Maybe you’re someone who 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). Becoming a parent can be an exciting but also terrifying experience, as it comes with the realization that someone put you in charge of another human being. 

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. Overcoming motherhood imposter syndrome doesn’t happen overnight, but it is possible.

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, a clinical psychologist in New York City who specializes in life transitions. 

Related: More moms are finally reaping the benefits of therapy—and so are their kids

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
  • Perfectionism
  • Difficulty asking for help
  • Feeling like a failure
  • Frequent upward social comparison
  • Minimizing accomplishments
  • Constant anxiety about being judged
  • Isolation
  • Insomnia

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. For this reason, words of affirmation and positive feedback are hard to accept for someone with motherhood imposter syndrome. Feeling like a fraud, you may not feel you deserve the compliments and you might feel worse for misleading others.

If not addressed, a severe lack of confidence in your mothering ability can spiral into more self-destructive tendencies. Dora Kamau, a mindfulness and meditation teacher for Headspace, says the self-doubt can progress into an irrational fear of the future, isolating from others, and difficulties returning to work after maternity leave.

Related: Why experts suggest you should start screaming for self-care


Imposter syndrome sometimes happens when you face a new or difficult challenge, and being a mother is no exception. Kamau says transitioning into a new identity as a mother can make you question your readiness to take on this new set of responsibilities. “Nothing in life can prepare you for the role of being a mother,” she tells Motherly.

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. 

The biggest trigger for motherhood imposter syndrome is society’s expectation that women are born to be mothers. And when the time comes, it’s expected that the transition will come naturally and seamlessly.

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”.

Related: Research shows the toxic effect ‘momfluencers’ have on our mental health

Effects on children

Kids observe and copy their parents’ behavior and attitudes as a way of learning 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 moments of self-doubt, Dr. Romanoff says exhibiting constant fear and anxiety can affect how children perceive their own well-being.

For example, children may internalize their mother’s beliefs when they get older. They may compare themselves to others, feel they are never good enough, or develop other negative self-beliefs. “This display of self-hatred can trickle down to the child feeling self-doubt and incompetent,” says Kamau. 

Related: How to ditch perfectionism and embrace being ‘good enough’

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 feel like it at first. You can start small by listing three good things you did every night before you went to sleep. Doing so will help build the confidence to recognize your strengths and create a healthier mindset. 

Related: 4 online therapy options that are ideal for busy moms

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. “Parents can get over this feeling when they accept themselves as humans, not perfect robots,” says Dr. Romanoff. “Accepting that their flawed nature also comes with warmth and love is key in recognizing what their children really need.”

Featured experts

Dora Kamau is a mindfulness and meditation teacher for Headspace. 

Sabrina Romanoff, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in New York City.

Kiana Shelton, LCSW, is a therapist at Mindpath Health.

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