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Pandemic panic parenting - is your best good enough?

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

For those of us still spinning the dual plates of career and raising children, imposter syndrome is a familiar term. It's that awful nagging thought that one day we’ll get found out and marched out of the office like a criminal, much to our eternal shame and horror. Luckily, this almost entirely never happens. Because actually, in the end, we can’t help but accept that we are actually quite good at our jobs, because if we weren’t we would be fired by now.

Imposter syndrome was first coined by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Immes, two female psychologists in 1978, and is described by the Oxford Dictionary as:

“The persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills”.

But what about when that same self-doubt enters your parenting world? The first time we’re likely to succumb to this feeling is when our new-born is first placed in our arms. Feeling that you are ‘not qualified’, or even just ‘not ready’ is totally natural – after all you may have read up on ‘What To Expect’ but the actual experience is not something you can prepare for.

With each stage of development come new doubts and a confusion of conflicting advice – the terrible twos, ‘threenagerdom’, to pre-school or not to pre-school, should they be writing their names before reception?

While friends can be supportive, there’s also often an innate, unspoken competitiveness around the achievement of milestones such as walking, talking, and that old bugbear of sleeping through the night. Still using a dummy at 3? What a failure. Weaning at 5 months? What a monster.

And now we find ourselves in what has now become a cliché – ‘unprecedented times’. We’re trying to hold down a career while preventing full-scale war breaking out over access to the ipad. We’re preparing for crucial board-meetings while wondering what the hell a fronted adverbial is when it’s at home.

The pressure we’re currently under to hold down a job in a recession, provide healthy home-cooked meals and ensure that 20 minutes of an age-appropriate book is read by little Johnny per day is, let’s face it, a bit of an ask. Not to mention Joe Wicks. Yes, let’s just not mention him, a delight though he may be.

As September looms, so the doubts grow – have I done enough to help them, how far behind will they be… am I a good enough parent?

The answer, in all likelihood, is a resounding yes. You are trying your best in the most trying of circumstances. So take a deep breath, make yourself a cuppa and reflect on this:

1 This is just a thought

And it's one thought, among hundreds of other thoughts, some about dinner, some about Ryan Gosling (or Reynolds). In any case, it’s not an actual fact. But if it is stopping you enjoying time with your baby or child, there are some talking therapies you can try where you are guided into reframing or editing the thoughts that trigger these feelings. If you are a very visual person, you could even visualise a giant eraser and rub it out. The NHS is a good place to start to find services. Or you might find it helpful to connect with other parents going through similar experiences. A good place to start is Mumsnet, or Netmums.

2 Step back and journal

One of the ways you can separate that unhelpful kind of thinking is to step back and note it. Why did you think that? Maybe even starting a journal to mark when you experience this kind of feeling will help you notice any patterns. Maybe it's especially when you are tired, or around particular friends or family? Seeing a pattern will help you understand why these feelings are coming up at that point, and how to avoid them in future.

3 Don't try to be perfect

We all want to be wonderful parents, a caring unflustered mother, a strong and loving father, and you are, or soon will be, but it takes time and experience. You will get there, but it's okay to take your time because this is one gig where you really do have to learn on the job. Little ones are remarkably resilient, just try not to over-think.

4 Put this into perspective

You've had challenges in your life before, and parenting is going to bring you all kinds of wonderful moments of course but also, probably some real heart-stopping ones too. Be grateful, and try to go with the flow if you can. It may help to remember some of the more questionable things your own parents did when you were little as they navigated their own parenting journey. Who remembers sitting in a car outside the pub with a fizzy pop, and the window open? Or being left with babysitters who may, or may not have just walked in off the street. And don’t get us started on some of the utter junk we were fed! These days we are so overloaded with the pressure to be perfect in everything we do for and with our children, it’s no wonder we can experience feelings of anxiety about doing the wrong thing.

Finally, some words of wisdom from a teacher to an anxious pupil, but that might just as well apply to the rest of us: ‘During a global pandemic it is OK for you not to be as amazing at school work as you would normally be. It is such a challenge to work from home. So far you have done amazingly.

Make sure you give yourself a relaxing break, get out and enjoy that sun!”

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