A recent New York Times op-ed has brought to light an important topic that many mothers, at one time or another, have experienced.
In the op-ed, Casey Wilson, a mother of two, describes her experience of “motherhood imposter syndrome,” a term she uses to describe her constant worry and questioning of her parenting. Despite her struggle with motherhood imposter syndrome, Wilson learned to trust her mothering instincts after her intuition led to her son receiving a medical diagnosis.
Wilson is not alone in her struggle. Her article spurred other mothers to write in, sharing their own experience of motherhood imposter syndrome.
What does motherhood imposter syndrome look like?
Motherhood imposter syndrome can look a lot of different ways. Here are some common ways it shows up:
- Fearing others’ evaluation of your mothering.
- Thinking that if you can’t mother perfectly, you’ve failed.
- Noticing perceived failures as a mother, but not recognizing successes.
- Assuming that because you feel a certain way about your mothering, it must be true.
- Assigning negative labels to yourself like, “I’m a terrible mother” or “I can never do anything right as a mother.”
- Blaming yourself as a mother for something that wasn’t your fault. An example may be thinking, “My child wouldn’t have gotten this sick if I kept the house more clean.” Or catastrophizing — for example, thinking, “I didn’t read enough to my child as a baby, so now they’re having difficulty with it.”
- Using critical words like “should,” “must,” or “ought.” For example, “I must read to my child every night.”
- Not attributing any of your efforts or child’s success to your own positive qualities. For example, “Oh, they were just born smart.”
- Comparing your mothering to other mothers’ – including those who have more resources or support.
- Feeling afraid that others will find out what a terrible mother you are.
- Ruminating on the times you feel you failed or struggled as a mother rather than on the times you’ve done your best.
- Difficulty accepting praise for your mothering.
- Feeling as if you rarely engage in your role as a mother as well as you’d like to.
- Feeling triggered by constructive criticism regarding your parenting and taking this as evidence that you are not doing good enough as a mother.
While many mothers experience motherhood imposter syndrome at times, this type of chronic self-doubt may be indicative of postpartum depression and anxiety and require the help from medical and mental health providers.
It’s important to remember that, as mothers, we can trust ourselves and know that we are doing our best. We have to accept ourselves as human and acknowledge that we are bound to make mistakes but that doesn’t make us bad mothers.
It can be helpful to reflect daily on the things that you’ve felt positive about in regard to your mothering — being mindful not to let criticism or self-doubt creep in.
Too, we must be willing to surround ourselves by those who lift us up. A great way to air out any motherhood imposter syndrome is by having a validating support system — whether that be a caring partner, friends who understand the perils of parenthood, a mom support group, or talking with a therapist who can help you navigate the self-doubt and self-criticism you’re experiencing.
Wilson, C. Nov 4, 2019. Overcoming Motherhood Imposter Syndrome. Retrieved from https://parenting.nytimes.com/parent-life/casey-wilson-motherhood?action=click&module=recirc&rank=2 on December 5, 2019.
Blum, D. Nov 14, 2019. When Your Parenting Instincts Pay Off. Retrieved from https://parenting.nytimes.com/parent-life/imposter-syndrome?action=click&module=recirc&rank=2 on December 5, 2019.
Mayo Clinic. Postpartum Depression. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20376617 on December 5, 2019.
Jondle, J. What You Need to Know About Postpartum Anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/postpartum-anxiety on December 5, 2019.