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Why “Should” is the New 4-Letter Word in Parenting

Posted with permission from Jennifer Denzel, author of this article, parent of two Bergamo students, and Gentle Sleep Coach.

If I had a dollar for every time I have heard a parent say, “I know I should be doing _________”, my children’s college education would be paid for! There seems to be a trend among parents to not only feel guilty for the things we have done, but for the things we think we should be doing. It’s not enough to berate ourselves for not changing the poopy diaper quickly enough, we have to self deprecate by thinking “I should be using cloth” or “I should be potty training by now.”

“Should” is the new 4-letter word. This word holds the power to inflict stress, guilt and shame. The very use of it implies that we are not good enough, smart enough or capable enough to do what is right for our children. When it comes to parenting, there are very few things you actually “should” do. Here they are:

You should love your child
You should keep your child healthy
You should keep your child safe
Stop worrying about what you should do and focus your time on what you could do. YOU are an expert on YOUR child and their needs. You know what is best for them and can trust your instincts.

So when it comes to the details of raising, parenting, feeding, educating and enjoying your child, you get to decide what is best. With that said, the how, where and when a child sleeps is an area that parents can feel an extreme amount of pressure. In fact, a study in 2012, reported by Telegraph Reporters found that the pressure to be a perfect parent is now so high that a third of parents admit to lying about their child’s sleep patterns. This act of deception further fuels the fires of parent guilt.

The decisions to co-sleep, swaddle, use a pacifier, or feed on demand all can have a significant impact on a baby’s sleep. And parents are torn about what they should do. In speaking with parents, I hear their guilt as they sheepishly admit to rocking their child to sleep or nursing their baby back to sleep in the middle of the night. I remind them the techniques they are using to help their children go to sleep are not inherently bad or damaging. Sleep crutches like these only become an issue when it stops working for you or your child.

For example, weaning off night nursing because you feel pressure from family or friends is a decision motivated by guilt. Weaning because you feel your child is ready to sleep longer stretches is a decision motivated by your parenting instincts and knowing what is best for your child.

Here are some suggestions for relieving the parent guilt and banning “should” from your vocabulary:

Identify and celebrate the attributes that make you a good parent.
Trust your intuition.
Spend less time worrying about what you should be doing and more time considering what you could be doing.
Consider yourself a life-long learner, as a parent you don’t have to have all the answers.
Know when to ask for help.
Be discerning with the information you receive. Does it fall in line with your values and parenting style? Is it appropriate for your child’s personality and temperament?
Trust that your child is capable.
Keep judgment of others to yourself.
Encourage other parents.
By changing our “shoulds” to “coulds”, we allow ourselves to make the best choice for our children and ourselves without the guilt and pressure of making the “right” decision.

How many times today have you thought about what you ‘should’ do?

— Jennifer will be offering a sleep workshop for Primary and Toddler parents at the Coffee Chat on Friday, May 2nd. See you there!

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