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Motherhood: The ultimate case of imposter syndrome

Of course I felt like a phony parent—that’s how all mothers feel in the beginning.

Motherhood: The ultimate case of imposter syndrome

How often am I supposed to bathe the baby? Every day? Every other day?


If I don't know something so basic, how can I do something so complex as raising a well-adjusted—and clean—child?

I remember obsessing over this idea throughout my pregnancy. Despite helpful classes about labor and breastfeeding, I felt embarrassingly ill-prepared for the nitty-gritty logistics of life with a newborn. It seemed as if every other parent read that one book I didn't get my hands on—the one with the real secrets.

Now I realize how nearly universal it is to feel clueless, even when you have the best of intentions: Whether the moment comes when you are discharged from the hospital or when you are left alone to care for baby for the first time, there comes a time for most of us when we find ourselves thinking, “Wow, they are really letting me do this? But I don't know what I'm doing."

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Often, that inner dialogue is fueled by hormones—as well as the “imposter syndrome."

First defined by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes in 1978, imposter syndrome was described as “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness." In other words, it leaves people feeling irrationally fraudulent, especially when it comes to matters we care about.

And what could anyone care about more strongly than their own child?

“We don't experience the imposter complex when we're coming up against something that isn't deeply meaningful," says Tanya Geisler, certified Leadership Coach who specializes in helping women conquer the impostor complex. “So it shows up in your parenting because it matters to you."

Of course, now I can see the logic in this. Despite always wanting to be a mother and taking every class I could get my hands on during pregnancy, I know there is nothing that can prepare you for the actual experience of parenting your own child.

Yet, there I was, hoping I was prepared enough to earn an A+ on the final exam when I hadn't even endured the first true lesson.

Of course I felt like a phony parent because that's how all parents feel in the beginning. Even if you get the perfect answer to the bathing question, there will be some other mystifying facet that makes you wonder if you're worthy of the permission to parent.

Here's the truth, though: The experts confirm that even thinking that is a good sign you are on the right track. As Geisler says, “We can rest in the truth that actual frauds don't feel like frauds."

Better yet, the sense of being a parenting imposter will likely slowly, quietly dissipate, says imposter syndrome expert Lauren Bacon, author of “Curious for a Living" and “The Boss of You." In the meantime, the best you can do is try.


“It's like one day you're not a parent and then you're a parent and you're expected to be able to make these massive decisions about another helpless and totally dependent creature's life," Bacon says. “You've just got to start doing it and you've muddled through and you've made lots of mistakes and you get there. But one day finally it doesn't weird you out that somebody's calling you mom."

For me, when my son came home from the hospital, we soon settled on a routine of baths every other night. And, although that question was replaced with another I hadn't even thought to ask before, it was also replaced with something else: a little boost of confidence in my perfectly imperfect parenting intuition.

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In This Article

    14 toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

    They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

    With fall in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in outside-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

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    $40

    Sand play set

    Plan Toys sand set

    Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

    $30

    Water play set

    Plan Toys water play set

    Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

    $100

    Mini golf set

    Plan Toys mini golf set

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    $40

    Vintage scooter balance bike

    Janod retro scooter balance bike

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    $121

    Wooden rocking pegasus

    plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

    Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

    $100

    Croquet set

    Plan Toys croquet set

    The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

    $45

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    fathers factory wooden digital camera

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    $179

    Wooden bulldozer toy

    plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

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    $100

    Pull-along hippo

    janod toys pull along hippo toy

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    $33

    Baby forest fox ride-on

    janod toys baby fox ride on

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    $88

    Balance board

    Plan Toys balance board

    Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

    $75

    Meadow ring toss game

    Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

    Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

    $30

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