It’s no secret I love words, people.
I love words the way some love music or paintings or photography or Ring Dings. Words are the way to my soul. They speak to me on a molecular level, you know? The way words and phrases come together to create sentences and paragraphs is magic to my English-teacher heart. Finding a beautifully written passage in a text is my version of panning for gold.
But if there’s beauty, there’s got to be, well, not beauty.
The thing about words is that sometimes they’re ugly. And there’s one word in particular that I think we, as mothers, need to let go of in our dealings with other mothers.
That word we need to stop saying?
Dictionary.com defines the word “should” as:
should1. simple past tense of shall.2. (used to express condition): Were he to arrive, I should be pleased.3. must; ought (used to indicate duty, propriety, or expediency): You should not do that.4. would (used to make a statement less direct or blunt): I should think you would apologize.
Look at the last two definitions, emphasis mine. We say “should” when we mean “must.”
“Should” seems like a benign enough word, but it packs a wallop often when we don’t expect or mean for it to do that.
Lately I’ve noticed that when someone voices a complaint about an issue, particularly in the parenting realm where everyone is so quick to offer up solutions and advice when none has really been requested, the word “should” comes into play more than at other times.
“You should do CIO. We did and now look at little baby sleeping through the night!”
“You know what you should do? Only give your son what you want him to have. He won’t go hungry.”
“You should just put some whiskey on baby’s gums to help with teething!”
“You shouldn’t hold that baby so much or you’ll spoil him!”
“You shouldn’t co-sleep!”
“You shouldn’t exclusively breastfeed! Daddy can’t bond with baby!”
Think about it.
How many times have you heard the phrases “You know what you should do…” or “You should really just…” and felt stung because no, no that’s not what you want to do at all? How many times have you uttered those phrases with authority and felt irritated when people don’t take your advice?
When we use the word “should,” because of the implied “must,” there’s judgment when our advice isn’t heeded. We feel judged if that’s not what we want to do or we don’t take that advice and the person giving the advice feels rebuffed somehow. Or they claim “tough love” and that they won’t just tell us what we want to hear.
It needs to stop. It has to stop. It MUST stop.
A truth of life is that sometimes, we just need to complain about things to stop thinking about them inside our own heads. We just need to throw it out to the Universe that we’re tired or our babies are cranky or we feel fat. That’s why we write, or tweet, or Facebook. To purge ourselves of the things making us crazy.
Not every problem needs a solution, you know? And not every “problem” is actually a problem.
“But, Miranda,” you say, “people should just stop complaining if they don’t want advice!”
Really? Is that what the community of motherhood–of humans–comes down to?
Don’t complain if you don’t want advice on how to fix your problem? That’s the best we can do?
Not everything needs a solution.
Parenting and life aren’t math. And I know that I don’t know everything (or much at all really) about numbers, but I know that there are some problems with more than one solution. And there are probably math problems out there without solutions
What works for us may not work for someone else, and that’s more than okay. Unless we’re asked specifically how we’d handle a situation, it’s perhaps a better choice to deny our desire to chime in with what we think someone should do.
As someone who loves words, I always try to be mindful of the words I’m using and how they’re going to come across to others. We say “should” under the guise of helpfulness. We mean well. Our intentions are good. But that doesn’t mean our words feel any less judge-y.
Sometimes, what people need is commiseration.
Instead of saying “you should…” sometimes all we need to say is “Gosh. That sucks.” And move on. We don’t have to be the fixers of everyone else’s problems.
I promise that Earth won’t spin off its axis if we stop saying should.