How to ditch the "shoulds"
Updated: May 24, 2020
I am not sure when exactly the “shoulds” appear- whether they are always there, never resting, running about in my dreamscape- waiting to be acknowledged in conscious thought. I don’t know whether there are more or less of them now that our life has taken on this different rhythm. I don’t know whether they have grown in number since I became a parent, or whether they reduce in strength as I grow in years and experience.
But there they are...
“I should get up earlier in the mornings.”
"I should meditate first thing."
“I should not mind when the little feet pad across the hallway and carry the owners into our bed.”
“I should be better in the mornings."
“I should be a better mother/lover/friend/whatever...”
"I should be able to get more work done."
I don’t know for sure that they are fueled by a grid of photos of almost strangers, all of them also (just about) coping as best they can, always putting their best foot forward (even when inside they also crumble and grumble ). These "shoulds" appear as I scan my newsfeed full of helpful resources for homeschooling, managing schedules, home-based exercise and distractions. A newsfeed also full of critiques of these helpful resources, people, ideas.
We should just relax and let our kids enjoy the extended snow day right?
“I should do more activities with the kids.”
“They should watch less TV.”
“We should have a better schedule.”
All the while I go about my day, the “shoulds” follow me about. Much like the tiny humans, they offer me no rest, not even when I am (hiding) in the bathroom.
“I should be catching up on the DIY.”
“I should be documenting this time with meaningful photos and journaling.”
“I should spend less time (hiding in the bathroom) on social media
“I should be funnier, more engaging in my virtual worlds”.
“The kids should be less annoying. I should enjoy being with them more”
We are all different personalities, with different parenting styles. We have different types of work pressures, different physical spaces which influence how this crisis impacts upon us and our families. Our children have different needs and abilities, as do we. Adding a whole heap of “should” onto our plates doesn’t help anyone.
So how to tease them out a little? What are your "shoulds" at this time?
Maybe some of them are real- basic needs you and your family have to make you feel happy (or just sane).
Maybe you tease it our and half the "shoulds" are things you don’t really care about but feel like someone else would judge you for not doing or doing.
Maybe you realise letting go of the "should" could make you feel lighter.
Something to try...
Grab a sheet of paper and a pen.
Take a couple of breaths. Allow yourself to feel some of those “shoulds” arising.
Write them down on the paper- as many as you like.
Pause, close your eyes, take a few breaths again, and consider the following questions (go through each "should" one by one).
Is it true? Does this describe a real need for me or for my family? Why is this a "should"? Who or what is driving this thought?
How would it be if I let go of this “should”? How would I feel?
Rewrite. It can help to use language that shifts the idea away from guilt and obligation to a choice or commitment. For example instead of “I should stop wasting time on Instagram”… you can try “I will spend less time on social media because I will feel calmer for it”. Make it your choice, not a command handed down by someone else.
And if you still end up with a massive list of choices/commitments, can you whittle it down further? Say to a maximum of three? And decide to do just these ones... make the choice to leave the remainder for another day.
So maybe you need structure-in your day- maybe you thrive on it, or maybe your kids do- then you decide to structure your day. You do it for as long as it makes sense and then try something else. Use all of the resources that make sense for you. Become a home-schooling mom for a couple of weeks. Do craft projects, bake cookies, do a nature scavenger hunt. Paint your bedroom, make the garden grow, plant some seeds, knit, write, do yoga online, pick up some old hobbies you can do in your sitting room. Run a marathon on your balcony if you like.
Do a Netflix marathon. Eat popcorn. Let the garden go. Pick the toys up from the floor only when they become a trip hazard. Let the kids write on the walls. Run to the bathroom and scroll on your phone when the kids demands get too much.Use the TV as a babysitter. Maybe you need to get serious about some work and the only way you can do this is if the kids have serious screen time.
Ditch the guilt.
Ditch the "shoulds".
Ditch the competition.
Ditch the schedule.
Ditch the vision you have in your head of perfect parenting, the perfect work from home set up. This is a life none of us could have imagined a few months ago.
There are restrictions now for the greater good. There are limits to where we can go, who we can see. But this is your home, your life, your family. Nobody else fully knows your needs and your pressures or your family's. Do what you can, for them, for you, to make this strange world a little more friendly.
Accept that you cannot get everything "right". But consider that there may be many, (perhaps fleeting) moments in your day where things feel just right for you, right now. If it makes sense for you, note those moments. Even if they seem like the briefest flashes of sunshine on an overcast day, revel in their brightness, because they are what will get you through.