How to banish the word “should” from your parenting vocabulary

The words “should” and “should not” add unnecessary guilt and shame to our parenting. Use these tips to parent in a way that moves you in a positive direction.

Sitting on the couch, scrolling social media, you sigh. Thoughts swirl through your head as you peek into the carefully curated accounts online, “I should get organized.”

And, “I should take the kids to the library.”

And, “I should paint this room…buy that outfit…learn that skill…”

The list of shoulds is long.

It leaves you feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

But the thoughts don’t end there. As you explore your parenting, your kids’ behavior, your responses, and your daily routine, “shoulds” and “should nots” often take center stage. 

“I should spend more time with my kids.”

“I shouldn’t yell when I’m angry.”

“I should pack healthier lunches.”

“I shouldn’t let my kids have so much screentime.”

Judging yourself against what you believe “good” parents do or do not do.

While noticing and naming things we’d like to change about our parenting is important, piling shame on our decisions does not usually lead to the change we are looking for.

Instead, we’re left feeling worse than we did before.

“Should” or “shouldn’t” aren’t action words. They’re regrets or criticisms; they’re hopeful, wishful thinking phrases that don’t promote positive progress.

Instead, they leave you stuck.

Banish the word “should” from your vocabulary

Not all “shoulds” are bad. Sometimes the thing you “should” be doing is the exactly right thing! Sometimes, the thing you feel you “shouldn’t” do absolutely needs to change. Rather than using “should” or “shouldn’t” in a judgemental way toward yourself or your parenting, try these tips: 

Use different words. To move your statement from guilt-ridden to meaningful, explore other ways to state your intentions: “This is important to me…” or “I will make time for…” or “Something I’d like to focus on more is…”

Create a plan. If you’re ready to move forward in a positive direction, break the task into small, manageable steps. Or, set a goal for a task you’d like to accomplish. Reach out for guidance from a friend, mental health provider, or parent coach.

Find self-compassion. “Should statements” are often “shame statements.” It moves beyond feeling bad, to feeling like you are a bad person or a bad parent. Combat this by treating yourself like you would treat a close friend – with grace, kindness, and love.

Accept your limitations. We cannot do it all. We cannot be all things to everyone. We will not parent perfectly. Some seasons of life are busier than others, sometimes we need rest, not productivity. Sometimes, asking for support is the best next step. And sometimes, the goals and plans you have are not achievable right now. And that is OK.

Forgive yourself for past decisions. Healthy guilt can help you make better decisions in the future, but unhealthy guilt and shame keep you stuck. Own your part in the “should” or “should not” without taking on more than your fair share. Make amends as necessary. Acknowledge that you know more now than you did at the time, and decide how you’d like to move forward.

Dig for the why. Should statements can be passed down generationally, they can be cultural, created by communities, or even common among friend groups. Becoming aware of the origins of your “shoulds and “should nots” may help you get a clear picture of how this impacts your thinking, feeling, and acting. Helping you decide if you want to continue believing this way or if you’re ready to make a change.

Rewriting “Should” Statements

Using the “should statements” from above, here is one way to rewrite them in a positive, productive (and less shame-inducing) way.

Instead of: “I should spend more time with my kids.”

Try:One-on-one time with each of my kids is important. I will add it to my schedule this week.” 

Instead of: “I shouldn’t yell when I’m angry.”

Try: “I do not want to yell at my kids. I’m human and I will make mistakes. And, I will start to notice my own stress and work to get to a calm place before responding.”

Instead of: “I should pack healthier lunches.”

Try: “We have limited time in the morning and prepackaged lunches work best for us right now. I can give my kids healthier options in the evenings if I decide to.”

Instead of: “I shouldn’t let my kids have so much screentime.”

Try “I’ve been lax about screentime in the past, and that’s OK. We can talk about ways to create a better balance at dinner tonight.”

Eliminating “shoulds” and “should nots” from your vocabulary is not easy. It may take time before it becomes second nature. Be kind to yourself in the process. Notice times when you fall back into “shoulds” with curiosity, rather than judgment. 

We’re all working on this together. You are not alone!

Nicole Schwarz (couch 3)

Welcome! I'm Nicole Schwarz.

I'm a Parent Coach, Licensed Therapist and Author of It Starts with You. I help stressed, overwhelmed, confused parents find calm, confidence and connection with their kids. No one is expecting perfection here. But, if you’re willing to examine your parenting, find encouragement, or try something new, this is the place for you.

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