Never have I been more aware of the oppression of the “should” than when I became a mother.

From my pregnancy, where I was advised I:

Should take folic acid

Should workout more/less

 Should gain at least x pounds, but no more than y

Should get all the prenatal tests

 

To the delivery where it was important I:

Should have a natural water birth

Should write a birth plan and distribute it to everyone I meet

Should time the contractions on a stopwatch and write them down on a chart as I went and send them to scientists to analyze

Should demand/deny an episiotomy so my vagina would be hospitable to penises sooner

 

To the first months of motherhood where it becomes obvious that everyone:

Should breastfeed as long as possible or if you can’t you Should join La Leche League and see how easy it is for everyone else. If you entirely FAIL at breastfeeding you Should go ahead and buy other women’s breast milk

Should go back to work within 8 weeks and get the best pump on the market

Should stay home for the first year and do music together and library storytime

Should do sleep training according to THIS book only

Should, in fact, cosleep!

 

To toddler years when of course EVERY mother:

Should potty train by three or he’ll be permanently damaged

Should provide non-pre-packaged, organic gmo-free food only

Should keep the child’s routine consistent and structure the rest of life around that routine

Should have another child within 3 years of the first

Should not have another child for at least 5 years

           

To grade school days when by now we ALL know we:

Should start soccer by age 5 or they won’t stand a chance later

Should sign up for violin, ballet, Yguides, boyscouts, lacrosse, and volleyball

Should NOT be a helicopter parent

Should NOT be a permissive parent

Should have regular playdates in the leftover time. (For the kid, not us. Duh)

 So… who exactly are the purveyors of the “shoulds”? Well, there is more than one source. The baby & mother marketing industry is a big one. From daytime tv ads, to parenting magazines, to baby registries and coupons, there is always a company ready to sell you something based on a perceived need. But first they need to create the need. So, if you wouldn’t normally spend three hours pureeing and freezing organic squash to feed your 18 month old, an article about GMOs strategically placed in a parenting magazine or newspaper might have you running to Babys R Us to get their latest home baby food maker and storage containers. (And I’m not knocking organic foods for kids and all of us. I’m just pointing out the pipeline for fear/need/product sales that we become subject to the minute we get knocked up.)

Aside from advertising and sales, we hear the “shoulds” from other moms and women. This is disappointing, disheartening, and all the other disses. We need to be aware when we are “shoulding” each other, ladies! Sometimes a suggestion is helpful, especially when it was solicited. Other times, a “should” is just a burden on another woman’s already-weary shoulders. Wow, look how shoulders has a ‘should’ in it already…maybe our shoulders are receptacles for shoulds. Hence the need for regular massages.

I am aware of the irony of this suggestion, and I know I am guilty of violating it. I used to ‘should’ everyone about everything because I thought I was being super-helpful. I was sharing my carefully gathered research with anyone who would hear, but I rarely thought about whether the source was marketing propaganda, or if the ideas were solicited. We don’t need to provide regular live Google service to people we love who haven’t asked for it. Because instead of help, it often feels like pressure, and enough pressure builds up into…oppression.

So, be a supporter. Be a source of comfort and love. Be an ally to all women. Don’t be a “Should-er”!