How to Replace Shoulds and Musts With More Helpful Thinking

mother being affectionate with child, not bothered by shoulds and musts thinking

Parenting is a journey filled with joy, challenges, and an endless stream of advice and comparisons.

These pieces of advice, comparisons, or motherhood myths cause “shoulds” and “musts” to run through our heads. We encounter thoughts like “You should do this”and “You must do that”. While these directives may come from a place of concern, they can also cause feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and pressure.

I’ve had so many “shoulds” and “musts” running through my head since becoming a mother over six years ago. “I must have a natural birth.” (Nope – I ended up having an epidural with my first and c-section with my second!) “I must breastfeed.” (While I did breastfeed, I struggled with it which I’m sure contributed to my postpartum anxiety.) Then there’s the toddler years. “I should be doing more constructive activities with my toddler to help her talk more.” Or the school-age years. “I should be reading more with my kindergartener.” Or just general life stuff. “I must get laundry and decluttering done before I can sit and relax.” It doesn’t end! But those “shoulds” and “musts” can feel so much like truths, resulting in so…much…guilt.

In this blog post I’ll explore how to replace these “shoulds”and “musts” with more helpful and positive thinking patterns in parenting. By embracing a mindset of self-compassion and more realistic expectations, we can navigate the difficulties of raising children with more confidence.

What do shoulds and musts look like?

Shoulds and musts are often characterized by rigid thinking patterns that set unrealistic expectations or standards on ourselves. Here are some examples of how they may show up in parenting:

  • “You should breastfeed your baby exclusively for the first six months.”
  • “You must never let your child watch television.”
  • “You should always have a perfectly clean and organized home.”
  • “You must sign your child up for multiple extracurricular activities so they are successful.”
  • “You should never raise your voice or discipline your child in public.”

These statements imply a sense of obligation, creating a pressure to follow certain rules or norms. While some of these recommendations may be well-intentioned, they often fail to account for individual circumstances. As a result, we may feel guilty or inadequate if we are unable to meet these standards.

pin for how to think more positively in parenting, mom stressed pulled in different directions

How do shoulds and musts start?

Shoulds and musts in parenting can start from a variety of sources. We tend to replicate the beliefs that our parents exposed us too. We internalize messages from our parents about what we should or shouldn’t do. It drives me nuts but there are many times where I’m making a decision and think about how my parents would react.

Parenting books, blogs, and forums are filled with words of advice for new mothers on the “best” ways to raise children. Well-meaning experts and influencers may promote specific techniques that are perceived as requirements to be a good mom.

We tend to feel like we have to keep up with our friends, or what we see on social media. We don’t want to fall short as moms or be judged if we don’t meet the standards of others.

How are shoulds and musts harmful?

Shoulds and musts in parenting can be harmful in several ways:

Increased stress and anxiety

We become more stressed and anxious since we constantly feeling pressured to meet rigid expectations. The fear of falling short or being judged by others can create a constant sense of pressure and inadequacy.

Decreased confidence

When we feel like we must follow strict guidelines or standards, we may end up doubting our own abilities. This can erode our confidence in making decisions and lead to feelings of insecurity.

Strained parent-child relationships

Insisting on rigid shoulds and musts instead of good enough parenting can strain our relationships with our children. When our children feel we are constantly pushing them to meet certain expectations, they may become resentful or push boundaries, leading to conflict and tension.

Feelings of guilt and shame

When we aren’t able to meet the unrealistic expectations imposed by our shoulds and musts, we may experience feelings of guilt and shame. This can negatively impact our self-esteem and overall well-being.

desperate mom holding baby, stressed by shoulds and musts thinking

How can you overcome shoulds and musts thinking?

The following tips can help you overcome the shoulds and musts thinking patterns.

1. Ask yourself if the shoulds and musts are actually true.

For example, must I really get laundry and decluttering done before I can sit down and relax? Is that actually true? No. That is so unrealistic. If I have to get all the chores done before I can relax then I’ll never relax! Even though I know it’s not actually true, it can still be hard for me to sit and relax knowing that there are things I want to get done. However, I can keep my youngest entertained with some busy bag ideas for 2 year olds, and change my “must” statement to make it less stringent, and say something like “I’ll declutter for 20 minutes and then I’ll sit and relax.”

2. Ask yourself if the shoulds and musts are actually facts.

Many of our thoughts feel like facts but aren’t actual facts. When I was having my first child, I believed, “I must have a natural birth”. Is that actually a fact? If that’s a fact then why would so many women have epidurals or c-sections? I ended up having an epidural with my first and felt guilty about that because of the pressure I had put on myself to have a natural birth. My mindset was different for my second baby. I just wanted her out, however she came out, which ended up being with a c-section.

3. Pretend you are giving your best friend advice about those shoulds and musts.

When you’re struggling with your shoulds and musts, pretend that you are talking to your best friend. If she came to you and said, “A good mom must read to her child every day” I’m sure you’d give her many examples of how she was a wonderful mother whether or not she read to her child every day. You’d try to build her up and bring her confidence back. Chances are, your judgment disappears when you are talking to your best friend and you’re much less harsh. So try that with yourself!

4. Reframe those shoulds and musts into wants or wishes.

Change those shoulds and musts into more achievable wants and wishes, and self-love mantras for moms. For example, you can change the thought of “I must work out every day to lose weight” into “I want to work out so I can be healthier”. I used to believe the first statement and when there was a day or two that I couldn’t work out I felt so guilty. By just focusing on losing weight, I didn’t recognize all the other benefits of exercising such as getting stronger and feeling more confident. The second statement of wanting to work out so I can be healthier is less restrictive and encompasses the many benefits of working out. Changing the statement to wants or wishes focuses more on your goal which becomes something to achieve.

happy mom with son not bothered by shoulds and musts thinking

Parenting is a journey filled with joy, challenges, and many voices offering advice.

However, it’s important to recognize the damaging impact that shoulds and musts have on our parenting experience. By replacing these rigid expectations with more helpful thinking patterns, we can have a healthier and more fulfilling relationship with ourselves and our children.

Embracing flexibility, self-compassion, and realistic expectations allows us to let go of the pressure to conform to external, and sometimes unrealistic, standards. Instead, we can focus on what truly matters: nurturing a loving and supportive environment.

By shifting our mindset from shoulds and musts to one of wishes and wants, we can navigate the complexities of parenting with greater ease and confidence.

Spread the love

Similar Posts


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *