When Parenting Ignites Your Imposter Syndrome

I’ve always wanted to be a mom and was decently prepared for it…so I never would have expected to feel like a big old fake.

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.

DNA Relates You, But Here's What Makes a Family

“DNA doesn’t make you family,” a hand-stamped keychain from Etsy will remind you, “love does.” Now I know it’s way more than that.

Around the time I started telling friends and family I was dating a girl – in other words, when the whole gay thing became official – I unexpectedly mourned the idea of having a child that was genetically descended from both me and my future partner.

Maybe I cared because, growing up in a mixed family, comparing nose widths, head shapes, and hair thicknesses was a form of entertainment. Over the dinner table on a good day, my dad would make fun of my mom’s long, skinny Caucasian nose, and my mom would make fun of my dad’s wide, meaty Asian nose. Maybe it was just silly banter, or maybe it was a way of making sure that my brother and I felt lucky about our moderate noses and secure about our blend.

Almost a decade later, when that same girlfriend (now wife) and I decided to have kids, I initially wasn’t interested in doing any kind of (in my mind at the time) “unnatural” fertility or insemination procedures, at least none involving my own body. Coming from a family of holistic health freaks, Christian Scientists, and cheapskates, I was distrustful of any medical intervention that wasn’t 102 percent necessary. “We’d just adopt,” I thought, believing I was being the logical one.

seeking freelance writers to submit work about families, parenting and kids

My wife, who’d been adopted at birth, was determined to carry a baby and pass on her DNA. The arrangement wasn’t ideal, my brain reasoned. I’d be the only one left out of this genetic scheme, and out of any future conversations about who looks like whom. We’d have to use sperm from either someone we knew or someone we didn’t know. (Which would be weirder? It was hard to say.) Plus there was all the medical “stuff” we’d have to deal with.

Then our baby was born, and after six intense weeks that felt like one six-year-long day, those worries all seemed so far away that they were completely irrelevant.

“DNA doesn’t make you family,” a hand-stamped keychain from Etsy will remind you, “love does.” Now I know it’s way more than that.

Family is setting the alarm (actually, two: one for backup) for 11:30 pm, 1:30 am, 3:30 am, 5:30 am, and 7:30 am, and spending an hour and a half each time wrangling a little wire attached to a syringe filled with formula into our newborn’s mouth, in addition to breastfeeding, so she can gain the recommended one ounce a day.

Family is holding our breath listening to a tiny human’s shrieks, sneezes, and wheezes in the bassinet next to our bed and hoping she’ll make it through another night. Family is walking out of the drugstore into harsh sunlight and shielding my kid’s eyes before even thinking of putting on my own sunglasses.

Family is having 97 nicknames for someone who doesn’t even know her own name yet. Family is making up enough original songs in two weeks to produce three absurdist children’s albums and headline four experimental live performances at the (insert hottest New York venue here, I have no idea about these things anymore) but not caring about any of that except for soothing one very small person for the next 30 seconds.

Family is wiping someone else’s spit-up chunks, belly button cheese, and eye crust. Family is counting pee and poop diapers so we can defend our collective honor to the pediatrician at our next appointment. Family is being part of the same freaking fart cloud.

Maybe I’ll never be able to recognize our daughter’s nose in the contours of my ancestral line, but I’ll know it’s the one I’ve coaxed boogers out of with my bare hands and watched the light shine off of as I bounced her into a temporary state of serenity by her favorite window. That’s more than enough for me.

Books To Help Children (And Adults) Understand What It Means To Be Transgender

These five books will take away the cloud of fear or confusion and empower you to make gender an everyday discussion.

For parents and siblings of transgender children, gender is an ongoing family conversation. Gender, its fluidity and expression, is a lens through which the world is constantly viewed. While there are many who live every day with the nuances and definitions of what it means to be transgender, there are many more people who don’t. 
Whether you don’t know where to start or think children are too young to learn about what it means to be transgender, these five books will take away the cloud of fear or confusion and empower you to make gender an everyday discussion.

