Potty words. Every preschooler knows them; these are the words we can only say in the bathroom. And without trying too hard, I can think of a few extra-bad potty words. Ones that I can’t say here, or in front of my kids, and I try not to say ever. Most have 4 letters exactly.
Yes, we know the typical bad words. But what about the words that are meant to be harmless, yet sometimes are damaging? Certain words, if we allow them, grow unchecked and convey more than their semantic intentions.
Words like “should.”
Not unique to me, my own self-dialogue often centers around me telling myself that I “should” do something. This happens maybe 100 times a day:
The sink is full, I really should do those dishes.
My feet are cold, I really should go put on socks.
The girls are napping, I really should be productive.
The girls are napping, I really should be rest.
The girls have been napping a while, I really should wake them.
“Should” is a word that holds us accountable. It moves us to action by imposing expectation. The unstated expectation hanging within “should” isn’t what is harmful. Rather, it is the fear of failure, the shame in falling short, and the guilt the comes from ignoring societal norms for the sake of sanity that make “should” it’s own kind of potty word.
When we allow “should” to become accusatory, it imposes expectations that run counter to how we truly feel. In this, we forego our better judgement; our inner voice is silenced, often when we need it most. The world we live in presses constantly from all sides. Forcing ourselves do something simply because we feel that we should creates yet another obligation. It creates an expectation based an assumption. Loaded assumptions are a harsh opponent to our gentle, sensible inner voice.
I am a mom. I am really good at telling myself that what I am doing is not enough. I’m not so comfortable with silence. A spare moment? I should accomplish something. A spare Saturday? I should plan something. A spare, empty plastic bin? I should probably clean something.
But what if I’m too tired.
If this sounds familiar, how can we keep “should” pure? How do we cut ourselves some well-deserved slack? Maybe a good starting point is checking our calendars. What have we committed to because we want to, and what have we taken on out of perceived obligation? What can we shed due to lack of time? Can we build in some wiggle room for quiet? What doesn’t bring us joy?
Comparison is the thief of joy; “should” is the bridge from comparison to shame. If we fall victim to thinking we aren’t enough, we give up the buffer our soul deserves from an over-scheduled society. And like it or not, our kids are always watching us. They learn how to talk to themselves based on what they see us do. What kind of an example am I setting if I begrudgingly agree to too much out of fear of disappointing an imaginary audience?
Let’s reject the burden of the loaded “should.” In this season of resolution and change, let’s determine for ourselves our own obligations. I decide what I should do; this flawed world doesn’t deserve that kind of power.