Shut up with your shoulds – dedicated to all the mothers who are fed up

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…)

On breastfeeding

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.)

On Co-sleeping

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.

On teething

‘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.

On milestones

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.

On baby-wearing

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

tiki print silver framed tiki print gold framed


19 thoughts on “Shut up with your shoulds – dedicated to all the mothers who are fed up

  1. I should not have gone back to work so soon… we simply couldn’t afford for me not to. I found a wonderful day care with great carers, I missed working, we needed the money and my daughter is happy. We did what was right and best for all our family.
    Thanks for your blog – really great, will be sharing and love the prints, especially the gold – gorgeous

  2. Well said! I am certainly getting sick of all the “shoulds” and have been told many of the ones you write about. The main one I get from family members is “you should just let him cry” drives me mental!! Sorry but im not going to let my gorgeous little baby cry unnecessarily.. being an early childhood teacher i know the effects on brain development that crying has and im not going to just ignore my baby telling me something is up! 🙂

  3. Ahhh so many shoulds and I’ve experienced all you’ve highlighted. My fave though has to be “you should try ginger/peppermint/crackers/ice/add anything here to get rid of your morning sickness”. Never mind I was 8months pregnant with HG and had tried EVERYTHING under the sun. Made me feel like I failed at the whole pregnancy thing.

    Fun times!

  4. Yes! Im being bowled over by all the shoulds and shouldn’ts at the moment. Im looking into homeschooling my children (You should really send them to school blah blah socialization like my children live under a rock and never have human interaction). I’m baby led weaning as I did with the first (You should really give him puree or he won’t be ‘full’ then he’ll sleep badly). Blah blah blah shut the hell up. I like to shut people down when they start up on me haha.

  5. I so agree with what you are saying. If I had weaned my first child when she asked for a BF I would have weaned her at four months, number two didn’t speak for AGES! Number three, hearing and sight problems, only just starting to speak well now at 5. I did all the things I should have done, which was my best with three chronically ill children. So to those who judge me because I let things go that I should not……up yours! BTW I am passionate about breast feeding, just as I am passionate about Mum’s getting good information about bottle feeding. I am passionate about baby wearing, just as I am about Mum’s (and Dad’s) who don’t want to. I am passionate about co-sleeping just as I am about those who choose not too. I am passionate about doing what works for YOU!

  6. Mr 5 months old is still waking twice a night (not a massive deal to me), I got told I should start him on solids or give him a bottle of formula before bed (he is exclusively BF and I’m proud of that!). Answer: IGNORE and carry on as mum knows best.

  7. Love it and written so well I don’t have a should but a will as in “I will change my mind and have more than one child” (and what does it matter if I do)

  8. I support any woman who gets up each day and chooses to be a good mum what ever choices she makes in her day, not every day will be easy but as long as you are still trying to be a good mum then you are

  9. Sooo true! With my first son I weaned early, on should advice (worst desicion ive ever made, still kick myself on occasion) and the follow on from that taught me a great many things! The silver lining, I now go with my gut instinct and let myself be lead by kids.

  10. Argh… the shoulds! My four year old twin-two has always been spirited; he wore his heart on his sleeve at all times and was very particular about how things needed to be done (although strangely filthy, always). Much of the time he seemed unruly and horribly screechy – it honestly did our heads in. Some family members made negative comments about him and basically suggested that I *should smack him, and regularly, to force him into line*. Boy this made me angry; I could see to the heart of this child and it was pure and stunning, he just hadn’t learned to self-regulate yet. He definitely had boundaries and consequences, but he just needed time. I am happy to say that since turning four recently, he has really come into his own. That beautiful, kind, sensitive, immensely LOYAL child that I could always see is now seen by others too. You are so right; others are but tourists in our children’s lives… I am so glad I followed my instincts with him. He IS spirited… and totally amazing.

  11. I get sick of people telling me my son should be out of nappies by now. Im happy for him to do it at his own pace and then hopefully it will stick and we wont have a regression. As parents I think we should trust our own judgement and not give in or in fact pay any attention to:)

  12. Brilliant post! I’ve felt like screaming “shut up shoulds” at times
    – you should have more than one child
    – she should be walking
    – should be bottle fed and on the list goes. So many hurtful shoulds over the years, we are now getting ‘she should getting ready for a “proper” school. I wish people (especially non parents) realised the weight already on parents shoulders and adding to it with non helpful advise, just plain sucks and at time can be very hurtful.
    To all mummies and daddies, ignore the shoulds (that arent helpful) and carry on, follow your instints, you know your babies best. 🙂

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