This is me, tonight:
I get home from work, I start to feed my baby. I look at his beautiful face, grumpy from hunger and I think, “I should’ve left work earlier.”
My husband invites me out to dinner, asks my mother to watch the baby. I think, “I should’ve asked her earlier if she could do this so that we could have more time together.” The next moment, I think, “Maybe we shouldn’t go out. Maybe I should spend more of the night with my baby.” I go out anyway.
When I get home, I take an hour and a half to chat with my mother. I watch the clock. “I should wrap this up, so I can get to the rest of the evening.”
I spend an hour in the bathtub. “I should wash my hair, I should get out of the bath to write or play that video game.” I don’t, because I’m reading a good book and I’m stuck inside it.
When I get out of the bath, I debate myself on whether I should write a little or play a little bit of video games, and I chastise myself because I should’ve spent my evening more wisely and it feels wasted.
How does that even make sense?
Let’s check my evening statistics: fed the baby, had a lovely date with my husband, caught up with my mother, had a relaxing bath with a fantastic book and I still have time to fit in another leisure activity. But I have a hard time living in those moments because I “should” on myself.
I spend a lot of time trying to think about what I “should” do. Like, a lot of time. Time is a precious gift as a parent, and it becomes a bargaining chip. I budget my time more fiercely than I budget my finances (and I’m the kind of person that has an app on my phone to track every dime, so yeah, it’s intense). But so much time is spent on this nothing, this obsession with what I “should” do.
One of my biggest struggles in parenthood is the desperate search for perfection. I know, I know, nothing is perfect, but it’s hard to accept that when the project is your child. In many ways, it was my deepest struggle with postpartum depression: I want to give my kid perfection, but I can’t.
So, in theory, I should (there it is again) be able to give him something close to perfection, right? And here, ladies and gentlemen, I present: the root of my anxiety.
There are lots of choices in life. We move choice to choice, all day long. Some choices are simple: what to eat for breakfast (although some sanctimommies will definitely argue with me on that one). Some choices are those little choices, like what shoes to put on, what route to take to work. Some “medium” choices for me are like what color to paint the house or what gift to give on a special occasion. Then there are BIG choices, like where to move, what career field to pursue, who to marry. My problem is that I treat every choice that involves my son or my time as a BIG choice, because sometimes that’s what it feels like. And because I act like it’s a BIG choice, I stress over what is the BEST choice.
The simple fact is that there isn’t usually a BEST choice. There’s not something I “should” do, except take decent care of myself and my kid. And there are lots of ways to do that.
I’m getting rid of my “should”s. Let’s take a big ol’ broom and sweep all that shit out. I’ve got enough anxiety without trying to prioritize my anxiety.
How does one do that? With conscious awareness and a tad of rephrasing. Language is powerful, so if you consciously and carefully adjust your language, your perception of the entire world changes.
So here’s how this goes. I am currently eating frosting out of the jar (true story).
Internal me: “I shouldn’t eat this.”
Conscious me catches myself saying this to myself, and I rephrase: “I can choose to eat this or not. I choose to eat it.”
Power. I recognize my choice and I own my choice.
Here’s another example that happens pretty regularly:
Internal me: “I should get off my phone.” Sound familiar to you too?
Conscious me catches myself and one of two things happen: Option A: “I can choose to be on my phone or not. Right now, I choose to put my phone down, without judging myself for the time I have spent on it.” Option B: “I can choose to be on my phone or not. Right now, I choose to be on my phone and I don’t need to justify that.”
Own it, sister. Or brother. Faceless reader, own your shit. Don’t obsess with the “should”s because that is wasting time and emotion.
Quit shoulding on yourself.