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The Parent-Imposter Syndrome


The Parent-Imposter – An Orange County Syndrome

* Do you consider it awful to make a parenting error, to not be properly prepared or not doing things perfectly?

* Is constructive criticism regarding your parenting methods a trigger, viewing it as evidence that you are not doing good enough?

* Do you have a secret fear that you will be found out?


Despite love, time, support and efforts, many parents suffer from deep self-doubt.

My extensive work with families has shown me that nearly every parent experiences bouts of self-doubt from time to time when it comes to parent decisions e.g., “Was I too harsh?..Not harsh enough? ….and especially when crossing a new parenting path: from potty-training to dealing with the start of homework, to navigating the child’s friendships. But for the Parent-Imposter, the parenting self-doubt is chronic.


A parent can feel self-doubt without experiencing hidden-shame as parent-impostors do. It’s also possible to doubt your parenting abilities without believing that you had your parenting successes because of some sleight of hand or that you are fooling others. A parent could imperfectly get a child potty-trained, off to their first day of school or administer a consequence in regards to a new troubling behavior, etc, and then draw from this experience to feel more confident about handling it the next time. The impostor doesn’t think this way. Because no matter how well you did planning, follow-through, trying to encourage and teach, you always think you could have done better or that you just had a strike of “good luck” or that “they did it ALL on their own” with no real bump in confidence.

In 1978 Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes found that many women that were successful on paper, nonetheless had high degrees of self-doubt.  inauthenticity and an inability to internalize their successes were not as highly correlated with anxiety or depression as it was with a belief they were “faking it.”

There are many reasons why these parents do not think they measure up. Parents that get too caught in the ‘perfect trap’ are prone to over or under react to a problem, often letting self-doubt creep in and during a child’s negative behavior they tend to let the child off the hook too early or continuing on a problem longer than needed.

To become more aware of parent-impostor thinking, looking for stereotyping and self-defeating attitudes that can be reflected in speech, such as prefacing sentences with disclaimers like “This may not be right, but…” and discounting accomplishments with “Anyone could have done it,” “he/she did it all on their own” or “It wasn’t much.”

1. They engage in black & white thinking, “I am either OKAY or incompetent.”

2. They don’t attribute any of their efforts or child’s success to their own positive qualities. “I got lucky.” “He/She is just smart that way.” “It must be “whoever’ else’s” genes.”

3. They don’t internalize their achievements and keep raising the bar. “They are doing good in school – but others are doing a lot better.” “They have to be the best in order for me to be doing a good job.”

4. They have tunnel vision. They focus on where they could have done better, and over focus on the mistakes or omissions. Ongoing they fail to put attention to what went right.

5. They engaging in the comparing game and rate themselves less favorable to others that may have access to more resources and or means.

If you know or are plagued with parent imposter syndrome, there are things you can do to help. First, ACCEPT YOURSELF AS HUMAN. If you were a robot you would be perfect but still be lacking in warmth and affection.  You can also keep a running list of “atta-parent’s” (a running list of positive parenting things that you have done over the course of a day to be reviewed on a daily basis).  You can trade the idea of “comparing” otherwise known as the “facebook syndrome”for the belief that: “Overall I do a good job, and they do a good job as well. Though I will never really know what their family is like, I know we do the best we can.” You can dispute the critique that comes in with the “Yea-buts-” and give yourself a fair shake focusing on the positives that make the success, e.g., “Yes it was a rough night, but I certainly didn’t allow myself to get triggered and showed I am in charge.”

The parent imposter syndrome can impede your ability to enjoy being a parent to the fullest. Working at it will help you feel more empowered and enjoy your family even more.