Banishing the Should Mama
This post is an excerpt from my book Bounceback Parenting: A Field Guide for Creating Connection not Perfection. This moment, which I originally wrote about in 2013, sparked a huge transformation for my parenting, reducing guilt and allowing me to enjoy my family more.
It’s definitely after midnight when I hear her crying. again.
This isn’t one of those times she’ll just drift off back to sleep. It’s the third (fourth?) time she’s awoken crying. I’ve been up and down all night – just falling asleep only to be awoken again.
She’s got to be sick…I don’t feel a fever…what’s going ON!?
I sit by her bed, exhausted, foggy, trying to get her back to sleep, trying to figure out if she’s had a nightmare or if she’s about to puke in my hair. Perhaps she’s getting a cold….?
I’m so tired. I’m pleading, “Please, Z, Mama is tired and she wants to go to bed. Can you go back to sleep now? Please?”
And then The Guilt starts (It’s 1am, do you know where your guilt is?)
You know, says the voice in my head...
You should stop telling her about how tired you are – it’s teaching her to put others needs ahead of her own.
If you were doing this right you’d come up with a story right now to help her fall asleep. She would always remember how kind you were at night. You should be like that.
For that matter, you don’t read picture books to her enough. You should read to her more.
For goodness sake! She fell asleep listening to the Harry Potter with her brothers. I think maybe you’re ruining her toddlerhood. I bet she’s crying right now because she’s having terrible Harry Potter nightmares.
And look at this room they share!
You should have had them clean before bed – look at her, poor girl, she’s taking all her toys onto her bed because she has no clean tidy space.
Toddlers need order. They crave it. You might be ruining her brain with this mess.
You should get rid of more toys.
You should be telling her a story.
You should get the boys on a better schedule.
You should have made them clean up before bed.
You should have brushed her teeth, not let her do it on her own.
You should teach them better money sense.
You should make them write thank you notes more quickly.
You should eat dinner at the table every night.
You……you know what?
You’re probably ruining your kids.
Oh my goodness! I finally snap out of it.
I am squatting, uncomfortably, by my toddler at 1am.
And you know what Should Mama? I haven’t lost it! I haven’t snapped at her or used an aggravated voice or walked out in a huff to leave her alone; I might not be perfect, but I am being patient and loving and back-rubbing and I am so TIRED. Really, really danged tired.
I’m doing ok here, and I cannot keep trying to be this Should Mama that my insecurities thrust at me.
I sit in the dark rubbing my daughter’s back. Her perfect little face is finally calm again as she falls asleep, soothed from her discomfort. Safe with her mama’s touch.
Me. She needs me. She doesn’t want that other mom who always keeps a clean living room and sings like Snow White.
She doesn’t waste time comparing me to the Should Mama. She wants her mama here being patient in the dark.
She wants ME.
You know what will ruin my kids? It’s not any of those thing on the list of shoulds.
What will ruin my kids is if I let all of those “shoulds” bury the things that make me, me.
In the early hours of the morning I sit in the bedroom of my sleeping children and make a promise to myself.
My kids may not get someone who has schedules down to a science. They may not get the mama who always has fun games for clean up time. They may not get the birthday party perfect mama.
But they WILL GET ME.
And you know what?
I make really good pancakes.
I can make up a silly jingle for any situation. I know how to do an under-dog push on the swing, make a bridge when I shuffle cards, and I can start a conversation with anyone. I can uplift a friend when they are down, and make a guest feel comfortable in my home. I find the positive side of a problem and I find gratitude in distressing times.
I will not let the Should Mama take that from my kids. I will not waste all of my time comparing myself to her and let her suck the joy out of my parenting.
Oh, I’ll keep learning, I’ll keep questioning. I will look a those ‘shoulds’, but I will not be held hostage by them, because I am somebody right now and my kids need me.
Right now my kids need me.
What “should” are you struggling with right now? What parenting “should” do you have worked up in your mind as that which would make you a much better parent, a worthy and deserving parent? Is it getting in the way of enjoying the things you ARE good at in parenting? Could it even be stopping you from shining when your kids would love to see you shine?
That’s what they need.