feel like a fraud, you don’t want to accept statements that validate the “falseness” you feel about being a good mother.
How to Overcome Motherhood Impostor Syndrome:
Motherhood impostor syndrome does not have to be a default experience for mothers. You can definitely overcome the guilt and shame associated with this issue.
Here are some ways to overcome motherhood impostor syndrome:
Explore an Underlying Cause
It may be more than just a shitty society causing you to experience motherhood impostor syndrome.
You could be struggling with a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety.
Postpartum depression is notorious for bringing about feelings of fear and doubt. It can make adjusting to having a baby to take care of difficult – it tells you that you are not ready or good enough to be a mother.
See if any of these symptoms seem familiar:
- Persistent low mood.
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities.
- Strong feelings of guilt or worthlessness.
- Lack of energy and motivation.
- Social withdrawal.
- Memory problems.
- Changes in appetite.
- Overwhelming anxiety.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, speak to your health care professional.
Let Go Of Perfectionism – Embrace “Good Enough”
Brené Brown, one of my favorite human beings on this planet, focuses her career on shame and guilt but she also speaks about the issue with perfectionism as well.
In her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” she says the following:
“Perfectionism is not the same thing has striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”
Perfectionism is a sham and an unnecessary burden that you, as a mother, do not need to bear.
Nobody is perfect, so trying to be perfect is a waste of time.
But you know what you should strive to be? Good enough.
Your children will thrive on “good enough”. They rely on your emotional support more than anything else you can provide for them.
Avoid Social Media
Easier said than done, I know. However, avoiding social media will help you stop living in comparison to other moms and focus on how awesome you are as a mother.
Be especially wary of mom groups on Facebook – while they seem like a wealth of information, they can cause you to lose confidence in your mothering skills. If you are constantly seeking advice on how to care for and raise your children, you are suppressing your natural motherly instincts.
After a while, you aren’t able to make decisions as a mother without online validation. Best just to avoid this altogether.
Find Your Tribe
That’s not to say that you should never seek help or advice. You just need to find a group of people you can trust and lean on for support.
Having the right tribe of non-judgmental mamas will help boost your confidence in the parenting skills you already possess.
They say that the quality of our lives depends on the quality of the relationships we keep. So focus your time and energy on people in your life that lift you up and make you feel strong and self-confident.
Feeling Like a Phony?
I hate to say that it’s a common feeling, but it really is.
We need to start portraying motherhood for what it really is – the good, the bad, and the ugly. We need to start talking about the realities of mom overwhelm and the negative feelings that accompany parenthood.
Because the more real we are about it, the more supportive we can of each other – and the more support we give, the more we can dispel the experience of motherhood impostor syndrome.
Ever felt like a mom fraud? How did you break out of this experience? Let us know in the comments below!