“I felt like an imposter” – how I learnt to embrace realistic parenting
My First Five Years wasn’t around for my first three children, but I’m loving using it for our three-year-old. I can’t tell you how many ‘If only I’d known that then’ moments I’ve had. As you’ll read, my discovery of realistic parenting has been, well, let’s say gradual, and in lots of ways accidental...
I felt like it should come naturally but this tiny human being didn’t do anything according to the books
After having our first baby, my confidence plummeted. I remember my first night spent in hospital staring into a small plastic box feeling so unbelievably in love but so unbelievably out of my depth. I felt like it should come naturally but this tiny human being didn’t do anything according to the books I’d vaguely flicked through while pregnant. She didn’t follow any of the set routines I’d imagined while planning my harmonious maternity leave two weeks earlier in the office; she didn’t sleep no matter how many times I came up with new solutions, and she definitely didn’t do what they’d described in my antenatal classes.
Surely a better mother than me would automatically know what to do
I filled my notebooks with musings on sleep regression and talked endlessly to my husband about every detail, from the colour of her poo to whether I was winding her correctly. I realise in hindsight that it was control I was craving, control over my world that had suddenly become completely and totally out of control. That, and also, for someone to tell me that I was doing it right. I felt like an absolute fraud, like I was making things up as I went along, which I was! Surely a better mother than me would automatically know what to do, pull out the answers from some sort of innate well of maternal wisdom. My parenting never felt good enough and, try as I might to fake it, the voice in my head would call me out. My well was running dry.
I felt like I had failed the entrance exam and was about to be found out
I’d heard of imposter syndrome before but mostly in work situations. Clinical psychologists Dr Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes first defined the concept in 1978 as “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness,” which basically means that you feel like a bit of a fake, especially when related to things that we care about. I definitely felt like an imposter, like I had failed the entrance exam and was about to be found out, and then would mess up the most important job in the entire world.
It can still be a challenge to avoid comparison
I’ve since discovered that most parents feel a bit like this when they have a baby, after all, the change is huge. Not to mention that parenting is a widely discussed subject and there are plenty of opinions on which way is best. Social media can be quite the double-edged sword, providing genuine support one minute before displaying endless images of perfect-looking homes the next. And even with the rise of more honest parenting blogs and accounts that are wonderfully reassuring, it can still be a constant challenge to avoid comparison. When you’re crazily tired and doing something entirely new (so the learning curve is steep) it doesn’t take much to bring on the doubt.
The constant trawling and searching for answers can be overwhelming
Then there’s the challenge of competitive parenting. “Have you seen that Thomas is crawling already? Is yours still just doing that bum-shuffle?” you’re asked, probably from a place of kindness but it doesn’t stop you making a mental note to Google how old your child should be when they start moving. There are some great websites providing advice but plenty that are fairly generic and even the constant trawling and searching for answers can be overwhelming. Personally, when on my phone at 3am, I didn’t always check the qualifications of websites that claimed they could guarantee my baby would sleep through for the great value price of $49 (it didn’t work, but then you probably guessed that).
You realise that phases do indeed pass
And I don’t think this is purely a problem for first-time parents. All children are different. You realise just how much you didn’t ‘cause’ your first child’s fussy eating when your second wolfs down everything and anything, which is both a relief and also a challenge because you have to start learning all over again. Some things are a bit easier of course, you realise that phases do indeed pass, that no one minds if you rip off bits of baguette while walking around the supermarket and the imposter syndrome did lessen for me. Gradually, I settled into the new name I’d been given (once I’d stopped complaining about the fact no-one remembers your actual name) and found some semblance of normality again. But you’re also that bit more tired, with less time on your hands, four children in and the question of feeling ‘good enough’ still comes up for me, though perhaps less regularly.
I try to judge myself on whether I tried my best, because that is all we can ever do
There are some things that have definitely helped me to keep these feelings in check:
- I consider my life on social media as an extension of my life in person. By that I mean, the influencer who makes you feel uncomfortable every time you see her feed, stop seeing it. Unfollow. Switch off. I ask myself regularly, “Is this making me feel good?” The ones that make you laugh out loud, spend more time with them. And always remember, most people edit even the most authentic-looking ‘bad days’ before they post them on social media.
- I remember that every single child is unique, just as every single parent is unique, just as every single situation is unique. Comparison really is the thief of joy and a fruitless, painful exercise.
- I try to judge myself on whether I tried my best, because that is all we can ever do. It’s beans on toast for tea again, no one has clean socks, I forgot my Mum’s birthday, but I survived the day with a grizzly baby, I tried my best, and that is enough.
- I’ve had to learn to set more realistic expectations for my parenting. I’d like to say it was a conscious choice but somewhere along the line, amid work and kids and trying to fit in a bit of exercise and find somewhere to go at the weekend, I realised I had no choice but to take a different approach. I’ve learnt to become a little kinder to myself, I suppose. Realistic parenting is the term used by My First Five Years to describe this style of parenting, it is written about more in this blog post 'Keeping it real: how the theory of the ‘good enough parent’ can support us to be the best parents we can be and help us to avoid parental burnout!'. I wish I’d found out about it earlier, it makes so much sense.
Having more knowledge would have allowed me to trust my instincts better
Having one, single, trusted place to source information about child development, tailored to your own child’s development, would have provided such a confidence boost for me. Knowledge, as they say, is power and I think having more knowledge would have allowed me to trust my instincts better. My First Five Years wasn’t around for my first three children, but I’m loving using it for our three-year-old.
Children force you to let go of the need for control and teach you to see and do everything anew which can feel a little unnerving. Having an app that can hold your hand and guide you through the early years, when this can be felt acutely, can only be a wonderful thing. Reassurance, if needed, that you are indeed, 100%, a good enough parent.