The “Shoulds” of Motherhood

You know what word we probably use more than we realize? “Should.”

Have you ever thought about the implications of the word “should”? It implies some kind of duty. According to the Webster definition, “should” is used to express propriety or obligation. I think it is OK to use in some cases, but in general I feel that it brings negative feelings with it. “Man, I should have _____” or “You really should consider _____ next time.” Sometimes it brings guilt, sometimes shame, regret, or judgment. The list can go on. I found myself suddenly identifying a terrifying number of motherhood “shoulds.” One of the blessed things about motherhood is that we are surrounded by other mothers, with whom we can create amazing communities. One of the hard things about motherhood is that we often compare ourselves to other moms—and with that come the “shoulds.”

When I see a mom whose sweet demeanor never changes as she adoringly responds to her tantrum-throwing two-year-old, I think to myself, I should be gentler.

In looking back at how motherhood came to be for me, I think, I should have had things in order first. Things would have been easier.

Comparing myself to teacher friends or women who simply LOVE children, I tell myself, You should be awesome with kids. Why can’t you communicate with them like they do?

I have four young children. On several occasions I have heard someone say, “You must be so patient!” What I hear is “You SHOULD be patient.”

And how about “You should like kids to be a mom”? Honestly, I don’t really like kids. I have no idea how to connect with kids who aren’t mine, my family members’, or my friends’. I cannot walk into a room of kids and feel immediate affinity for them like some people do.

I want to dispel the idea that you have to align yourself with these “shoulds” as a checklist for motherhood readiness or success. Shame, guilt, obligation, and regret should have no place in your assessment of yourself. I think each mother should be free to be the kind of loving mom she has the capacity to be. We spend so much time and energy trying to perfect our weaknesses when we would all be better if we could live out our strengths and offer them to other people.

Here are some “shoulds” I think we can all identify with. While some of these are good goals, they shouldn’t be coupled with shame or guilt. I hope that as you read this, you can breathe easier knowing that someone else out there is feeling the same pressure from that same “should.” Extend some grace to yourself!

You should be able to do a lot more on your own.

You should be an amazing hostess.

You should go to bed early.

You should know what you’re doing after two (or three…or four…or five…) kids.

You should be able to prevent all accidents.

You should always be happy.

Your house should always be clean.

Your kids should always look put together.

You should know what that smell is.

You should wake up early.

You should pack a different lunch every day of the school year.

You should not have needs of your own.

You should be doing more if you’re a SAHM.

You should be super excited to see your baby when he/she wakes up from a nap.

You should feel sexy and comfortable in your mom bod.

You should be ready to drop it like its hot.

You should not yell so much.

You should have well-mannered kids.

You should read to your kids more often.

You should be able to breastfeed.

You should be preparing your four-year-old for college.

You should monitor screen time better.

You should be working out while the baby is napping.

You should be contributing more at your kids’ school.

You should be better at putting your kids first every time.

You should be more involved in _____.

You should save every craft and drawing your kid makes.

You should be skinny.

You should feel fulfilled by motherhood alone.

Your life should be Instagram ready.

You should be able to do THAT.

You should throw awesome kids’ parties.

You should not complain.

You should enjoy every minute because it goes fast.

You should have all the answers.

You should cook more.

You should just “bounce back” after having a baby.

You should not need any help.

You should not be depressed.

You should be feeding your kids only healthy foods.

You should plan better.

You should be able to balance everything.

You should have time for everyone.

Nothing should change in your life when you become a mom. You should be able to do all the same things.

You should be able to control your kids.

You should enjoy your pregnancy.

You should have a clean car.

You should be able to keep your 14-month-old from biting at daycare.

You should be more creative.

You should make dinner every night.

You should be better at handling disagreements among the kids.

You should have the smartest kid.

You should know why your baby is crying.

You should always know how to discipline your kids.

You should definitely be in control of that laundry situation.

If any of these resonated with you, know that you’re not alone. We feel obligated to do and be so many things. “Shoulds” are a heavy burden to bear no matter what stage of life you’re in. Be free to be yourself and live out your unique expression of motherhood, sans the “shoulds.”

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