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I Am Jazz_Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel

I Am Jazz

By Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel, Illustrated by Shelagh McNicolas

Jazz was born with a boy body. But from a very young age, Jazz knew she had a girl’s brain. I Am Jazz is based on the teenager and activist, Jazz Jennings’, real life experiences as a transgender child. The book uses simple and relatable language that expresses Jazz’s sadness, her parents’ confusion, and her ultimate joy when she is able to live as her true self as she socially transitions from male to female.
The book is written for children as young as three, the age Jazz knew she was a girl and an age when many children are aware of gender roles, identities, and expressions. The book reminds us to trust our children’s instincts and to follow their lead when it comes to knowing who they are.

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Introducing Teddy_Jessica Walton

Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story About Gender and Friendship

By Jessica Walton, illustrated by Dougal MacPherson

The author wrote Introducing Teddy as a way to explain her father’s transition to her young son. The book balances Teddy’s desire to live as the girl he has always been on the inside with his fear of losing his best friend Errol. The book illustrates the amazing strength of support and friendship. When Teddy expresses his wish to be recognized as a girl who is named Tilly, Errol doesn’t miss a beat. He just wants his friend to be happy.  

Intended for ages 3-6.

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Red A Crayon's Story_Michael Hall

Red: A Crayon’s Story

By Michael Hall

Red does not specifically use language which includes gender or transgender terms. But it is written in a way that beautifully describes the way a transgender or gender fluid person can feel when they are asked to be something they are not. His label tells him and everyone around him that his color is red, but when he is asked to be red, he fails. When someone sees him for the color he really is and encourages him to be himself, he thrives. And it’s breathtaking.
Preschool age kids and older will appreciate this book.

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George

By Alex Gino

George is one of a growing number of books for middle schoolers that focuses on transgender youth and tweens. Of the books out there, George is the most appropriate for young readers in terms of language and themes. George knows she is a girl, but everyone sees her as a boy, including her female best friend. But when the role of Charlotte is up for grabs in the school play, Charlotte’s Web, she realizes how much she wants the part and to be a seen as a girl. The book tackles friendship, bullies, and the emotional path a transgender person must take to find acceptance, even in their own family.

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Parts and Hearts_Jenson J. HillenbrandParts & Hearts: A Kids (and Grown-Ups) Guide to Transgender Transition

By Jenson J. Hillenbrand, Illustrated by Quinlan Omahne

People who identify as transgender often choose hair styles, clothing, names, and pronouns that best match their true gender. It is extremely validating for external expression to match internal identity. It can build an individual’s self-esteem, confidence, and success. A person’s decision to transition may also include hormones or surgery. Parts & Hearts is written to help explain these physical changes to children ages 9-12, though don’t let this age range limit you. The book is gentle, kid appropriate, and offers scientific and empathetic explanations to common questions about transgender transition.

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When talking about important and big subjects to children, it’s best to use direct and simple language, break topics down into small chunks, and listen. It’s also important to remember that you won’t always have the answer, and that’s okay. Never be afraid to admit that you need to ask a professional or research a credible website so you can better answer the questions brought to you by the children in your life. What is important is that, in this case, you are willing to better understand the experiences of transgender boys, girls, men, and women. Your compassion will set an example for children to be compassionate too.

Standing Strong in the Face of Adversity

Being gay isn’t a disease, nor is it a choice.
My partner (now wife) and I felt the pain of not living up to the hallmark heteronormative relationship during our early military lives.
We lived in fear.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was our motto.
The biggest questions that incinerated our souls: “Why aren’t you married? No kids yet?”
We were both hitting our mid-30s and surrounded by men. This stigma to be married with kids was expected of us. How did we combat this? We didn’t. We survived one day at a time. We lied. A LOT. It was torture.
Surprisingly though, many had no idea we were a lesbian couple. We were simply “roommates.” It was a stagnant life. We both felt having a family, living in hiding and fear, wouldn’t be fair.
Fast-forward to September of 2011: We were stationed in the state of Massachusetts when the repeal happened. We felt freedom and yet a deep sense of fear. Was this really okay? Could we be open, honest, safe, and comfortable?
As an introverted woman, I was still not ready to “expose” myself to anyone. My wife is the complete opposite, which got us into the most unpleasant of situations – situations where she felt the need to introduce me to others as her wife, which made people visibly uncomfortable. It was awkward.
Understandably though, she was just happy to be open. But we live in a time of great imbalance. It’s scary. People put up huge fronts to hide what they truly feel. It can be hard to know whether anyone is being sincere. The looks, the sneers, the questions were endless. Thank goodness those few closest to us offered support.

