The event was billed as a Catholic parenting and homeschooling conference, and I was there along with a hundred other conscientious Catholic moms. I was wearing a scapular on my shoulders and a name tag on my shirt. I carried a little plastic bag of conference giveaways. My maternal ears were attuned to the slightest hum from the cell phone that linked me with the kids back home. Yet I felt that, at any moment, the other conference attendees might suddenly turn to me in flash mob style and shout, “You don’t belong here!”
Why? Because some of those conscientious Catholic moms baked their own bread…while I bought mine from the grocery store. Some of them participated in weekly nighttime Adoration…and I went to Adoration only on First Fridays…during the day. Some of the moms had received a classical education which they passed on to their homeschooled children…and I had to read the teacher’s manual to find out why Socrates was such a big deal.
There was no question in my mind that all of the mothers at that conference were better, brighter, and more virtuous than I. Being in their midst only intensified my sense of insecurity. It was an uncomfortable feeling, and one that I resolved to avoid by assiduously steering clear of all future events – whether conference or kaffeeklatsch – at which I was likely to rub elbows with other Catholic moms.
But that was then.
Last week, I both attended and spoke at the 2016 IHM National Homeschooling and Parenting Conference. This time, I was eagerly looking forward to interacting with wonderful moms who, ten years earlier, would have had me timidly shuffling toward the exit door. I had the opportunity to meet many of them after I gave my talk, “Beating Mompostor™ Syndrome: How to Defeat Self-Doubt, Take Back Your Vocation, and Save the World.”
I use the term “Mompostor™ Syndrome” to refer to the unique ways in which mothers experience “impostor syndrome,” a condition distinguished by chronic feelings of self-doubt and insecurity. Among the burdens placed on us by Mompostor™ Syndrome is a reluctance to participate in social activities for fear that we will be exposed as frauds who are merely posing as “good mothers.”
In my talk at the IHM conference, I quoted these words of Mother Angelica:
“Let us not be confused by the talents and missions of other Saints. Let us be the kind of saints we were created to be.”
Too often, we mothers allow ourselves to be “confused by the talents of other saints.” Those saints may include the mom whose children sit quietly throughout Mass, or the mom who takes her entire brood on a weekly nature walk, or the mom whose seven-year-old knows the difference between an Imprimatur and a Nihil Obstat.
And can explain it to you.
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As a recovering Mompostor™, I know how easy it is to play the comparison game. Unfortunately, as in the classic “heads I win, tails you lose” coin flip, it’s easy to predict the outcome: The other saint will always shine brighter, and you’ll be standing there wondering how you ever dared to wear a halo in the first place.
What’s a mother to do? First, remember that you don’t need to be The Best in order to provide value to others. I’m not the best mother, but by God’s grace, I manage to meet – albeit imperfectly – the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of my children. I’m not the best teacher, but my kids like to learn, and they’re able to read, write, and calculate. I’m not the best speaker, but if I hadn’t decided to speak at the IHM conference, I wouldn’t have reached the women who told me that they had been blessed by my witness. There’s only kind of “best” with which you need concern yourself, and that is, as Matthew Kelly puts it, “the best version of yourself.” God does not mean for you to become a knockoff version of someone else, no matter how holy or accomplished or virtuous that “someone else” may be. St. Gianna Molla did not try to be St. Zelie Martin, who did not try to be Blessed Anne Marie Taigi.
Second, resolve to feel inspired rather than inferior when you meet a mom whose abilities you admire. Does she grow all of her family’s produce in her backyard garden? Can she manage a household even better than your mom? Is she as good a motivator as Mary Poppins? Whatever her skill, ask that mom if she would be willing to share her know-how with you. In doing so, you stand both to broaden your own knowledge and provide validation to a mom who may herself be struggling Mompostor™ Syndrome.
Remember that being a good mom doesn’t consist in doing everything right or even in doing everything as well as the next mom. It does consist in fighting against the feelings of inadequacy that keep us from fulfilling our vocation with confidence and joy.
You DO measure up. You ARE worthy of your vocation. And God is calling you to “be the kind of saint YOU were created to be.”