Self-Doubt, Imposter Syndrome and Parenting

Chris explains how comparing his life to those on social media and his own self-doubt affected his confidence to parent.

Before becoming a dad, I was under the illusion there was some wisdom automatically handed down to you at the birth of your child which enabled you to transition into being a parent.

I had never spoken to my parents about it but was sure that it existed and took it for granted that their good parenting came from just being 'adult'. I had heard of parenting classes before and thought this would result in coming out as a fully qualified parent ready for anything kids threw at you.

The biggest shock to me was that none of this came (excluding a couple of free clinic classes). This is where I found self-doubt crept in, which then grew into a type of parent imposter syndrome. I found I was constantly wondering if I should even be a dad, if there was something I should be doing that I wasn't or if I wasn't doing something right. This self-doubt can build up and ultimately lead to a range of mental challenges that can then affect you and your child. Below are a couple of situations I found myself in.

The Zoo

Social media is great, it helps you keep in touch but it can also have negative effects. My friend posted about a great day they had with their child at the zoo, accompanied by a nice picture of them eating an ice cream. So I decided to take my boys to the zoo too and after two meltdowns just getting them ready, I finally arrived. One child had fallen asleep in the car, so he was grumpy, while the other refused to go into any of the dark animal enclosures. We went to get an ice cream but they took so long eating it, it melted all over their clothes.

Sitting at home later I was left feeling the day had been a disaster and how it felt like nothing compared to my friends version. This would happen nearly every time I tried to do something with my kids, it never seemed to be like the perfect days I saw on social media.

The next time I was speaking with my mate in the pub, we discussed the zoo and I mentioned how it looked like they had such a good time. He laughed and recounted a disaster story that topped mine and how that was the only good picture of the day. What I didn't realise was that after looking back at my pictures in the myriad of bad moments I had the exact same type of picture with the two boys smiling eating ice cream.

This is only one example of how immersing myself in a world of happy social media moments brought on an overwhelming sense of self-doubt in my parenting. It became so accute that there were occasions I would put off going somewhere and lie on the couch rather than attempt to do something nice, in case it turned out badly. A picture can paint a thousand words, the problem is we usually end up constructing the completely wrong narrative from one photo, reinforcing our self-doubt when actually our friends just don't want to fill our social feeds with pictures of their kids' tantrums and dirty nappies.

The Hospital

This example is more serious. After my first child was born I was a nervous wreck, I would wake up in the middle of the night to check he was breathing, double checking the motion sensor at all hours.  After a couple of minor illnesses where I ended up taking my son up to A&E, I had built up this idea in my head that I was being overly cautious. Not only that, I got a sense that I was wasting the hospital's time (my own personal feeling, the doctors were more than happy to see a sick child at any time - even if it was just a small bug).

I then tried to play it cool when my son fell really ill. I could see he was coughing and breathing from his belly which was a new symptom but put this down to him just not being well, shrugging off my wife's suggestion to go to the doctors. A few hours later, his lips began to turn blue and we had to rush to the hospital where he ended up in a high dependency ward after having an asthma attack. Luckily he was out in a few days but I was now in a strange situation where I was in doubt about my failure of parenting brought on by my previous doubts... if that makes sense?

This conundrum was a wake-up call for me and helped me realise that constantly doubting myself was not only affecting me but was affecting my child - even though all the doubt came from wanting only the best for him.

If you have felt like this, I hope it helps to know that we are all in the same boat, you didn't miss out some ancient parenting wisdom that others possess. A quote from Anne Lamott helped me to keep going and crawl out of the darkness of self-doubt and enjoy every day with my kids, even when it's not 'worthy' of a social media post:

"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up."