Today, my spouse and I did something new that marks a transition in our parenting journey. We took our very first preschool tour. It was good, but I found that I felt unbearably awkward through a lot of it.
Sure, we learned a lot about the educational models they follow, and got to see the classrooms in person and ask some important questions. But I spent the majority of the time half wondering whether I was even supposed to be there, which is ridiculous.
I am a 32, with a child who will be ready to begin their pre-K program next fall. The application window is right now. Of course, I had every right to be there, as did my partner. (We even RSVP’d several weeks ago). Yet that awkward self-consciousness still permeated the experience.
Afterwards, my spouse turned to me and said, “I wonder if I was the only one there who felt like they were wearing an adult costume?”
“Well no,” I responded, “because I definitely did, too.”
“I felt like a stack of kids in a big coat!” she said, invoking my favorite metaphor for imposter syndrome, and a popular cartoon trope. “I kept waiting for someone to find me out!”
As a freelance writer active in a community of women and transgender writers, I’ve had a lot of conversations about imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome, also called imposter phenomenon is described by Dr. Pauline Clance (one of the psychologists to first describe it) this way:
“I experienced IP feelings in graduate school. I would take an important examination and be very afraid that I had failed. I remembered all I did not know rather than what I did. My friends began to be sick of my worrying, so I kept my doubts more to my self. I thought my fears were due to my educational background. When I began to teach at a prominent liberal arts college with an excellent academic reputation, I heard similar fears from students who had come for counseling. They had excellent standardized test scores grades and recommendations. One of them said, ‘I feel like an impostor here with all these really bright people.’ In discussing these students, Dr. Suzanne Imes and I coined the term “Impostor Phenomenon” and wrote a paper on the concept.”
In my totally unscientific experience, imposter syndrome seems to be experienced a lot by women, trans people, and nonbinary people. Perhaps we just got into the habit of constantly second guessing ourselves at a young age, or maybe coming up against gender bias again and again has affected us more than one might expect. Regardless, these feelings are real and can have a pretty dramatic effect on anyone experiencing them.
When I started writing professionally, it may have made sense to feel like an imposter. I had to present myself as a professional to editors, but I was very new to being a professional and didn’t quite believe it about myself. I often worried that I would say something that would give me away, everyone would realize I was woefully underqualified to write words, and I would go back to my old job selling dog food.
What actually happened was that I said plenty of wrong things (I was brand new, after all) and I received gentle and kind corrections. Mostly, the people I worked with were more than happy to fill me in.
You’d think those feelings would have dissipated with time and success, but they honestly haven’t very much. With each new assignment, I often find myself worrying that the next email in my inbox will be, “Why did you think you could write? You clearly can’t!”
Because I talk with other writers all the time, I know that such feelings are surprisingly normal, but I still wish I could make them go away. I’m decently confident, but I still feel like I’m faking it a lot of the time. I have always assumed this is (mostly) due to the fact that I don’t hold a formal degree.
Hi, my name is Katherine, and I don’t hold a formal degree.
Only, if my education (or lack thereof) was the reason for my imposter syndrome, why do I feel like an imposter when it comes to parenting? I’m pretty sure you don’t need a degree to parent! I’ve always wanted to be a mom and have been planning to have kids my entire life. I was decently prepared for it…so I never would have expected to feel like a big old fake.
I took Dr. Clance’s IP Scale quiz, trying to pay careful attention to my feelings about parenting and being a parent in the world. I scored a 78, which means I “frequently have imposter feelings.” The maximum score on the quiz is 100.
In groups of moms, I often worry that the other moms will figure out that I’m not really “one of them.” Whenever we’re faced with a new parenting task, like introducing solid foods to our baby, I’ve felt absolutely certain that I wasn’t good enough. (Please note that my two-year-old now eats three meals and two snacks every single day of his life, and in retrospect, I can see that I was perfectly competent – as are most parents – in helping him get to this point.)
I don’t know how to turn off my parenting imposter syndrome, but I do have one small sliver of hope in all this: My partner and I can’t be the only ones.
When other parents also feel like outsiders or fakes, like a stack of kids in a very big coat, and I can see from the outside that they are definitely not those things…maybe other people can see that I’m a decent mom, too? I sure hope so.