I’m not normally negative, but I have had a gut’s full.
This post is dedicated to a friend who has just been told by her well-meaning Mother in Law that her baby ‘should’ be sitting already (when she is allowing her baby to find her own sitting position in her own time). This post is also dedicated to the mothers who make their own wraps in order to wear their babies proudly when they ‘should’ only be using X brand of ‘certified’ wraps. This is also dedicated to all the mothers (and fathers) who are feeling bad or who have been made to feel bad at any stage because someone has told them that they ‘should’ be parenting their child differently, or that their child ‘should’ be doing something by x stage of development or who generally gets what I am going on about when I say ‘ENOUGH WITH THE SHOULDS!’
Those who dish out the ‘shoulds’ should just shut up.
Recently I read a blog (Moata’s Blog Idle) and was happy to find that she has had similar parenting experiences to me. It seems that once one becomes a parent, lines are drawn in the sand in every direction. She wrote about how if you wear a pink cardigan in parenting land (paraphrased and added to) you accidentally are telling all parents that you are believer in pink cardigans and that all those who do not wear pink cardigans are inferior and ‘should’ wear pink cardigans.
It’s silly but true. What happens if you are just wearing a pink cardigan because you happen to like pink/like cardigans/your jersey is in the wash/you washed a white cardigan with red socks and you haven’t entered into and are not even interested in any parenting politics about becoming a wearer of pink cardigans?
I’m referring to baby wearers, baby led weaners, breast feeders, bottle feeders, co-cleepers, cot users, swaddlers, crunchy parents, natural parents, tiger mums, ‘normal mums’, milestone mums, super mums… because in parenting land it seems that whatever decision you make, there is a line drawn somewhere by someone that delineates your position politically as ‘baby wearer’ or ‘baby led weaner’ or ‘insert name here’ or WHATEVER just because you happen to be doing it somewhere and you were seen doing it or even by the way you look, you look like you would be doing it in private. (?)
With the input (and output) of social media, it seems that all of our decisions are bracketing us and trapping us within a mine-field of potential ‘shoulds’ by anybody and everybody who dares to occupy a different position.
I don’t really see an easy solution, but I do urge all those who have used the word ‘should’ in a cavalier fashion up til now to re-dress the frequency with which it is and will be dished out.
Before I had children I was spared the ‘should’ talk. As soon as I had a bump, I became public fodder for ‘should’ advice. ‘You shouldn’t be eating that pie’. ‘You should get your nursery ready early just in case…’, ‘You should buy cloth diapers’, ‘You should wear flat shoes…’, ‘You should watch your weight…’
Once you have a bump you are open for public critique in a way that non-parents are not. Once you become a parent, you are open for yet more critique because everyone (including those without children) has an opinion on how you should be raising them. The trouble is that a lot of this advice is unsolicited and the motivations for it are never clear. When a ‘should’ conflicts with the careful reading you have done and the care with which you are raising your own precious baby/ies, you can be filled with self-doubt, a feeling of not being good enough and of feeling ‘less than’ the great parent you probably already are.
Some anecdotes to make you feel better. (Here’s hoping…)
When I was pregnant some well-meaning friends of ours were offering advice on breastfeeding and how, in their opinion, babies shouldn’t be breastfed once they developed teeth. Their opinion was strong and included apparently ‘amusing’ anecdotes on five year olds ‘asking for the tit’ and how wrong it is and bla bla bla.
At nine months with my son, I weaned him not because I wanted to but because he was allergic to something and I couldn’t work out if it was in my diet or in his. He lost a lot of weight as a consequence and I beat myself up about it daily. I was haunted by other people saying ‘he should be weaned by now’ and the anecdotes from friends of ‘they shouldn’t breastfed when they have teeth’ and more ‘shoulds’ kept knocking at my door disguised as helpful advice. (By the way what I ‘should’ have done in hindsight is eliminated dairy and all would have been well but I never knew about that stuff then…)
I support extended breastfeeding now. Why shouldn’t I? I believe every family makes their own choices for what is right for them. I personally wish I had breastfed my son longer and now, at nearly nine months with my daughter, I am going to let her call the shots.
Babies ‘should’ be weaned once they have teeth? Well my daughter was born with two teeth. What am I supposed to do with that?
Shut up shoulds. Our babies, our choices. That is all.
(It might be worth noting at this juncture that the friends who had the strong opinions do not have children. Go figure.)
We never set out to become ‘Natural Parents’ but a lot of our parenting has become that way accidentally just because we have chosen whatever path has the least resistance for us. Our son didn’t get his own room until he was two.
