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Getting Rid of the Shoulds

Oct03

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I have decided to strike the word should from my vocabulary.

When my daughter was in Girl Scouts, she would earn badges that had to be ironed and/or sewn on to her vest. I was always way behind on getting them onto her vest. In fact, I just came across a few stray badges in the kitchen junk drawer that I haven’t gotten around to attaching to the vest. My daughter quit Girl Scouts three years ago. One of the troop leaders would send out emails reminding us to attach the badges. I always felt like they were directed at me. I should get around to putting those badges on in a timely manner. Surely every other kid there had a mom who knew how to work her iron and probably owned a sewing kit.

I dropped my daughter off one day for her Girl Scout meeting and a little girl ran up to us. I looked down and noticed that her badges had been stapled on. Stapled. On.

I wanted to meet that mother. I felt like we we’re kindred spirits, doing our part to make the other mothers feel good. Somebody has to do it, you know.

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I used to feel bad that I wasn’t one of those crafty, always-volunteering-at-the-school-carnival, having-playdates, and sleepovers-every-weekend-type mothers. I would beat myself up often with the Shoulds. I should make my kids an adorable Pinterest-worthy after school snack. I should pack them Bento Box lunches that would be the envy of…. I’m not sure. Certainly not the other kids. I should remember the tooth fairy in a timely manner so my 8 year old doesn’t hand me three teeth and say, “How about you just give me the cash and we can all stop pretending?” I should let my daughter have sleepovers every weekend and not care that no one actually sleeps. Even though I am pretty sure it is my weekend, too. I shouldn’t be so selfish!

The problem with Shoulding is that it implies whatever other choice you are making isn’t the right one. I have been trying hard to not just stop saying should to myself, but to my kids. Instead of saying, “You should do your homework now.” I have been saying “Have you thought about doing your homework?” “You should go to bed earlier” becomes “What do you think you could do so that the mornings are easier for you?” “You should wear a jacket” becomes “I saw it was only going to be 70 here today.” Yes, that is jacket weather in Texas.

The problem with the shoulds is that they cloud your head. Shoulds make you feel weak, like a failure. Shoulds sit on your shoulders and weigh you down with their perceived enormity.  Shoulds get in the way of you appreciating what you actually do–the things that matter to you and to your family.

Getting rid of the Shoulds is empowering. It means that the other choices we make are valid. I could do X, but I chose to do Y. I may not have sewn those badges on in a timely manner, but I certainly wasn’t doing nothing with my time. There is only a set number of hours in the day, and try as we might, we cannot get more. And have you ever had someone tell you “what you should do?” It’s no surprise it doesn’t work when we say it to our kids, because hearing someone say it to you instantly makes you want to do the opposite. What does it do inside our heads when we say it to ourselves?

This year I am taking the photos for my son’s football team. I volunteered to make the memory books for each kid and I am in charge of making the weekly game programs. I love this stuff. To me this isn’t drudgery. It’s fun. Last week a mother of one of the players came up to me and commented that I was doing a lot. She said it in a way that led me to believe she was feeling bad for not volunteering to do more. I told her, “I am making up for all those years when I didn’t volunteer at the class parties and field days.” She laughed. “I did do all of those things. And I loved every minute of it!”

I would have rather stabbed myself in the neck with one of those cafeteria sporks. And yet, I always felt like I should have been there.

The feeling I had after the conversation with this woman was maybe we not only need be kinder to ourselves, but also to each other.

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This week there was Pajama Day at my children’s elementary school. My kids don’t have pajamas. Or at least none that are acceptable for wearing to school. And they don’t want pajamas. They prefer to sleep in shorts and t-shirts. And yes, sometimes, some of them will wear these to school the next day. I’m looking at my 8-year old son here.

For a moment I thought, I really should get them some pajamas.

About the author

Chris Jordan

http://notesfromthetrenches.com
Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.

Yes, they are all hers.

No she's not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.

Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That's why her youngest is almost 6.

Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.


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7 Responses to “Getting Rid of the Shoulds”

  1. sonja lange Oct 03 at 2:16 pm Reply Reply

    I loved this – I have four kids and the youngest is 4 years old – so there is only so much I can do in the classroom and on field trips.  I used to feel bad about it, but I am learning to let it go.  We each do what we can and if we can sleep ok at night, then I call it a win.  

  2. I have four kids, 11, 9,  5 and 2. I don’t do PJs anymore … I stopped buying those after Child #2. Now after they bathe at night, they pick out what they’re going to wear to school the next day and put that on. Then they go to bed. And get up the next day already dressed for school. Win!

  3. Cristina Oct 03 at 4:17 pm Reply Reply

    Chris – so down-to-earth and refreshing, as usual. I could not agree more!

  4. Claire Oct 04 at 4:22 am Reply Reply

    You’re right, I only ever say should when I know I’m not actually going to do something. I really should do the dishes… put the washing away etc etc

  5. Sharon Oct 07 at 3:35 pm Reply Reply

    Pajama day is a stupid idea. My kids don’t have pajamas either. Not that I would have remembered to send them in pajamas.

  6. Emily Oct 11 at 12:19 pm Reply Reply

    I just wrote a blog post about “shoulds”.  In agreement with you about this!  http://www.peacelovemusicgrows.com/2013/10/r-r-bright-side.html

  7. Rachel Dec 06 at 1:10 pm Reply Reply

    I really *should* read your articles in a more timely manner.  Lol.  Better late than never.  I used to read your regular blog.  You quit for awhile.  Now I guess you are here.  

    You are brilliant and I love you.  (Not in a weird way).  Thanks for contining to write.

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