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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: Imposters?
May 5, 2011 - 8:23pm

OK, so Donald Trump found me out. His recent statement that "most economists aren’t very smart" made me realize that my act wasn’t fooling him, after all. Of course, he has no idea of who I am, but the fact that he pronounced to the world that people with my degree are not very smart well, it just smarts. Ouch. So he knows that I am just skating by, hoping to survive day to day, knowing that my past success is all a fluke and that I don’t have any real talent, after all? How did this person I have never met figure that out?

What I just described is sometimes called that "imposter syndrome," in which competent people don’t take credit for their own success, but attribute it to luck and randomness. It is ironic that Trump's comments about economists came at about the same time he was directly attacking the qualifications of our President, not leaving it to chance that self-doubt might undermine his self-confidence, but making sure that a large group of people in our country would work to promote that self-doubt, which I suspect never arrived. Not only was he saying that economists were not very smart, he was also saying that the President of the United States (with more academic pedigrees than almost anyone else in the world) was not very smart, either. I guess I, and my fellow economists, are in good company then. I suspect, however, that his words had practically no effect on the President’s self-confidence.

Of course, Trump obviously has no idea who I am or what I do all day. At worst, his comments are the source of a good laugh in our home, where my husband likes to jokingly calls me “Dr. Genius” when I do something exposing my air-headedness. However, his comments brought me back to another area where I often feel self-doubt, my role as a mother.

When our daughter first came home, I was, like most new mothers, overwhelmed with the additional responsibilities. I remember telling people that I know what it feels like to do something well, and that this was not that feeling. I have never managed to get to that feeling as a mother, except for perhaps a few weeks when she was about 4 months old, and life revolved around bottles, diapers and cute baby girl clothes, all wrapped up in a neat baby car carrier that was becoming easier to carry with muscles that were not as sore as they were at first. However, as someone warned me, things change every six weeks or so, and they certainly did for me. As my daughter began to eat solid food and began to grow, my responsibilities changed again, and I never did get back to the feeling that “ok, I can do this.”

A friend of mine tells the story of being in the store one day with her son who was about five at the time. Her son desperately wanted something, which she refused to get him. He proceeded to throw a temper tantrum, but she continued to hold her ground, not giving in to his protests. When she left a few minutes later, she was followed by a woman who had been a fellow shopper who came up to her as she got into her car. The woman told my friend “I just want to tell you that you did a great job back there with him.” My friend, who was frazzled from the experience, was thrilled that someone would reach out to support her as she tried to do her best to be a good mother to her son. Alas, this is not always the way that mothers act toward each other, and we sometimes offer criticism more easily than we do support and praise.

I wonder, then, as Mother’s Day arrives this weekend, if there might be way to help fellow mothers grow in confidence in their roles, to give them the assistance that they need to help them flourish as parents, so that self-doubt does not undermine their efforts. After all, why should those with the most difficult job in the world also have to deal with the “Imposter Syndrome?”

Wishing everyone who “mothers” in some way a very Happy Mother’s Day!


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