By Alyssa Johns, LM, CPM
“Because I should have this figured out by now!” I snipped at my husband as he asked me why I didn’t ask for help when there were so many people offering to help me. I had run out of food I could eat when he was on a 48-hour shift at the fire station and the thought of loading up two kids to go to the store when I was already exhausted was too much that day. I made sure my kids were fed and I skipped dinner. I often either forget to eat or skip meals for reasons like this and both my husband and I know that it is not helping my postpartum mood. “You could ask someone to run to the store for you, lots of people would be happy to,” he reminded me. But I really felt like that was just too much to ask. I am 4 months postpartum and I feel like by now I should have figured out how to take care of something so simple as feeding myself. Asking someone who has their own busy life to pick up my groceries because I am wiped out just seems wimpy and like it’s not something I should do.
I should know by now. I should have it together by now. I should be able to do this. I should not be so tired. I should have gotten more done today. I should get out of bed. I should put my baby down and do the dishes. I should be enjoying each moment. My house should be cleaner. I should have gotten back into a routine. I should be going to the gym. I should be finding time to shower more than twice a week. I should be able to balance being back at work and being a mom.
Should is the word that is haunting me postpartum. Telling me that I’m not doing it right or well enough or as good as other moms. Telling me that I make it look way harder than it is supposed to be. Should is an awful word of judgment that I use on myself far too much. I am trying to dismiss that word from my vocabulary. It is never used in a way that builds me up. It tells me what I should have done and what I should be doing. I read once long ago that “should” needs to exit our vocabularies, both telling other people what they should be doing and telling ourselves what we should be. It’s a word that says “There is something wrong with you. You’re not good enough just as you are.”
I believe “should” is a big part of what is damaging us during the postpartum period. I flip through social media and see a mom smiling with her baby. I instantly think, “I should be enjoying this time with my baby more.” I see pictures of a mom taking her kids to the park. “I should be getting my kids outside instead of hiding at home and just trying to survive.” A mom making a project with her kids equals “I should be spending more time doing fun things with my kids.” I just had to stop writing to go stop my puppy from peeing all over a pile of laundry. My instant thought was “Ugh! I should have put him out sooner! I should have finished that laundry by now.” We use that word to reprimand ourselves and make ourselves wrong for who we are and what we are or are not doing.
The truth is that “should” is doing us in. What if instead of laying in bed snuggling my baby in the morning, thinking that I should get up and be productive, I just thought “There is no should. There is no road map, no rules for how to live this life and be a parent. What do I WANT or NEED to do?” What if instead of beating ourselves up over what we should have done, we gave ourselves some grace and said “Oops. I’ll remember that for next time,” and just gently moved on with our lives…. If I had taken this approach, I would have asked for someone to drop me off some groceries or would have ordered to have them delivered instead of getting down on myself for not having it all figured out. I would have had food and nourishment which would also probably have improved my grumpy mood and kept my milk supply from tanking the next day.
We are so harsh with ourselves. So judgmental with our expectations of how things are supposed to be. The thing is that living this way only puts us in a constant state of discontent. A state of being wrong. We all have strengths and weaknesses, we all have good days and bad days. My wish is to strive to accept where I am and what is instead of trying to make my life match the things I think it “should” be. I hope the same for all of you as you navigate this wild territory of motherhood.