Am I Really Suffering from Mummy Imposter Syndrome?by Ellie Thompson
Is it just me, or does anybody else feel like an imposter mother?
Just me then. I thought as much.
I’m still twelve years old inside. I swear when I was a kid my parents were these brave, bold and ferocious caretakers who always knew what to do for the best.
They kept me safe and secure.
When I had nightmares, I’d creep into their bed, go back to sleep and have good dreams.
When I was about 10 years old, two horrible teenage girls who lived in the neighbourhood, were circulating the alleyway that ran around the outside of the back gardens where I lived. I was sat directly outside my back garden, minding my own business on a wall 7ft above a car park below listening to Kylie (or it could well have been Jason) on my Walkman. Every time they’d pass me, they’d threaten to push me off the wall, and ordered me to not move until the next time they came by.
I sat there in fear, their threats worse with every visit. Dad must have been in tune with his Dad-radar that afternoon, as he came out to see what was going on.
He went absolutely berserk. He chased them both for half a mile down to the river, giving them the scare of their lives. I felt completely protected.
Fast forward a few years and now I’m the parent. How did I get this old? I’m 38 for Christ’s sake and I still feel as though I’m driving without a license. Imposter. Sometimes I’m not sure I’m in control AT ALL. When I try to be authoritative with Maddie, I can hear myself in my own head, and I’m sure she’s already thinking ‘whaaaaatever!’
Recently, I’ve started to see the tell-tale signs that I’m ageing on the outside, but on the inside, I’m still a frightened little girl that wakes up terrified from night terrors, or just good old-fashioned nightmares. You know the sort - the ones where you’re too scared to walk to the bathroom to take a pee. I hide under my duvet and picture my mother doing the same thing at my age.
AS IF my mum ever did that! She’s far too courageous. She’s too ‘mum’ to be that scared and silly. She has things in perspective and in order at all times.
The inside of my head must be close to chaos in comparison.
Sometimes I wonder if my kids realise what a bum deal they have when it comes to their mum. How on earth will they feel as safe and secure as I did? Will I ever be good enough? Can I pass myself off as good enough with a half-decent front? Will they see straight through me? And are we all just pretending we know what we’re doing and where we’re going? Or do some people actually have a copy of the map?
When Maddie was teeny, the thought of those mother and baby groups terrified me. I knew I’d have to go anyway, but I found the prospect incredibly daunting. Maddie’s first swimming lesson aged four months old is burnt into my memory as a horrific example.
There we were, post-swim, in this soaked, dark and smelly changing cubicle no bigger than a public toilet. Maddie was screaming on the floor, lying on a wet changing mat. Everything was cold and wet. I’d bought five bath towels but I still couldn’t get any of them to work in my favour.
My priority was to get her warm and dry, so there I am, frantically pulling off her wet clothes while I drip and freeze in next to nothing. No biggy.
I’m having a terrible time trying to prize her tight, wet, not-so-happy nappy over her chubby thighs, while she proceeds to scream in blood-curdling fashion at the very top of her voice.
The soundtrack of calm smiley mothers cooing at their quiet babies while they happily shower and change suddenly stops dead. There’s complete silence outside of our cubicle. They’re all wondering what I’m doing to her; because it sounds as though I might be hacking off her limbs with a rusty saw.
I never thought we’d get out of that changing room.
A minute in that cubicle felt like an eternity of shit: a stint in hell itself. In reality, only about ten minutes must have passed before I opened the door.
I was tremendously embarrassed. My face was burning red hot with shame at how absolutely fucking pants I was at being a mum.
I managed to hold it together for long enough to brush off what had just happened, put my shoes on and make a run for it back to the safe haven of the car. I climbed into the front passenger seat with (a now calm) Maddie in my lap. I slunk down as far as I could so none of the other mums could see me, and I sobbed.
In that moment, I felt completely out of control as a mum. An imposter. I was nowhere near as competent a mum as any of the others there that day whose babies were all chilled AF.
Me? I was useless. Maddie had made that abundantly clear. Despite every effort to work to precision that afternoon, it all went to shit anyway.
I’ve got better at the baby groups thing. The key is to know your limits, and pick your baby groups wisely. I quickly delegated the swimming lessons to Jamie. He’s the sporty one after all. SOD. THAT.
Monkey Music is nicely inside my comfort zone, and I’ve loved going again with Billy. I’ve felt less pressure to make friends with other mums this time around. They always seem to know each other before I can even get a look in. Before I even get the chance to survey the room for potential new best friends they’ve already paired off, arranging cake and coffee after class, a girl’s night out, a double date while the grandparents babysit…
I’ve gotten used to being on the outside looking in where mummy friendship groups are concerned. In this area of ‘mum’, I am definitely an imposter to-date. In any case, because of work commitments, I’ve never been able to stick around after class with either child. We duck in, we duck out, we rush home. I’ve learnt to tell myself this is the reason I’m not making friends, and I don’t like to think any further into it.
I wonder why we don’t ever feel good enough?