Banishing the Shoulds

One of the many things I’ve learned over this past year is that the word “should” is a stresser and depressor.  Anytime you think you “should” have done something else, you are also saying what you did do wasn’t good enough. Anytime you think this rather than that “should” have happened, you are also saying that current reality is wrong. Feelings of guilt, regret and anger always follow on the heels of a “should.”

With a baby, the word “should” can make a new parent crazy. Consider these statements:

  • “She should be sleeping more.”
  • “He should be eating more.”
  • “You should not let her sleep with you.”
  • “You should let him cry.”
  • “She shouldn’t be crying.”

Every “should” statement fights reality. It takes what is and insists that it should not be. Fighting with reality like this is a form of insanity, which is why it evokes emotions of pain, frustration and anxiety.

Fighting Reality

Fighting Reality (source)

When I’ve been tempted to “should” life with my daughter, I like to think of the alien metaphor.* The alien metaphor is where you pretend you’re an alien from another planet, visiting Earth. As you go around you witness many different things. But since you are a visitor, you do not have any preconceived notions of what “should be.” You simply observe, and accept everything as is.

So when you see a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night, you accept that is reality for that baby.  Or when you see a baby who wants to be held constantly, you accept that is what is for that baby.

This allows you to accepting what is and, unlike “shoulding” yourself, does not create a divide in reality. It allows you to accept what is and then move to address what is in the best way possible.

This beautiful post on compassion and labeling babies made me want to go back in time and cuddle infant Pip all over again.  It also reinforces that babies are who they are, and labeling them with “shoulds” (they shouldn’t fuss, they should sleep 9 hours continuously at night) is an injustice. It’s an injustice to them, and an injustice to us as new parents because it creates hostility and helplessness between the two of us.

I’m thankful I recognized this early on, with help from reading and witnessing other peaceful parents.  I learned a baby isn’t good.. a baby isn’t bad… a baby is just responding to his or her many stimuli.  It’s up to us to determine how we interpret babies responses. I’m not saying it’s easy, and it isn’t instinctual in our society. But it has done wonders for my ability to deal with all the facets of parenting.

This is why when friends or colleagues ask me how Pip is, the only way I can honestly respond is by smiling and saying, “wonderful.”  Because she is. And that’s true whether or not she’s sleeping, crying, laughing, fussing, demanding, nursing or otherwise asking for my attention. She is who she is, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Being silly

Accepting what is frees us of the shackles of “shoulds” so we can respond with compassion.  That’s a kind of world I want to live in, so that’s the kind of world I seek to create.

*I don’t remember where I first heard this metaphor used, but if you know I’ll update to cite it.
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