I’ve been a father for almost 11 years, but I haven’t felt like one for nearly that long.
“Imposter syndrome” refers to the feelings of doubt one has about their abilities and accomplishments. With it comes the fear of being exposed as a fraud. It’s usually mentioned in regard to one’s professional life (which: YES), but I actually feel it more frequently as a parent.
Every morning when I wake up – often forcefully, thanks to my toddler – I’m starting from zero. I live in perpetual fear my kids are suddenly going to realize I have no idea what I’m doing.
I know I’m not alone. Being a father isn’t something you study for or get certified in, and it’s not something you list on your resume – although maybe it should be. Getting a toddler to eat dinner and use the potty and brush his teeth is a hell of a lot more challenging than selling widgets!
Fatherhood isn’t so easily quantifiable. I have two children, so I’m a dad by dint of biology and genetics, and that fact won’t change. But feeling like I’m one? That changes constantly.
I first felt like a father on September 15, 2010, approximately 15 minutes past 8 pm, when I cut my son’s umbilical cord. One step forward.
Of course, that sense of accomplishment was nowhere to be found at 8:15 yesterday morning, after the third time I yelled at my 10-year-old to find his damn shoes so we wouldn’t be late for school. Two steps back.
Any progress I make tends to be erased quickly thereafter – sometimes mere moments later.
I finally felt like a father again this afternoon, when I walked in and my 5-year-old ran over to give me a hug. The feeling was ripped away a few hours later when I retrieved my fifth grader from school, and he refused to tell me a single thing about his day. So close, and yet, so far.
Every day, a thousand tiny moments make me question whether I’m cut out to be dad. Meanwhile, a thousand more make me feel like it’s the only thing I’m good at. It’s a constant roller-coaster ride, but I actually prefer it that way.
It stops me from becoming complacent. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about being a dad (and from Star Wars), it’s that overconfidence is your weakness.
It’s spontaneous and scary and exhilarating and overwhelming and life-defining and completely disorienting all at once. I’m not sure I’ll ever be comfortable with it.
When did I first feel like a father? It’s been over a decade and I still don’t.
But ask me again tomorrow.
Tips to Help Overcome Imposter Syndrome for Parents
- Ask your spouses/partner for help reinforcing the positive attributes of each other’s parenting. Ask them to avoid being judgmental of the other’s parenting actions
- Understand most parents are also learning as they go, and none have the right answer/solution for every situation with their children.
- Realize that many “perfect” parents on your social media feeds are cherry-picking what they show you. All have human moments like the rest of us.
- Join a parenting social/support group. You’ll find how common imposter syndrome is, and some encouragement to help overcome it.