When the “Should” Hits The Fan

When my husband and I began the discussion about having kids and then started off on our journey towards conception, I thought I had a good idea what I’d be in for. After all, I had a degree in education, had taught preschool through to 12th grade, and had worked as a nanny for many different families. I was no stranger to kids and the work that goes into them. At least that’s what I thought. Like so many others before me, I had no idea how little I truly understood about parenthood from the inside.

Image by Heather Bee Photography

In all that early planning, I often discussed with my husband how things would go. How life should be for us with our child. I was just as guilty as most childless people (perhaps even more if I’m being honest) of judging parents around me. It was so easy from my comfy seat to see their mistakes, to point out with a shake of my head what they should be doing.

I was “shoulding” all over the place and when my baby came, I stepped right into the big ol pile of “should” that’d I’d created for myself.

  • The baby should sleep in his crib.
  • The baby should sleep at this time and for this long.
  • The baby should eat this much at this time.
  • The baby should be happy in his car seat, stroller, swing, etc.
  • I should be able to still be myself, not turn into just a mom blob. I should lose all the baby weight within a month.
  • I should be able to stay in touch with all my friends.
  • I should be able to put just as much work into my marriage as ever before since that is the foundation of our family.
  • As a stay at home mama, I should have a clean house with dinner on the table for my husband each night.
  • I should never lose patience with my innocent child and loving husband.
  • We should go on regular date nights.
  • The baby should happily stay with the caregiver we have chosen.
  • I should be able to easily breast feed and pump bottles on demand for maximum convenience.
  • I should savor each moment because every time you turn around someone is pointing out to you how fast it goes by and you must must must enjoy every second of it right now!

The list of “shoulds” was endless…..

Looking back now, I held on way too long to most of those expectations. The first year with a new baby is a challenge no matter what. But for me, I truly think it was holding onto the “shoulds” and fighting so hard to force them to fit into our lives that made it so much harder.

One of the first things I let go of was expecting my baby to be happy anywhere but in my arms or a carrier. Babies should love swings and strollers, right? You see them everywhere you go. Yes, I need the break and how would I ever get anything done if I can’t put my baby down for five minutes?!

Along with this came the crib expectation. Everyone knows babies should sleep in cribs! One of the first things we all think about putting on the baby registry is the perfect crib for the beautiful nursery we will create. If I couldn’t get my baby to happily sleep in his crib, then wasn’t I failing as a mother?!

What an epiphany it was when one day I asked myself “why does a baby have to sleep in his crib?” I had no answer for that other than it’s just understood that they should. But if no one had ever told me that, would I feel so bad that he hates his crib? Would I be working so hard through exhaustion and frustrating all of us just to get him to stay in that crib one extra minute? Would all of society crumble into chaos if a baby was allowed to just fall asleep the way that worked best for them even if that wasn’t in a crib? Of course not. So what was I doing? Letting go of that “should” changed everything for me.

No, my baby didn’t start sleeping better. No, I didn’t get more breaks or time to myself. But even though nothing actually changed, everything got easier. It got easier because I had dropped the bricks of guilt I’d put on my own shoulders. I was lugging around those “shoulds” and they were breaking me, making me feel like a failure for not living up to them. I stopped wasting precious energy on useless goals. I started letting go of more unrealistic “shoulds” and each release made my entire family happier.

I’d love to see more moms drop the expectations that aren’t working for them and their family. Take a moment to think of some of your hardest parenting struggles and ask yourself if it’s truly important or just a “should” you’re hanging onto. I think we can also replace them with the right “shoulds”.

  • You should be kind to yourself.
  • You should remember you’re human, not perfect but doing the best you can and that’s always more than enough.
  • You should do what works best for your family regardless of other’s judgments.
  • You should unapologetically cry when you need to and laugh as much as possible.

Can you list some “shoulds” you needed to let go of for your sanity? Comment with a healthy “should” below!

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