In the wake of the repeal, big decisions needed to be made. We decided right away to build a family. We already had the foundation set up and a plan for having kids. All we needed to do was execute it.

Or should we? Should we bring these babies into this world knowing what we were up against?
I can remember fighting endlessly with myself about not being able to give my child the traditional family “she deserved.” But with life comes difficulties. Those difficulties allowed us to find the warrior within and move forward. You literally grow up and realize life is too short to be unhappy just to please others.
My wife was first for pregnancy, I was second. Silly as it sounds, we went “shopping” for a donor from the California Cryobank and found a man who was most related to me in height, hobbies, and career.
We chose a five-foot, nine-inch Irish man with red hair and freckles, who loved to be outdoors and was an engineer by trade. We chose the “open” option, meaning the girls can contact their biological father when they turn 18, if they so choose.
I will not get into the many facets of what goes on with and IUI (Intrauterine Insemination) here, but I will say it was – and always will be – well worth it. My partner and I both were blessed with healthy baby girls. Our oldest is now two-and-a-half years old, and our youngest turned 16 months last November.
During the first pregnancy, we decided to move on base to be closer to work and daycare. I was extremely hesitant, because I was afraid how people would react to us. Will our home be defaced? Will our cars be compromised to harm us? Would the daycare teachers purposely neglect my babies or be rough with them? Would a crowd of moms come after us with pitchforks and torches!?
Probably not that last one, but the thoughts are real, as is the hurt and fear. The negative thoughts were enough to paralyze me everyday whenever I left my home – even when I went to sleep. We quickly had to learn to have patience with ignorance and prejudice.
Taking the girls to the parks on base are a highlight for them. They love being out of the house and playing. (We often keep them inside because we don’t want the girls to witness how other parents react to us.)
We brought them to the park one day to find another family enjoying themselves. Normally, we would avoid this and move along to another spot, but the girls were already running full speed toward the slide. There was no stopping them at that point (stopping them would lead to a demon tantrum), so we hoped for the best. 
While the girls laughed and said hello to the two little boys, the parents exchanged glances. Then the other couple packed up and left. I wasn’t surprised, but I felt a deep hurt because my two-year-old, with her big brown eyes, came to me and said, “Why leaving?” Her arms waved in the air saying bye to them as they ran off.
Our daughters know nothing of prejudice. My wife and I had to educate ourselves on what and how to convey these realities to them without making them feel like it’s their fault. This was not easy and most certainly not fair, but by loving the people we love, maybe we can teach our girls how to love without judgement. I hope we teach our girls how to love all humans for who they are and avoid imposing preconceived ideas about who they should be.
Each situation varies by location, family type, and developmental stage of your child, but here are some tips that might apply for all parents:

Be a mad scientist

Research various resources to help prepare you and your children to address different myths and issues that arise out of ignorance. PFLAG and Mombian are two great places to start.

Embrace untraditional

Being an adult, you forget what it’s like being a child. I went out and bought specific books for my girls, which bring up topics that normalize the “untraditional family.” You’ll find a great list here. As my kids get older, I plan on finding groups that connect them with other kids who have LGBT parents.

Use media resources

It can be very confusing for little ones when the world around them fails to reflect what their own family looks like. My toddler always gets extremely shy and scared when a man comes around (which is not very often). Their voices and their height is all “so amazing” as she says!
So we allow our daughers to watch kids films that help connect the dots. Our go-tos are “The Bravest Knight Who Ever Lived” and “Rosaline”.

Engage with toys, and love

Toys that imitate a child’s own family can provide a solid playground of material for her to imagine in a context she understands. My Family Builders are a great start.

Everyday is a new day with these girls, and everyday we strive to keep the peace and the tantrums to a minimum, just like any other parent. We can teach love and tolerance. We can find ways to just be with them.
Get your mind right. Your kids need you. They don’t care what you’re doing as long as you remain engaged and present with them. Learn to forgive yourself for being human, and forgive others for their humanity, too.