I was seventeen when I became a mother.

At seventeen, I was unsure of myself as a young woman who had just graduated high school, realizing that it was time to be a grown up and to add insult to injury, becoming a mother in a time when the internet was just jumping on the chastise-mothers-for-everything bandwagon.

I can remember the first time I stepped foot into baby story time hour at the public library. In our upper middle class hometown, I was easily the youngest mother there by at least a decade. I didn’t socialize for fear of being judged. My main goal, of course, was to give my daughter the kind of upbringing I knew she deserved. So we went to story time once a week until she went to preschool. I never made a mom friend, in fact I had it stuck in my mind that the other mothers were surely meeting at Starbucks to talk about how sad it was that I, a baby myself, had a baby. My daughter didn’t suffer from my insecurities; of course she flourished in an inviting setting full of nursery rhymes and one-on-one time with her mommy.

Preschool tours did not lessen the feelings of criticism. I spent hours (seriously, hours) trying to find an outfit and decide on a way to present myself so that the teachers would not be concerned about the fact I probably couldn’t raise a child at twenty two. My daughter of course, was completely oblivious to the fact that her mother is a neurotic idiot, and exceeded in preschool and we always received wonderful remarks about her personality and intelligence. But that once again didn’t stop me from endless worry that I was certainly failing her in some way.

Kindergarten came and with it, my determination to be the type of mom who was always helping out in the classroom. It’s funny, that despite my lack of confidence in the parenting department, I was vowing be the most hands on mom I could be. I volunteered in the classroom, took home papers to help out the teacher, and chaperoned every field trip. I can assure you with 100% certainty that I have solidified my place in my daughter’s elementary school memories, and she has no idea that I have no idea what I’m doing. I am living, breathing example of fake it until you make it.

At twenty six now, with a third grade daughter, I have experienced story time fears, preschool tour fears, volunteering fears, even sitting next to my husband during a private school interview as he breezed through it (a young parent himself) as if he had done this type of thing a million times over, while I mumbled something about being a stay at home mom and almost dumped my coffee everywhere. She got in to the school, and with the acceptance despite my nervousness, it occurred to me, almost nine years later, that my insecurities stemmed from an imaginary devil on my shoulder, whispering nonsense about how I’m not good enough.

I sit here now and watch my friends have babies of their own, and through discussions with other moms, I know that I’m not alone. Maybe I was the youngest in all these scenarios, but I think every first time (or second time, or third time) mom, whether she is seventeen or thirty, walks into story time or preschool or the first day of kindergarten with the same fears I did. We don’t spend enough time building each other up, but we spend all the time in the world comparing our faults to those moms who have it (seemingly) all figured out at 7:30 in the morning drop off. I bet we all look at each other, silently struggling to make it out the front door with diaper bags or homework or a freshly packed lunch, and we never take the time to realize that we are just looking at another mom, who worries about the same things we’re sitting in the drop off line at school worrying about.

So I end this with a message to all the moms out there who are wondering if they are letting their child down every day. The other night I was sitting on my couch when my daughter ran downstairs, plopped herself down next to me, and laid her head on my shoulder. “Mom, will you just hold me?” asked the beautiful, smart, independent nine year old I have spent years worrying about. She didn’t care that I don’t have the biggest SUV or the fanciest house, and she absolutely doesn’t care that I concern myself with being as good as the other moms. All she knows is that for her entire life, she has had a (sometimes not so silent) cheerleader standing behind her, celebrating her achievements and milestones. She loves me because I’m her mom, not because I’ve struggled to project an Instagram filtered picture of perfection worthy of Pinterest. And the same goes for you, reading this on your couch. Your children only care that mom is there, cheering them on, flaws and all. And for that, you should be patting yourself on the back. You are the best mom that you can be, and there’s no better proof of that than the wonderful child you have raised.

And that is all that matters.

-Chelsea Donahue