I recently learned about the Impostor Syndrome. Basically, it’s the fear that you’ll be discovered as a “fraud” when doing successful things. It’s supposed to describe a select group of people, but it most accurately describes parents.
When you’re raising kids, you encounter many moments when you feel like a fraud. There’s the first time you realize that there’s not set rule on what time your kids should go to bed or how much ice cream they can eat. That’s entirely up to you. It’s an open ended judgment call that has a profound effect on someone else’s life.
Daddy, can I have some ice cream?
You can have ALL the ice cream!
After a while you develop a rhythm. You figure out the appropriate amount for your own kid through trial, error, and vomit. Eventually you know how much ice cream is too much ice cream. You’ve got this.
That takes a while. Those first few times you feel like you’re completely faking it. Your child asks for more ice cream and you say, “No. You’ll spoil your dinner.” You feel dumb saying it. You’re not even sure what it means. Nonetheless, you repeat it back to a highchair riding toddler with ice cream in her hair and examine the reaction. You keep waiting for an adultier adult to run in and say, “Ladies and gentlemen, this person is a liar!“
You know the old saying:
These kids didn’t come with instruction manuals.
If you don’t have kids, you may have heard this phrase and laughed. Ha. Kids. Instruction manuals. It’s a pretty straightforward joke. To parents, however, it’s more than that. It’s a pretty terrifying truth.
When Olivia was born, there were nurses crawling all over us at the hospital. They helped us with all her basic needs. Feeding, changing, and everything else was covered. It got to the point where we thought that was it. This was parenting. You get nurses to do all your stuff. Why do so many parents complain?
They complain because eventually the hospital pushes you out like a baby bird. They swarm your car to make sure the car seat is tightly strapped in. They help you with your bags and wish you farewell. Then, they send you off with the most delicate human being you’ve ever been in the same vicinity with…alone. As you drive home at 10 miles an hour, with trembling hands on the steering wheel, you wonder what you got yourself into.
I remember being in disbelief that they would actually send us home with a baby. It made no sense. I had a history of killing goldfish and breaking video game controllers. Who the hell OK’d this? I’m seriously being left alone with a brittle person who fits in my hands?
Now up until this point in my life, I hadn’t held many babies and certainly none that were less than a week old. I was in constant fear that I might drop her at any moment. It’s all I thought about at the hospital. I’d repeat “don’t drop her, don’t drop her” to myself and then become paranoid that I accidentally said it out loud.
That worry can go away fairly fast. You get a trial by fire the first night you have a baby at home. I did. After a long few days, I was finally getting a good night’s sleep. It was one of those deep sleeps that, if suddenly awoken, cause you to run around with half closed eyes in a confused haze. It know it was one of those sleeps because that’s what happened when my wife woke me up…
…and placed a crying baby in my hands.
We all have moments in our life that we’ll never forget. This was one of those moments. I looked down through a cloud of confusion and there she was. Her almond eyes were staring right at me and her little mouth was almost a perfect circle as she wailed away. I took it all in as a fuzzy dream and then suddenly was pulled into a chaotic screaming reality. The moment lasted both a few seconds and forever.
A lot of the impostor worry started to fade away at that moment. I hadn’t dropped her, despite my groggy condition. With that off the checklist, I set out to stop the crying. I settled on singing but quickly realized that I knew about three lullabies. So I sang those first. That’s when I moved on to Happy Birthday, the theme to Diff’rent Strokes, the Star Spangled Banner, and a few other random hits from my weird memories. Olivia didn’t know the difference.
Then she fell asleep.
That was the first moment that I truly felt like a dad. It was my decision on what to do in that situation and I did it. Sure, it was weird. I never expected to be singing gentle versions of patriotic anthems and TV themes on the first night my baby was home, but there I was. I had done what I thought was right in that moment and it worked. As she’s grown through the years, that sentence has come to pass many times over.
It’s alright to worry about how you’re doing as a parent or be scared that you’re just winging it as you go. We all have self-doubt. It’s actually good. It means we care. You want to be the best for your kids so you worry that you won’t be. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t care.
We’re all in the same boat. There literally are no instruction manuals for these tiny people. It’s up to us to figure it out. All we have to do is follow what we know is right. If your parenting decisions are your own and come from a place a love, no one can ever call you an impostor.