Parenting "shoulds"

If there is one word that seems to exponentially increase when we become mums, it’s the word ‘should’.  Whether it’s in our spoken language or in those thoughts that rattle around in our heads driving mummy guilt, the word ‘should’ gets too much air time.

Aiming too high

Many psychologists have spent hours wading through the quagmire of the mind, undoing the damage of the unrealistic expectations, and the rising sense of failure that the simple word “should” can produce. Why do we do it to ourselves?

Before becoming mums we use it all the time. We ‘should’ exercise, we ‘should’ eat healthily, we ‘should’ tidy the house, and yes maybe each of these is true at some stage. But when we become mums, oh my goodness, that little word becomes the greatest enemy to any sense of satisfaction or joy. It’s time to STOP ‘SHOULDING’!

There are some ‘shoulds’ that are a must and they don’t generally cause us much angst. We should love our children, provide for their nutritional needs, provide warmth and safety, read them stories, give cuddles, put them to bed and so on. But then there’s a whole range of ‘shoulds’ that only serve to be soul-destroying because they tell us constantly that we’re not good enough.

Stop and think

Do you find yourself feeling disappointed in your mothering, looking longingly at other people’s families or just generally feeling down about who you are and how you’re travelling? Then consider what messages you’re telling yourself. What phrases pop frequently into your mind? You may well find that many of those messages contain ‘shoulds’ that are totally wrong for you and need to be rephrased. Many of these ‘should’ messages may come from seriously unrealistic expectations. They’re deadly little demons let me tell you! (I know that because I’ve thought or spoken most of them to myself, and it didn’t serve me well.)

Rephrase ‘should’

Just by rephrasing your thoughts and seeing your situation in a different way, you can replace a ‘should’ with something far more constructive. Women are really good at comparing ourselves to other women. When we become mums, there seems to be thousands more opportunities every day for comparison and subsequent mummy guilt, and that’s before we even get to lunch time! We’re not helping ourselves or our families by ‘shoulding’ our way through life. What happens in one family does not have to happen in another.  What one mum does, doesn’t have to be duplicated by every other mum, and that includes you. 

For example… your friend does craft with her little ones. You think to yourself ‘she is such a great mum, I should be doing craft or baking with my kids’. You feel like a bad mum because you don’t do craft or bake with your kids. So you have a choice- you can continue to beat yourself up over that ‘should’, or you can rephrase using the word ‘could’. Try this….

‘I don’t really get into craft or baking, but my mum does, so I could ask her to do that kind of stuff once a fortnight with the kids’. Grandma and grandchildren get special time together, new skills are learned. You have offloaded that ‘should’ and everybody wins.


‘I could take the to a kids activity group where they do craft stuff’. There they would mix with other kids, learn social and manual dexterity skills.  You have offloaded that ‘should’ and again everyone wins.

 Be kind to yourself

Take inspiration from the way other mums do things for sure, but don’t let it become a deadly ‘should’ phrase that only serves to make you feel small or inadequate. Every family has different strengths and priorities. Shelve the ‘should’. Embrace the ‘could’. You’ll have a much greater chance of enjoying your mothering years, and your kids will be all the better for it too.

Karen Dickson
MOPS Leader, Mother of 3 girls and (shamefully) queen of the word ‘should’ !

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