That’s just the way it happened. We had a side car cot on our bed so that we could safely co-cleep and many a visitor would chime, ‘Shouldn’t he have his own room by now?’ or ‘You should make sure he is sleeping in a big bed before the new baby comes’ or ‘You should start getting him used to being by himself now’.
So many shoulds and so many moments of wondering if we were doing the ‘right’ thing as a consequence when, without the should, it was all actually working just fine.
Any academic will tell you that in order to properly research a topic, one must delve into a variety of sources and look at conflicting opinions in order to satisfactorily decide on your own well-informed position on any given matter…
I say, take an academic approach and feel free to read up on whatever your topic is. But take the ‘shoulds’ you get from those around you with a grain of salt.
‘You should give your baby an amber teething necklace’, ‘You shouldn’t put anything around your baby’s neck’, ‘You should give your child medicine’, ‘You shouldn’t give your child anything that isn’t homeopathic’
I’m not really a science-type but we tried a day with a teething necklace and a day without and we ‘measured’ the drool and took note of the discomfort. You ‘should’ experiment and find something that works for you. You ‘should’ also heed the advice of professionals. (Sorry two shoulds. Do with them what you will. Those were mindfully included but you may still discard them as you please.)
You ‘should’ avoid all the other shoulds because they can just make you feel bad.
On speech development
‘He should be saying Mummy by now’, ‘He should be counting by now’, ‘He should be able to recite the alphabet by now’. Should. Should. Should. Shut up.
Our son was a late talker. He seems to be catching up just fine now, thanks. Harried by ‘shoulds’, I took him to our Plunket Nurse and asked her if we had cause for concern. Apparently not.
On the spectrum –which is V A S T – his speech development is normal. Though not at the top of the bell curve, he was on the bell curve just the same.
My experience as a teacher is helpful to call on sometimes with times like these. Every student/every child achieves at a different rate. Every student/every child has different strengths. The bell curve has points on it in both directions.
I was a debating fiend at school and wasn’t so eloquent at catching a ball.
By contrast, my son is a superb hand-stander and early jumper even if his words have come a bit later than when they ‘should’ have.
Earlier I dedicated this post to the mother whose MIL told her that her daughter ‘should’ be crawling and ‘should’ be sitting already. To her I say this, ‘hold fast to your instincts. You are your daughter’s mummy. Everyone else is a tourist’.
I also say ‘bell curve’ and ‘don’t listen to the shoulds’ because every child develops differently.
If you have cause for concern, see an expert but don’t let other people’s ‘shoulds’ weigh you down.
It made me angry to see that she was feeling bad when she had no need to.
I recently made my own woven wrap and I sewed two pieces together so that there was a central seam. I researched the seam and even looked up the construction of parachutes (?!) to ensure that I was not going to be putting my baby at risk by compromising the integrity of the fabric. I consequently had a bad experience where I was made to feel like I was a bad mother by inference because I ‘should’ only use approved wraps.
The negative inference of the ‘should’ was tangible and my feelings were hurt.
In this instance too, I say again: Be informed. Follow your gut.
The ‘shoulds’ don’t matter.
On how many children
A final anecdote to make the ‘shoulds’ shut up.
Recently I reconnected with an old friend who, being a mother of three, told me that I ‘should’ have another baby because “three is way better”.
I don’t doubt that her life with three is great. But I like my life with two right now.
Unwittingly, she made me feel bad about having ‘only two’.
We ‘should’ all be wary of how comparatives and shoulds can cause unnecessary concern. Let us all wear pink cardigans if we want to…
“Comparison is the thief of happiness” – that’s a favourite saying that I need to keep in mind when the ‘shoulds’ start getting more traction than they should. (Excuse the over-should-ing there).
Before you take on a ‘should’ onto your already heavily burdened shoulders, examine where the ‘should’ is coming from. Is it thinly veiled commercialism: “All good mothers ‘should’ wear Everything Batwings” (I’d never do that by the way), is it meant to be helpful or is it sneakily making someone else feel better about themselves because their baby ticks the boxes they ‘should’.
I didn’t say I had the solution, but I hope you can ignore the ‘should’ now that the negative ripples of its use have been unpacked.
Let the shoulds shut up.
Now for something a bit brighter – You SHOULD leave a comment below to win a free limited edition print. ;)
If you liked this post, please click ‘follow’ before you go (on the right) and take a moment to check out some of the stuff I make.
I have THREE Heartstacked Tiki Prints in GOLD or SILVER to give away. International entries welcome.
Just leave a comment about a ‘should’ that you have encountered recently (because we all have) and I will draw three random winners on Friday. X