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What Kind of Village Do Parents Need in the Age of Social Media?

By LifeStance Health on May 4, 2022

Does it take a village? These days most experiences are shared online, including parenting. The nascent world of celebrity parenting started with Demi Moore’s revealing pregnancy photo on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991 and culminated in Rihanna’s recent pregnancy photos revealed on Instagram.

For some, being a parent comes naturally, but for many others there can be self-doubt. Some anxiety as a new parent is normal and recognized as the baby blues in milder forms and postpartum depression in its more severe forms. But another kind of self-doubt is rarely acknowledged, and that is parental imposter syndrome.

It is often said that it takes a village to raise a child, implying that it is the child who needs the support. However, this adage misses the other need for a village: support for parents so that the whole family can thrive.

High Achievers Take Note

While harmful effects of social media on kids and teens is widely studied and discussed, its effect on parents can be just as damaging. Parental imposter syndrome can affect any parent, even those with multiple or older children. It usually affects parents who are high achievers and those striving for perfectionism, something social media amplifies. 

Although most of us understand that what we see on social media is only a small slice of another’s curated life, it can often seem that others have their lives all under control and aesthetically styled.

Parental Imposter Syndrome – What Is It?

Parental imposter syndrome stems from work of psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, who in the 1970s first described this phenomenon: high achievers gripped by self-doubt and often anxiety and depression.

Those suffering from imposter syndrome of any kind tend to attribute their success to luck or circumstance instead of their own ability and grit. Another common psychosis associated with imposter syndrome is the fear of being revealed as a fraud. Mental health practitioners acknowledge that imposter syndrome is a real and specific form of self-doubt, however, it is not currently an official psychological diagnosis in the DSM.

Transitions Can Signal Trouble

Parental imposter syndrome, like other forms of the imposter phenomenon, frequently appears during transitional periods in our lives. It is also during times that parents most frequently turn to the internet and social media for advice: during sleep or potty training, selecting a new school or transitioning into puberty.

This online village can create a sense of belonging, but it can also accentuate feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. High achieving parents can feel in control of their professional lives and feel hidden shame that they are unable to parent adequately or raise their kids in a certain mold their peer group glorifies.

Differences Acerbate Imposter Syndrome

Differing from cultural norms or local communities can bring out the imposter phenomenon in parents and it affects both men and women. Parenting is as challenging as it is rewarding because parenting strategies that once worked may lose their effectiveness as the child grows. Every child is different, so having multiple kids doesn’t make parenting easier. Being older or younger, divorced or part of the LGBT community can make parenting feel like a farce.

Some self-doubt when trying new things is normal but if the thoughts disrupt normal mental functions, it might be time to get help from a mental health professional.

New Perspectives for the Parenthood Journey

Here are some ways to reduce feelings of parental imposter syndrome.

Hold on to the joy

Embrace babyhood and childhood as the messy process it is and release feelings of perfectionism or the notion that there is only one way for child can grow up. Babies require so much care; little kids can be demanding of our attention; and teenagers want their independence. You are the only one who can help your child experience all these stages with curiosity and wonder.

Celebrate your unique identity

Recognize what you have learned about yourself and your child and reinforce those experiences and interests as family values and strengths. We all crave belonging and acceptance and by accepting your own differences, you can help your child develop self-confidence with their differences too.

Acknowledge your achievements

Prioritize what is important to you and share and encourage these values with your child. Allow yourself to feel pride at meeting milestone accomplishments. We can only control our own behavior and being present and showing our authentic self to our children is the best gift we can give.

Create your own parenting village

Starting new friendships in middle age is difficult to do but all you need to do is to ask. Consider inviting other parents for a get together to discuss parenting or a shared interest. It is helpful to include parents that reflect different parenting styles to highlight that there is more than one right way to raise well-adjusted kids.

Limit social media use

Despite the promise of social media and its ability to connect us, social media can also magnify unrealistic expectations for parents. Reducing social media use or unfollowing specific triggering accounts can be helpful in reducing imagined social pressure for performative parenting.

Get professional help

Break the cycle of damaging thoughts by reaching out to a mental health practitioner to reduce anxiety and depression caused by parental imposter syndrome. There are different strategies to help, including therapy and medication.