Parental Impostor Syndrome

It’s one thing to pretend when you are a child, quite another when you are a mature adult trying to pretend you are the parent (though actually you are) of your adopted child. An article in The Guardian caught my attention – “Everyone knows you’re not a real mum.”

The parental impostor syndrome some adoptive parents have – that they are faking it, and will never cut it as a parent – is seldom acknowledged. The concept of an impostor syndrome is loosely defined as doubting your abilities and not feeling good enough. There are certainly quite a lot of adoptees who have felt they were not good enough in their adoptive parents perspective.

Ranee, 52, lives in south-west London with her husband and their two adopted children. Ranee is of Sri Lankan heritage and her husband’s family are from Mauritius. Because of this, it took a long time for them to be matched with their children as many councils are keen to match the ethnic backgrounds of potential parents and children.

Ranee says, “It was as if I had fake written on my forehead.”

During that time, Ranee and her husband went through a rigorous vetting process, yet when the process was complete and they were a family with children, she felt disoriented by how much she didn’t know. “I remember walking into the playground and thinking, ‘Everyone knows you’re not a real mum,’” she says, upon taking her five-year-old to school for the first time. “It was as if I had a siren above me, or ‘fake’ written on my forehead. Just trying to talk to parents on a playdate, or wondering what other kids would eat was tricky. My children were really picky eaters, and all of this made me think I didn’t know what I was doing.”

She says she had done courses and read books to try to prepare, but nothing quite readied her for the experience of becoming a parent. “I didn’t have any mum friends and I’d gone straight from working to being a stay-at-home mum. I kept thinking, ‘Does everyone feel like this? Is this how it is?’”

Ranee, a food photographer, says now that the adoption is completed, her impostor syndrome has largely gone. “Occasionally it comes back when we’re dealing with school issues, but I now have a network of friends who have also adopted and that has helped me gain some perspective.”

As well as the fact that she and her husband went from a couple to parents of two in one day, Ranee thinks anxiety about whether she was doing things “right” played a big role in feeling like an impostor. “I sometimes felt as if there was a model parent out there, but I learned to lower my expectations, and understood that my children don’t know any different. I now subscribe to ‘good enough’ parenting. I know I will make mistakes and I have to forgive myself and not get het up.

“I used to want to run out of the playground and hide under the bed. But I’ve learned that you just have to set your own standard. Trust that you will be a great parent, and fight your children’s corner. One day you’ll fail, the next day you’ll feel less of a failure, and so on, until it normalizes.” Years later, she says, things look very different. “I have two amazing kids who are teenagers, and I know they will forge their own lives, and I just want them to be happy.”

And parenting it doesn’t get any easier with more children, because each child will have a different personality requiring different methods of parenting. My sons certainly teach me that lesson all the time. One keeps to himself a lot but will eat anything I cook. The other one is socially outgoing but a very picky eater, I say he is a purest. And there’s something about being a parent in your 50s and 60s, you don’t have the physicality of your 20s or 30s.

When I was having lots of challenges with my older child, I realized it was a cry for attention. He had “lost” me to his younger brother who understandably needed nursing and diaper changing. When I realized this, I swapped with my husband when we were out with the family and even at home, spending one-on-one time with the older boy and the problems turned around very quickly.

We think we have to live up to other people’s examples but that can make us feel inadequate. All the parenting books are suggestions but you have to invent your own way of parenting, because every child is unique. Good enough parenting is a good goal. The mistakes we make give our children space to grow into better adults, things to rebel against, and it helps them forge their personality. We love our children but what is more important is to respect them. 

Don’t let your self-doubt define you. Enjoy your own parenting style because it allows you to display your authenticity to your children and gives them permission to have their own style.

Becoming Whole

This is what it is like to relinquish a child and then one day find them again and realize you are coming full circle and putting your pieces back together to become whole again. One birth mother’s story for today.

Summer 2018:

While working with my husband (repo agent) doing research on debtors, I stumble across a Facebook profile pic that makes my heart stop. After years of searching with very limited info, I finally saw a picture of the man my son grew to become. (He happened to be FB friends with a debtor we were looking for). My own eyes were staring back at me.

