When was the last time someone told you you ‘should’ do something? When was the last time you told yourself you ‘should’ do something? I will guess that it was within the last day. How did it make you feel? Did you immediately jump to do or say or feel whatever it was you ‘should’? I’ll take another guess again that you didn’t. As as a parent not only do you get all your own ‘shoulds’, but you get them for your children too. What and when and how they should do everything.
Should is a loaded word
should verb 1. used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticising someone’s actions.Oxford English Dictionary
Should is a really judgemental word. It immediately assumes that what you are doing or saying or feeling right now is wrong. If you should be doing something else, you can’t be doing the right thing right now? You should change. It’s impossible to say without sounding like you’re passing judgement on someone (or yourself). And it’s impossible to hear without feeling challenged or attacked. Should is could with guilt. With children involved it becomes even more loaded. Everyone has an opinion on how children ‘should’ be raised, on everything from physical milestones to sleep. Your children are a fundamental part of who you are, and so it becomes not only a judgement on your child but on you as well.
Should is one of those words that turns up a lot in the way you talk to yourself. ‘I should be thinner’, ‘I should do more with my kids’. And it’s always something you are using to beat yourself up. It isn’t a word that inspires you to change, it is a word you are using to shame yourself. These thoughts are often rooted in comparing yourself to others. It gives you the impression of being not enough, but without any positive reasons for changing.
Parenting in today’s society is fraught with pitfalls. Many of them seem to come from the word ‘should’. Whether it be about expectations of their behaviour, their sleep, or how we ‘should’ manage discipline. These judgments, whether from outside or from within, don’t often come from a place of positivity. They don’t come from an evidence based understanding of how children work either!
They come from our beliefs, and challenging beliefs can be hard. As a parent, you want to do the best for your children. You want to help them have a positive self image, help them build confidence, help them make their way in the world. You worry a lot about what they ‘should’ be doing to achieve these things. Parenting often fills us with guilt for not being perfect and meeting all the ‘shoulds’.
Ditch the should
What would happen if you ditched the word ‘should’? Why not try replacing it? Try ‘could’, ‘might’, ‘may’.
‘I could be thinner’.
‘My child might sleep like all the other children’.
Changing the word changes the sentence. The should sentences are closed, they leave no room for further discussion. They are a statement of ‘fact’.
Changing the word opens the sentence out; now they’re about possibilities. You could, and this is what might help. Your child might, but they might not and this is why. You could, but you don’t have to. Changing the word gives you choices rather than shutting them down!
Be kind to yourself
Parents are under a huge amount of pressure. A simple change in language could help you be kinder to yourselves and others. This is a major act of self-care, not like the insta popular bubble bath variety, the actually changing your mindset and accepting your own worth kind! Spread a little kindness and ditch that unkind little word!