Flashback to almost 4 years ago… My daughter is about 4 weeks old and we’re on our way to our first mother’s group. She’s screamed for the whole car ride and now I’m carrying her in her capsule across the carpark to find my way to the community health clinic where the mother’s group is held. The capsule feels awkward and heavy. I feel like there are several people staring at me and thinking that I have absolutely no idea what I am doing.
While I can now look back at these moments of early parenthood with a knowing smile, at the time I felt like a total fraud. I couldn’t believe how under-prepared I was and felt stupid and frustrated by everything I didn’t know and couldn’t seem to figure out. Nothing seemed to click or feel natural. Although I was technically now a mother, I felt like an actor playing a part, and not very convincingly!
In the years since my daughter’s birth, my professional work has gravitated toward women’s leadership and when I first heard of this term ‘impostor syndrome‘ I connected with it immediately. I knew that I’d experienced impostor syndrome professionally in the past when I’d failed to put myself forward for new roles because I wanted to make sure I was ‘ready’ and didn’t want to ‘fake it’ at interview. But I’ve never felt like a bigger impostor than in those early days of motherhood!
Four years into motherhood, I still often feel overwhelmed and unsure, but that feeling of being an impostor has faded. I’ve reflected on how and why I’ve overcome my impostor syndrome as a mother – and it turns out that these lessons can be applied professionally too.
Role models matter
You can’t be what you can’t see. During pregnancy, when confronted with stories or thoughts about the difficulties involved in parenting, I’m pretty sure my default reaction was along the lines of ‘millions of women have done it before and survived, how hard can it be?’.
There are mothers everywhere, all muddling their way through in their own way. Modelling different styles and approaches to parenting. Seeing other women doing what you want to do, especially in a way that reflects your strengths and values, gives you confidence that it’s possible, even if it isn’t easy!
An authentic, supportive community is essential
Connecting with other women saved my sanity in the early days of motherhood – providing reassurance that the self-doubt and difficulties were normal, tips and strategies, and just a supportive sounding board (or shoulder to cry on). Once you start talking and sharing and listening, you often realise that your experience is not unique and that there are plenty of other women who share similar feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy.
You don’t have to be sure to be confident
One of the best pieces of parenting advice was that you should always have a plan – even if you’re not sure if it’s going to work out! Kids are looking to you to for guidance and you need to provide it. Being confident and being certain aren’t necessarily the same thing – and in fact it turns out that the best leaders are confident, but not really sure.
Reflect to see how far you’ve come
Reflection is so important for growth and learning and for providing a sense of achievement and progress. I kept brief notes about what I was doing and how I was feeling during the first few weeks of motherhood. In moments of self-doubt and overwhelm, it provided a much needed source of positivity to look back on those notes and realise that what I once perceived as a huge challenge or obstacle, I was now managing with ease. Often we’re so focused on comparing where we are now to some future ideal, we fail to remember to do the comparison in the other direction and appreciate just how far we’ve come and all the skills and knowledge we’ve built along the way.
Be an impostor over and over again
Often you simply don’t know what you’re capable of until you have to do it. While I spent a lot of time desperately trawling online articles and forums trying to gather the knowledge I needed to be a successful mother, I quickly learned that on-the-job learning was far more effective! Ultimately, the most important thing for me in overcoming my impostor syndrome as a mother was simply showing up day after day after day. Simply by pretending to be a ‘mum’ (even if I didn’t feel like one) and playing the role over and over again, I eventually became one.
Resources to help you explore this topic further: