Why “should” is a four-letter word

I really have begun to dislike the word “should”.

The feelings that this word creates for me are stressful and negative. Every time I have the thought that includes the words “should” or “shouldn’t”, I start feeling like I’m not good enough, that I’m not doing enough, or that the people around me are not living up to my expectations.

I have noticed that it is especially damaging to use the word “should” when I think about my kids – about how they “should” behave, what kind of person they “should” be, what grades they “should” get, what friends they “should” have, how they “should” be more grateful for all I do for them.

The reality is that my kids “should” be exactly who they are, they “should” do exactly what they are doing, and they “should” act exactly how they are acting. And how do I know that? Because they are! If I thought anything else about them beside the reality of what is happening, I would be creating my own suffering! And guess what? No matter what thoughts I have about my kids, they would still act exactly how they wanted.

What “should” does…

If I continue to think “shoulds” about my kids, the feelings that those thoughts would create are pretty negative – feelings like frustration, irritation, shame, disappointment, anger. And that’s not how I want to feel! In addition, when we think this way, we are giving away the power over our feelings to our children. Our children! Do we really want them responsible for how we feel? They can barely handle their own feelings!

I have a client who believes that her children are a handful and that they shouldn’t behave the way they do – tantruming, hitting, being defiant. Sounds reasonable right? Well, as it turns out the action that she is taking as a result of her thought, “My kids shouldn’t behave this way” is to reprimand, yell and try to control her kids. Do you think they are going to change and all of a sudden behave better when she is parenting this way? Or do you think the more lovingly and peacefully she approaches these situations, the more likely she is to find good solutions and also maybe even feel less desperate to change them in process, because she is not depending on them to make her feel better.

What are your “shoulds”?

What “shoulds” do you have for your children? Do your feelings depend on how your children behave? Do you feel like if they fail or behave badly that it means you aren’t a good parent? Notice when your thoughts include the words “should” or shouldn’t”, and then notice what feeling that creates in you. How do you act when you think the thoughts “my child shouldn’t act this way”, or “my children should clean their room more often”? Do you then parent them in a peaceful, loving way? Or do you show up with anger and frustration and maybe yell or command your kids instead of parenting the way you want to?

The way out of “shoulds”

Another way to think about how your children behave is to remember that they make their own choices and are responsible for their own actions and you are responsible for yours. Choose thoughts like “my children are learning how to control their emotions” or “what is happening is what’s supposed to be happening”, or “we are in the process of figuring it out”, or “I can choose love no matter what my children do”. We can then parent them from a loving peaceful place and take care of our feelings at the same time and get rid of those “shoulds”.


Do you need help to stop blaming your children for how you feel? Let’s talk! I offer a FREE 20 minute mini-session so you can free yourself from the trap of depending on your child’s behavior to feel good.

Claim your spot on my calendar here!

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