Imposter Mom Syndrome

As the fairy garden directs, walk confidently in the direction of your dreams. Now, which way was that again? 

As the fairy garden directs, walk confidently in the direction of your dreams. Now, which way was that again? 

By Danielle Veith

Both times we left the hospital with new babies, I felt like an imposter. Like an overgrown teenager who didn’t take the grown-up test and wouldn’t have passed. “They’re really gonna let us just walk out the door like this, with a baby human? Who’s in charge of checking in to make sure we’re doing it right?”

I’ve talked to lots of friends about this imposter syndrome, and they have had this moment, too. One day, you wake up and the police officers are way younger than you, and it’s weird.

But I realized something this week: I’m a grown-up.

No, really, I totally am. Leaving a job that wasn’t working for me or my family was a decisive move. One of the most self-directed intentional thing I’ve ever done. There have been a lot of “Sure, why not?" moments along the way. There was an open door somewhere and I went through it.

This time, when my life wasn’t the way I wanted it to be, I changed it.

For now, I’ve renewed my stay-at-home status. There are people who believe I am doing just the right thing, focusing on my family, not working outside the home. Some of them, I would not like very much. And there are people who think I’m a relic, not living up to modern day commandments. I probably wouldn’t like most of them either.

This week it hit me—I’m in charge of me.  The only question I need to answer in my current self-doubting, insecure incarnation is this: Am I ok with me?

I know that sounds horribly trite, like a big fat cliché. I’ve had these thoughts many times, but this time was different. Because this time I’m a grown up.

The people who would judge who I am based on my current state of affairs—one way or the other—will step off, as we used to say back in the day, if I feel good about what I’m doing and emanate that feeling. Or at least I’ll stop seeing their judge-y faces because I’m too busy living my life according to my own, grown-up desires.

Don’t get me wrong here. There are days when I’m no Rosie the Riveter. The self-confidence required to not only figure out what you want to do, but to do it and not ask anyone else for advice, that’s pretty grown-up. There are bound to be slip-ups.

In grad school, I had a professor who told me that my poetry is “not for everyone,” but that people who “get” me will “really get” me. It’s kind of like being okay with that. I’m not for everyone.

Over the last six years, since I have become a mother, I have found it incredibly hard to be okay with me, to feel confidence in my choice, but I never really figured out whether those questioning voices were coming from someone else or from me.

When I was first home with my first baby, I went through a whole messy process of trying to figure out who this new person was. She doesn’t work, she runs playgroups, she does mommy and me yoga. Was that ok? Was I happy? Did I need more? And then the anxious questions tumble out… What if my husband left me? What if he suddenly died? It was a vulnerable place to be and it made me very insecure—financially and emotionally.

Home again now, after working a real, pays-me kind-of-job, I’m cycling through all of that again. All of the doubts, the insecurities and the questions came back at me full force in a way I had not expected.

Working at a job gave me the confidence that I still have value in that part of the world, that I have something to offer and am welcome if/when I choose it. I spent money without checking in first, because it was my money. And I hadn’t even really noticed that, when I wasn’t working, I had felt like it wasn’t mine. With the first paycheck, that feeling of security came back and reminded me what life is like when you earn your own money.

That may be the hardest part of being “at home” for me—completely relying on another person in a whole body-whole life kind of way. Just like falling in love and realizing that you’ve just handed to someone is the ability to hurt you.

Having kids adds to this, because it’s about more than whether I get hurt, it’s about my instinct to protect these vulnerable offspring who have been entrusted to me. What if I’m suddenly, by accident or choice, the only one to love and feed and clothe and support them? Yikes.

Having a job comforted that part of my mind. I thought it would last, but now I think it’s just a part of it. Being a “stay-at-home” mom is a choice to be vulnerable, and it needs to be paired with the piece of mind that I would be able to do all of those grown-up things if it was left to me alone. And then letting it go.

Because you can’t think about all of the weight of that every day and stay sane.

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Crazy Like a Mom

Crazy mom Danielle Veith has two kids—a 5 year-old daughter and a 2 year-old-son—who are happier than she could ever have imagined. Being a stay-at-home mom for almost five years makes her feel totally insane, but also lucky, constantly amazed and full of wonder. Before the babies, she lived in Brooklyn and had a real grown-up life that included working in the Creative Writing Program at NYU, at The Nation magazine and at Viking-Penguin Books. With her ever-loving husband and children, she now lives in the Washington DC metro area, and puts her MFA in poetry to good use writing in her head when no one's screaming.