When the Duchess of Cambridge appeared looking immaculate for a photo call within hours of giving birth to her third child in April 2018, there were many who felt that her act was a disservice to new mothers and added to the pressure on them to be ‘perfect’ far too soon after having a baby. Many mums accused Kate of sending out an unrealistic message’ by looking so perfect. However, even the Duchess has previously lamented about ‘the pressure to be a perfect parent; pretending we’re all coping perfectly and loving every minute of it’ – words that sound very imposterish.
Secretly bad parents…
A relatively new form of Imposter Syndrome is the rise of perfectly good mums and dads who feel that they are secretly bad parents. On the one hand, we live in a great age to bring up children, with a huge array of activities and entertainment now geared toward children as compared to previous generations. But there is also more pressure now to be the perfect parent. A recent Forbes survey suggests that having to juggle demands, such as trying to keep their family eating healthily to planning activities to please everyone, means that 75 per cent of parents today say they feel pressure to be ‘perfect’. That’s potentially a lot of parents who are striving for a state of perfection that can never be reached – and are therefore at risk of Imposterism; parents who never feel they are good enough, despite the obvious testaments to their efforts.
This pressure to stimulate our offspring begins even before birth. If you google ‘how to stimulate your baby in the womb’, more than 300,000 pages pop up, suggesting that this is becoming fairly mainstream. Then when the baby arrives, the quest to be the perfect parent moves up a gear. New parents are urged to choose ‘stimulating’ toys; there are products for babies and toddlers with brand names such as Baby Einstein, Baby IQ, and BrightMinds, all apparently designed to stimulate the developing brain. The implication is that failure to buy the right toys means that your child won’t reach their potential – making you a parenting failure.
By the time children reach school age, the pressure on parents to constantly stimulate and educate their offspring goes way beyond choosing an appropriate school for them. Parents often also feel pressurised to fill their child’s every waking hour with enriching extra-curricular activities, in order to give their children the ‘edge’ and a head start in an increasingly competitive world. A 2014 survey found that primary school children in London, UK, engaged in an average of 3.2 extra-curricular activities per week. * *
The addition of social media
Social media fuels this push for social validation, especially for Millennial parents who are accustomed to documenting every success and achievement. Nearly 90 per cent of Millennials are social media users, compared with 76 per cent of the previous generation (Gen X), and 59 per cent of the generation before that (the Baby Boomers).
In addition, parenting styles today are far more focused on building psychological resilience than they are on mere survival; parents never used to worry about building their children’s self esteem or confidence, nor did they feel the need to constantly prove their unconditional love as today’s parent might. These less tangible concepts are so hard to measure – how does a parent really know they are doing it right? Generations of parents before knew that if their kids were alive and flourishing, they were successful parents; the goalposts nowadays are far wider.
Tips and strategies for the Imposter Parent
Bearing all this in mind can make new parents extremely vulnerable to self doubt and feelings of Imposterism. Below are some strategies that parents can adopt.
1. Accept that there is no such thing as a perfect parent.
That acceptance means acknowledging and coming to terms with the fact that you will make mistakes and get it wrong sometimes. As an exercise, think of some mistakes you believe you have made with your kids. What would you say to a friend if they ‘confessed’ to making those same mistakes to you?
2. Don’t judge your parenting ability by the small stuff; it is not based on your ability to bake perfect scones, remember your child’s swimming kit or produce the best fancy dress costume.
3. Similarly remember that your child’s successes (or failures) do not reflect on your parenting skill. They are individuals, just as you are an individual.
4. Unfriend or unfollow those friends who post ‘perfect parent’ boasts, and resist the urge to boast about your own children. Perhaps make a list of fellow parents whose perfect posts tend to make you feel inadequate; chart how often they post and what the content is. If after a few weeks you realise they add nothing positive to your life, unfriend them (or adjust your settings so you don’t see their posts).
5. Post imperfect unfiltered pictures on Facebook, however tempting it is to create the perfect image.
6. Limit who you get parenting advice from – your close friends or family (or medical advisors, if appropriate) are enough.
7. Don’t try to be friends with your children; your role is to be their parent and mentor. This means making rules that might not win popularity contests but are right for you and your family.
8. Trust your instinct when it comes to making decisions about your own children.
Why Do I feel Like An Imposter is out on 9th September and is the most extensive book out there on Imposter Syndrome.
Author Dr Sandi Mann, is a psychologist, University Lecturer and Director of The MindTraining Clinic in Manchester where much of her material for this book is derived. She is author of over 20 psychology books.