Becoming a parent can be an exciting but terrifying experience, as it comes with the realization that someone put you in charge of another human being. In this Motherly article, Mindpath Health’s Kiana Shelton, LCSW, explains motherhood imposter syndrome and how to recognize it.
Maybe you read every baby book and parenting know-how you could get your hands on. Or maybe you thought you’d rely on that maternal instinct to kick in after birth (but maybe it never did).
It can seem impossible to ever feel truly ready for the responsibilities that come with parenthood, but it’s the mentality that you’re not a good enough mother that’s at the core of what experts call ‘motherhood imposter syndrome.’ This common but rarely discussed phenomenon can cause you to spiral into self-doubt over your parenting skills, and once you develop these negative thoughts, it’s hard to dispel them.
What is motherhood imposter syndrome?
Motherhood imposter syndrome is the belief that no matter what you do, you’ll never be a good enough caretaker. People with this condition tend to perceive themselves as unworthy and inadequate, says Sabrina Romanoff, PhD, who specializes in life transitions.
Signs of motherhood imposter syndrome
While there is no such thing as a perfect parent, those with this condition have persistent feelings of doubt and inadequacy in parenting. These can manifest in different ways, including:
- Excessive negative self-talk
- Difficulty asking for help
- Feeling like a failure
- Frequent upward social comparison
- Minimizing accomplishments
- Constant anxiety about being judged
People with motherhood imposter syndrome often have low confidence in their ability to parent, despite their skills, efforts and past experience with parenting. Dr. Romanoff says these women experience guilt about being an inferior mother to their children.
A severe lack of confidence in your mothering ability can spiral into more self-destructive tendencies if not addressed. Dora Kamau, a mindfulness and meditation teacher for Headspace, says the self-doubt can progress into an irrational fear of the future, isolation from others, and difficulties returning to work after maternity leave.
Imposter syndrome sometimes happens when you face a new or difficult challenge, and being a mother is no exception.
Kiana Shelton, LCSW, a therapist at Mindpath Health, says the condition can occur regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or how much support you might have in your network. However, she says mothers who identify as high-achieving or introverted are likelier than others to experience motherhood imposter syndrome.
Dr. Romanoff says this perception is common among first-time mothers, women who have not been exposed to the realities of motherhood, and instead have more idealized expectations for what the experience will be like.
Even if you did not have motherhood imposter syndrome initially, it could set in later on. You might compare your parenting habits to other mothers in your community or on social media who seem to have the most perfect children or appear like “supermoms.”
Effects on children
Kids see and copy their parents’ behavior and attitudes to learn how to act. Your relationship with yourself is one of many models for how your child views how they should treat you and themselves. And while nearly all parents experience self-doubt, Dr. Romanoff says exhibiting constant fear and anxiety can affect how children perceive their well-being.
Overcoming motherhood imposter syndrome
The first step to dealing with motherhood imposter syndrome is recognizing the signs. Once you identify the self-doubt, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings. Shelton recommends finding a safe space to process your thoughts, whether with another mom you trust or a therapist. Use your support network to remind you to celebrate your accomplishments, even if you don’t initially feel like it. You can start small by listing three good things you did every night before sleeping. Doing so will help build the confidence to recognize your strengths and create a healthier mindset.
Another hurdle to overcome is the act of comparing yourself to others. One way to put an end to this negative habit is to unfollow people on social media you constantly compare yourself with to avoid triggering self-doubt.
Above all, remember that you are the mother your child needs. Also work to recognize that no one’s perfect, and we’re all just doing the best we can—day in, day out.