What Is Impostor Syndrome in Parents?

Doubts, insecurity, and feelings of not being qualified. Sound familiar? Find out more about impostor syndrome in parents in today's article.
What Is Impostor Syndrome in Parents?
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 28 December, 2023

Have you ever looked at your children and thought, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” Have you ever doubted your parenting ability or been afraid that, at any moment, others will discover that you’re not so good at parenting? If so, you’re probably suffering from impostor syndrome in parents.

You may have heard this term in the workplace. It applies to people who don’t feel worthy of success in their work and who doubt their abilities.

However, motherhood and childcare can also raise these fears and questions, negatively impacting the well-being of the family. Let’s learn more about imposter syndrome and how it affects parents.

A woman feeling like a bad mom.

What is impostor syndrome?

“Imposter syndrome (IS) is a behavioral health phenomenon described as self-doubt of intellect, skills, or accomplishments among high-achieving individuals. These individuals cannot internalize their success and subsequently experience pervasive feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, depression, and/or apprehension of being exposed as a fraud in their work, despite verifiable and objective evidence of their successfulness.”

National Library of Medicine

Impostor syndrome isn’t a clinical diagnosis found in any psychology manual, but it’s a very common experience for many people. It’s a generalized feeling of insecurity that leads a person to doubt themself, their performance, their preparation, and their worth.

It doesn’t apply to those cases in which the person really needs to improve. For example, if they don’t have adequate information or training, if they make frequent mistakes, or if their results tend to be negative. In these cases, it’s worth considering the possibility of learning and improving in these regards.

But what happens if, even if you have reliably and objectively demonstrated that you’re good in that particular area and that uncomfortable feeling still doesn’t go away?

This is the key to imposter syndrome, a phenomenon that, according to estimates, can affect up to 80% of the population at some point, as indicated in an article published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

What does impostor syndrome look like in parents?

This syndrome has been developed and studied in the workplace, but its manifestations can also occur in the context of parenting. Thus, when a mother or father suffers from it, they usually experience the following experiences:

  • They have constant doubts and insecurities about their performance as parents. They feel that they’re not doing anything right, that they do not know where to go from here or what decisions to make, and that they’re not performing their role well.
  • They feel that they’re not qualified to raise their children correctly or that they don’t have the necessary skills, despite evidence to the contrary.
  • They fear that others will realize that they’re not really a good mother or father.
  • They’re unable to value or appreciate their efforts and successes in parenting. They attribute all their good results to luck or chance, or they believe that it’s because other people have helped them. They don’t take credit for it.
  • Every time they do something well, their inner dialogue reminds them that it’s not good enough or not that great. This stuns them with the idea that they should always do well and that they have no right to rejoice or congratulate themselves for a some good moment in particular.

Why does imposter syndrome happen in parents?

Impostor syndrome in mothers and fathers is very common and occurs for a variety of reasons. Among the main risk factors are the following.

1. Being a woman

This phenomenon may affect women to a greater extent than men because of the greater social pressure on women to succeed in parenting. The figure of the mother has become idealized and is burdened with a series of demands that women feel they must meet in order to be seen as valuable or valid.

2. Being committed to parenting

Paradoxically, it’s often those mothers and fathers who are more involved and more dedicated to their role who tend to experience this insecurity. And this is because, for them, achieving a good performance in raising their children is a primary objective, and they fear, to a greater extent, failure or making mistakes.

3. Being a perfectionist

This personality trait leads a person to create unrealistically high standards for themselves, which can block them or make them feel dissatisfied with their work. If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll strive to always give 100% of yourself to your children, and this is neither humanly possible nor necessary.

4. Having grown up with parents who were very critical and demanding or who didn’t fulfill their role

According to a study published in the magazine The American Journal of Family Therapy, children who had to put aside their needs to win their parents’ affection experience adult imposter syndrome to a greater extent.

5. Suffering from insecurity and low self-esteem

These two factors also contribute to impostor syndrome in parents, causing them to doubt themselves and the decisions they make and never feel empowered.

We recommend also reading: 7 Tips To Having A Happy Motherhood

A woman being judged while holding her baby and sitting on a park bench.

Addressing impostor syndrome in parents to avoid suffering

According to an article published in Interactions , impostor syndrome is associated with high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. As a result, parents who experience it often suffer significant distress, worry, and insecurity about their performance.

To avoid it, some measures can be taken. For example, set limits regarding the unsolicited comments and advice you receive from others regarding the way you parent. When parents, in-laws, friends, or other people give their opinions about parenting, doubts, insecurity, and feelings of guilt can increase. So, don’t be afraid to ask them not to be less judgmental and to keep their comments to themselves.

At the same time, being informed can make a big difference. Even if you’re already doing a good job, receiving information about the parenting method or style you want to follow can give you that extra security that you feel you lack.

Finally, it’s essential that you work on your self-esteem and self-demand and learn to value your own merits. In this regard, it may be necessary to have professional support in order to achieve these goals.

In any case, putting an end to impostor syndrome will allow you to exercise your parenthood in a much freer and safer way and, above all, enjoy it more. Finally, this is what will allow you to be in the ideal conditions to offer your children the best environment for growth.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.