My parents divorced when I was seven. That spurred my mom on to years of self-help books and affirmations. She, and I in turn, benefited greatly from her pursuits.
Banning of “Should”
Somewhere along the way, the word “should” was banned from our household vocabulary. If ever I slipped up, my mom’s exact response would be, “Don’t you dare should on yourself!” Oh, I miss her!!
Even as a child, I was encouraged to reflect on how I thought I should feel and what I thought I should do. And then decide how I actually felt and what was right for me in each situation.
That was a lot of empowerment for a pre-teen, but I believe a very healthy approach to life and decision making.
What do I mean by this? It’s difficult to live a peaceful, content life when you’re covered in a stinky pile of should. Cleaning up your thought process is the best way to live life to the fullest.
Two Forms Of Should
Shoulding on yourself comes in two forms. Past and present.
The past form is, “I should have done that differently.” Past shoulding is a form of regret.
The present form is “I should do this because it is expected of me.” Present shoulding is approval-seeking, a form of people pleasing.
I’m going to address present shoulding here. Present shoulding leads to decisions and actions out of guilt or perceived obligation, which in turn leads to inner turmoil, unhappiness, and resentment.
I should pursue a job promotion. But I enjoy my current position and don’t have a desire to lead meetings, commit to extra hours, and take on more responsibility in the workplace. I’d much rather stay in my current department where I have the ability to be creative and complete my job duties by 5pm. But society tells me I should want a job promotion and I should apply for it – a more exclusive title and higher pay is always better.
Nearly all situations and decisions can be smeared with should.
Procreation Should Droppings
I’ve found the should droppings of societal pressure are particularly prevalent surrounding the topic of procreation…
I should be a parent. But I don’t have a desire to raise children. I don’t feel a biological urge to bear a child. I’d much rather direct my energy to my spouse, volunteer positions, and hobbies I enjoy. But society tells me I should want to have children and I should have them – a family including a spouse and children is always best.
The fact is: we live in a pronatalist society. That means the duty of procreation is promoted, especially by the State, and people who don’t produce children are stigmatized.
“Pronatalist assumptions dictate how we’re supposed to follow the “normal path” to adulthood. They also put unwarranted pressure on us to have biological children, and the “right” number of them…”
-Laura Carroll, The Baby Matrix
Many people, myself included, have considered parenting as part of life’s ideal progression, not a decision to be made. (read more) But the truth is: choosing to enhance your life by raising children is simply an option.
Despite this truth, many people still feel that parenting should be the main focus of every adults’ life.
If you feel like you should parent, it is most likely society’s pronatalist message ringing in your ears.
Parents report significantly more symptoms of depression (feelings of sadness, loneliness, restlessness, and fear) than non-parents. While happiness does spike when parents are expecting a baby, it sharply plummets after the first child is born, reaching its lowest point when the child is a teen. When are parents the happiest? When their children leave home. But data shows that even “empty nesters” are less happy than those who never had children.
[excerpt from Kidfree & Loving It by Kaye D. Walters]
The parents who report depression symptoms likely had children because they felt they “should.”
If you’re feeling heavy with should from the pronatalist pressure to have a child, KNOW THIS: Whether you have a conversion van full of kids or none at all, people will always be ready to tell you what you should do …
One Thing You Should Do
Let me tell you the one thing you should do … and even my mom would be okay with the “should” I’m about to dump: You should do what’s right for you.
You need to stop letting others should on you. And you need to stop shoulding yourself.
Eliminating should from your life allows room for peace. And generates contented fulfillment, even happiness.
When you decide and know what is right for you, you won’t need others to validate your decisions. The more confident you are in the choices you’ve made, the less you’ll care what others think you “should” do.
Dispute The Should
I’ve known the concept of not shoulding on myself for nearly 30 years – but it’s still a process. Sometimes I end up covered in piles of stinky should.
Can you relate?!
When this happens, ask “Why?” Dispute the should. Uncover the logic or illogic that lies in the should.
Are societal expectations being dumped on you?
Ask yourself, “How do I feel? What do I want to do?”
What you want to do won’t start with “I should” – it will be a thought of “I’d love to…” or “It’d be great if …” These thoughts make you aware of your preferences.
Once you’ve identified your preferences, you can act on them – if you want to, not because you think you should. You’ll be able to turn the “should” into a preference or choose to dismiss it.
Replace “I should” with “I prefer” or “I could” and lean into your preferences.
(Side note: Of course, some things we’re told we should do, we just should do – we have a healthy responsibility to do. Like paying bills or being faithful to a spouse.)
True To Yourself
Your parents, your sibling, your partner, your friend, your dog – they aren’t living your life. You are living your life and therefore only you can know what is true and right for you.
In her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Australian hospice nurse Bronnie Ware, sites the number one regret of the dying is not living a life true to themselves, but for the expectations of others.
You’ll be able to minimize regret and live life to the fullest when you are cleaned of should and are living a life true to yourself.
Our pronatalist society tells you you should want to have kids and you should have them. But you have the right to decide if your preference is to be childfree by choice.
Check out the blog post If, Not When: Is Parenting Right For You? to read about how I viewed parenting as part of life’s ideal progression, not a decision to be made.