I chew nervously for days on what to do. Do I reach out? What if he doesn’t want to meet me? My heart is racing almost non-stop, and I’m functioning barely in a constant state of fight or flight.

I bite the bullet and send a message. Crickets for a few days, and then a very guarded/nervous response. I back off because I can’t even imagine what he’s thinking/feeling. And then, I receive a friend request.

I can see his life in posts, pics, and a piece of who he is. It’s such a gift…one I had long ago conceded I’d never receive. We tread carefully back and forth on social media for some time. I immediately put myself into intensive therapy to deal with the unresolved trauma and PTSD issues I had ignored forever. I search for and join multiple groups both for support and adoptee perspective. I, for the first time in my life, focus on self-improvement instead of self-destruction.

February 2019:

We meet face to face for the first time in a neutral location. He hugs me, and I’m shaking externally from all the emotions I’m feeling. I’m trying to absorb everything because I’m so scared this is going to be it. I have gifts for him in the car (a hand written letter, framed pic of me holding him as a newborn, and a watch engraved with

Always loved… Never forgotten…

I wait until our lunch is over and ask if he’d be ok with a couple of gifts. He readily accepts them, and we part ways. I’m terrified that I’ve done too much, but only 30 mins later I receive a message thanking me for everything. He goes on to say that the picture and letter would have been more than enough, but absolutely loves the watch.

Today:

I honestly could write a book on our journey so far. There are so many things that have occurred that aren’t included in this small recap – but I’ll save that for another day.

This is what I want to share –

Less than 2 years after reuniting, he joined us on our annual family vacation. He left his car at my house and endured a 10 hour drive with myself, hubby, his half brother and our dog.

He loves hiking and the outdoors!!! I’ve spent many family vacations dragging my husband and other 2 kiddos hiking only to hear complaints. This year, I had an Ally!!! I listened for hours to my husband and him talk cars, my youngest son and him talk video games, and my daughter and him talk science and politics.

I don’t ever want to forget these moments.

My son asked me during our first meeting…”Does your husband know about me?”… My response was “Of course! I told him about you only 2 weeks after meeting him. I hoped I would find you one day, and I could only be with someone who could accept and support that.”

My husband has done more than just support me….he’s accepted my son, included him and embraced him. I’m still a broken woman, but my pieces are coming together. And my family is finally whole.

Somehow Adoption Continues

Catch me if you can.  Has the effort to adopt hit a pause button given the current circumstances ?  It seems it has not.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, our daily lives have all been affected in a way that none of us were anticipating just a few weeks ago. So you might think that now isn’t the ideal time to consider adoption.  The for profit adoption industry does not think so.

One adoption blog seems to be saying “now is actually a great time to begin or reinvigorate your adoption plans. Difficult times bring a greater need for adoptive parents.  Adoptions have increased in the past few weeks because women want more for their children and babies. They are turning to adoption during the coronavirus.”

Desperate times seem to increase desperation.  Somehow we lose the sense that this is all temporary.  The uncertainty causes us to question our ability to meet the challenge and survive.

This adoption agency wants to encourage more adoptions, even in the midst of this crisis, it appears that they have sensed this as a marketing opportunity.  They note – “with the world in turmoil and with financial situations uncertain, we find that more women are contacting us, looking for a stable, loving family to adopt their baby. They love their child enough to do what is best for them. They know they need a family stable enough to weather the storm. A family that will be able to protect and care for their child no matter the circumstances.”

Well fear does this to people but the decision to surrender your child is a permanent solution.  It actually reflects a lack of trust that the future will be better and that we will all get through this somehow.  It causes a young woman to doubt herself as capable.  This is a sad state of affairs.

It is true that people are generally stressed now.  That should not make it a good time to take advantage of a woman in a state of hyped up fear.  One expectant mother shared what she is going through right now –

“Some family friends of mine are giving their (unsolicited) opinion that I should seriously consider adoption since I am currently unemployed and it is not realistic for me to get a job amidst the virus, being pregnant and having had asthma as a kid. They seem to think I need to make the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ and give her ‘a good life’. If the only people who can give a child a good life are the few that can properly afford to adopt, then huge demographics of people are morally wrong for having children apparently. Including the people who said I should place her. I was so upset that I was crying yesterday, just for being told that.”

Let’s have more compassion people.