Breaking free from the bonds of ‘should-itis’

The use of the word ‘should’ would do well to be banned when it comes to parenting.  Trying to live up to the way you ‘should’ be doing things is a sure fire way to diminish or completely obliterate any internal soundtrack. With the experts of the day peddling their ‘shoulds’ and with well-meaning family, friends and even complete strangers quick to extol the virtue of their ‘shoulds’, it’s no wonder we find it impossible to trust our own ability to filter through this stuff and find the truth as it stands for us.

The struggle to do what you ‘should’, particularly in your baby’s first year of life, even if it goes against everything your soul is telling you to do, has much to answer for in terms of impeding a successful and enjoyable breastfeeding relationship, normalising the strict, routine based approach to infant sleep and promoting discipline methods that bear little to no relevance to the child’s emotional and mental development or readiness.

My experience with ‘should-itis’  took root in the fact that I am a stay at home mother of an only child.  As my son began to go from pliable infant to energetic, demanding toddler, my internal voice began to pipe up. “He should be socialising with other children!” “He should be doing more activities!” “I should be offering him more opportunities than I can at home!” Regardless of the fact that I was and continue to be completely content in my life at home with my son and instinctively know I am providing him with everything he needs to develop into a bright, secure little boy, I listened to the imagined judgment of my peers and enrolled in a myriad of activities that my 20 month old son ‘should’ be doing.  20 months old!  Not even 2 years on this Earth yet I was feeling I was doing a great disservice to his future if I didn’t put him in classes ranging from kids gym, through swimming lessons to playgroups, music and movement!

His schedule began to fill up with more activities than I would contemplate undertaking as an adult! As is always the case when you ignore your intuition or gut feeling, as his activity list grew, so did my stress levels as our once free-range lifestyle became full of time restrictions, traffic, commitment and financial outlay.  I would find myself dreading the mornings when we had a class to get to, wanting nothing more than to wake up as we used to and let our moods decide how we’d spend the day. Committing to being somewhere on time made me feel like I was back at work and my time was not my own; a feeling of being beholden to someone and anxious not to disappoint them, regardless of the personal cost.  The logistics of expecting a toddler to keep a schedule were exhausting and, as it turns out, completely unnecessary.

Structured activity can be a wonderful distraction to the repetitive and often isolating job of raising a child, in fact, finding the right group or activity for you can provide a wonderful, supportive network for you as a Mum, but it must never be seen as a compulsory requirement to raising a happy, well-rounded human being. As a society we are becoming more and more focused on achievements being the benchmark of success.  Yes, we live in a competitive world, but must our children be thrust on that treadmill before they’re even able to walk?

Parenting is not a competitive sport and the over achievers in toddler-dom are not guaranteed a successful life as adults.  Why do we feel we are not good enough to instill our children with all they need to navigate life?  There seems to be a strange kind of performance indicator based on how many classes your child attends, and an apparent badge of honour worn by parents able to lament “I’m just so busy, what with taking (insert name here) to soccer, music, gym and tutoring!”  To keep up we outsource our children’s play and pay people ‘trained’ in creating smart, successful children; lest they get left behind. Noble and good intentions, but we’re going about it all wrong.

If you break down the average day at home with a baby, toddler or pre-schooler, you’ll see just how many lessons you teach your child by simply ‘being’.  No flashcards can compete with sitting down and reading stories to your child.  No music lesson can come close to the joy bashing on pots and pans delivers.  Running and climbing outdoors does as much for your child’s motor skills as following the directions on a fancy indoor obstacle course. The notion that a child who is not socialised, (whatever that actually means), won’t be able to share or interact with others, is largely unfounded.  Children are members of a community called family.  To function in a family one quickly learns the basic etiquette required of our society.  Think of it this way, by the time your child lays their little head down at night after a day of doing nothing more than observing the natural rhythm of your day, they have already completed a full curriculum – hygiene, cooking, art, PE, music, reading and nature studies!

Imagine a world of parenting that is cured of should-itis.  A world where all the energy spent on telling people what they should (or shouldn’t) be doing, whether in a personal or professional manner, was turned around and spent on encouraging parents to slow down and listen to their inner voices and parent in a way that makes their hearts sing.

Imagine a world where spending the day making daisy chains and looking at clouds was considered the best pre-school education you could provide.

Imagine a world where parents looked to each other for support and guidance, not to see if they’re keeping up or being left behind.

A child raised free from the boundaries of ‘should’ can only grow into a thriving young person with a free and questioning mind and the ability to make their own decisions.  Removing the word ‘should’ from your parenting means you will be parenting in truth as it stands for you.  If that means you and your child enjoy attending classes, then absolutely do it!  If you are happy going your own way, that’s fine too – it’s when we go against instinct and fall under pressure that we step away from what is right for us.  Doing it your way, unapologetically, naturally creates strength of belief.  We are the very best models to our children.  We are enough.  YOU are your child’s best teacher.

Have you felt pressure to do things the way you ‘should’?  Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed with the range of activities you ‘should’ be offering your baby/toddler?


This post was written by Karen Swan,  a Canberra mum. She is the manager of Pinky’s Parenting By Heart Mummy Member program  and a co-editor of Mamabake.