Neil Armstrong felt like a fake. Imagine.
While in a room full of artists and scientists, musicians and discoverers, he said to Neil Gaiman:
“I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”
And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”
When I started writing, I began to hear about this phenomenon called “impostor syndrome.” Simply put this is the belief that you are a fraud, faking your way, and everyone is about to find out. While you may have experienced some success, failure is going to follow and you will be “kicked out.”
Writers and creatives experience it when they put their work out for others to see. People in business and sales experience it after successful presentations. All people experience it in one way or another.
I believe parents experience it too.
We feel like frauds when our kids have shifted to a new season of life whether that is crawling, or riding a two-wheeler, or starting elementary school, or getting their first crush. The pervading thought is “I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m going to screw up my kid!”
We feel like failures when our kid punches another child, calls someone a name, throws a tantrum in public, or embarrasses us in any number of ways.
We feel like total screw ups when we can’t calm them, can’t solve a problem, can’t do something we feel like we should.
As if everyone else knows what they are doing.
The problem is that fear extends in such a way that we develop anxiety or we quit all together. We give up as parents because we are uncertain how to do it.
But I think we all have felt uncertain at some point.
For me, the most ridiculous fear – but also very real fear – was I was afraid I could not burp my newborn son. I imagined a gas bubble growing larger and larger in his tummy, unable to escape, causing unimaginable pain.
I feared I could not burp him. The accompanying thought was I should not be a mom.
But I am a mom – and my husband says I’m a pretty good one.
Trying new things is hard – and parenting is a boatload of new things every day. In our culture of shame, we have come to believe that there must be one right way to do things and all others are wrong. As parents we frantically search for that right way, feeling like frauds and failures the entire time. And all the while we feel like we are the only ones doing this. The only ones feeling this way.
This is far from the truth.
We have all yelled when we didn’t want to. Forgotten an important milestone or event. Have had messy homes, forgotten to brush our teeth, serve lunch, or even dress our children. We have all screwed up in one way or another – and we are still good parents.
One of the suggestions for dealing with this sense of failure and fraud is to not run from the feeling, but to acknowledge it and “speak” to it. For so long I have tried to fight my shame only to have it rear its ugly head stronger at me. But if I just speak to it with kindness (as I would treat a friend who felt ashamed of herself), acknowledge the feeling, and love myself, it goes away.
This is so much easier when we recognize that God speaks to us with loving-kindness, too. In the face of shame and failure, he doesn’t keep us down, but lifts our head. In our greatest need he saves.
So parents who feel like failures, go easy on yourself. You’ve brought your kids this far – that must count for something.