As many of us have gone through our careers, we have, at one time or another run into the “Impostor Syndrome.” The Impostor Syndrome is when, despite the fact that everyone else believes you are good at your job, you are not so sure. You are afraid that, eventually, everyone else will find out that you are just faking it, that you are an impostor, a fraud. It has been a long time since I experienced the Impostor Syndrome, that is until last weekend when, for the better part of two days, my wife and I had to care for our two granddaughters, one about 2.5 years old and about six months old.
I have never had children of my own. When, I married my wife in my mid-thirties, her then 9 year old daughter came into my life. She was a charming young girl and has grown into a charming young woman, but I was clueless about parenting. For the most part, I just did the opposite of what I thought my parents would have done, and that seemed to work out pretty well. Also, since our relationship started when my stepdaughter was nine years old, I could have an intelligent conversation with her, ascertain her needs and desires, and communicate my own. Overall, I think we have had a very good relationship, and I could not imagine loving her any more if she were my natural child…but, and it is a big but, I never had to learn to deal with toddlers and infants. That is whole different ball of wax.
Until my older granddaughter was born, I had never even held a baby. When I held her for the first time, I started to get those feelings of inadequacy and incompetence. What was the right way to hold her? What if I did something to hurt her? Even though there is something comforting in holding a sleeping baby, I was terribly nervous about screwing it up.
A bit over a year ago, my wife and I had our first truly solo experience at babysitting. We watched our older granddaughter overnight while our daughter and son-in-law went away for some much needed adult time. I always looked to my wife for guidance because she has done this before, and, as her daughter grew up to be a charming and successful young woman I figured that she must know what she is doing.
For us, that evening was a harrowing experience. Explaining to our 1.5 year old granddaughter that she would not see Mama until the next day, and going from room to room to show her that, no, Mama was not there, was just the prelude. Then came time for her to go bed and for us to feel totally inadequate. Our daughter had left a list of things that usually worked in helping our granddaughter get to sleep. We did our best to follow the tips, but to no avail. She was unhappy. She cried. We listened. We reacted. We wondered if we would fall asleep before she did. Finally exhaustion got the better of her, she fell asleep, and we opened a much needed bottle of wine. To this day I still wonder if we just didn’t know what we were doing, and if we could have done better.
Now let’s skip forward a bit over a year. Our daughter was teaching over a weekend, so we drove to where she was teaching so we could watch after the girls while she worked. I went into this endeavor with a great deal of trepidation based on both past experience, and the fact that now there were two of them; two sweet little girls with bouts of separation anxiety. The first day, there were the good times. Taking the older girl into the hotel pool while the younger happily slept in the stroller. Walking around the local historical area, looking for animals, and taking in the sights. The girls were good, and we all had a good time. Once we returned to the hotel we had a dual meltdown. The two girls unhappy, uncomfortable, missing their Mama and crying. They were feeding off each other. If one would calm down, the other would start crying and restart the chain reaction. I was working with the baby, my wife with the toddler. We felt totally inadequate. Did we know what we were doing? Is there something else we should be doing to quiet the children down and make them happy? Did the people in the adjoining rooms hate us? Finally, things did quiet down. Did we do the right things? Did they just run out of steam? Was it luck, our efforts, or a combination of the two? My wife kept telling me how great I was with the baby. I was dubious, especially after the baby had just spent the better part of an afternoon crying as I held her.
The second day was a bit easier as our daughter was able to drop in around mid-day. So, we did fun things with the girls, swimming pool, lunch and playground; with some crying thrown in, just because they are little, and sometimes, that is how they communicate. We finally decided we needed to get out of the hotel room, so we bundled the girls into the car and headed to the local historical area. En route, the girls fell asleep, so we took a very pretty one hour drive. Back at the historical area we put the sleepy girls into the stroller, went to check out some horses and then just wandered around for a while. While I was pushing the baby in the stroller, someone walked by and said, “What a frowny face.” Since I didn’t think I had been frowning, I checked out the baby. Sure enough, she looked unhappy and ready to cry, so we put the toddler into the stroller to keep her company and headed back at the car. We arrived back at the hotel just moments before my daughter, and, as she walked up, the girls’ faces just lit right up.
So, how did we do? Well, we managed to keep the girls entertained for the better part of two days with a minimal amount of crying (I think). We kept them fed and away from physical harm. So I guess we did OK, but I can’t get over the feeling that others will discover that we were just faking it and somehow got lucky…that we are impostors when it comes to grandparenting.