The one word to remove from your vocabulary this school year

The one word to remove from your vocabulary this school year
Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool, also blogs about motherhood at Steady Mom

Recently I chatted with another homeschooling mom at a friend’s baby shower.

Talking about our kids, our lives, our homeschool days, she then lowered her voice in a confession:

“I really need to be more disciplined, though. I should get up early before the kids, and I really should exercise more.”

Ah, yes. I know the sentiment well.

It’s the word that sucks the bliss right out of living, that makes us–and our kids–feel like “less than.”

Should.

I’ve had plenty of “should-attacks” of my own:

I should be more patient.
I should do more structured lessons.
I should sign the kids up for music lessons.

And we often point our shoulds in the direction of our little people as well:

You should do your math right now.
You should not treat me this way.
You should be further ahead–you’re so far behind.

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Where do the shoulds come from?

Guilt. I’ve struggled with it for much of my life, and I’m not even sure where it began.

These days I’ve gotten better at recognizing and dealing with those familiar mental mantras that try to convince me I can earn my way if I just try harder, do all that I should.

That I’m not enough as I am.

These days I take it up with God or Steve when guilt arises. I’ll explain, “So I’m feeling like I should do this with the kids…do you think there’s any truth to that right now?”

Having a third-party–friend, spouse, or divine guidance–offer feedback detaches me from guilt and the shoulds–and points my way back to what our family and home needs right now.

How to transform our shoulds

Going back to my earlier conversation, I asked the mom I’d met why she felt she needed to get up early. Had she ever been a morning person?

“No,” she answered. “But it seems like what a good homeschool mom should do.”

We have to let go of these burdensome stereotypes, friends. You can be a fabulous homeschool parent and be yourself. And your children can be fabulous individuals who grow up being themselves, too.

(Plus Kris has already shown us that successful homeschooling families do not have to get up at the crack of dawn.)

We transform our shoulds by trying on a different phrase for size:

Want to.

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By making decisions with intention instead of guilt, we change our shoulds into want to’s–a more powerful, daring way to live.

I should get up early–becomes “Do I want to get up early?”
I should teach the kids more math becomes “Do I want to teach the kids more math?”
I should clean the house now becomes “Do I want to clean the house now?”

We need to have a reason–a want to, a desire–for the priorities that end up on our plates. If we don’t choose for ourselves, the world will certainly choose for us. But you may have noticed that the world has gotten a bit warped lately when it comes to priorities.

It’s at this point in the conversation that our devil’s advocate waves her arms wildly to get our attention and screams:

“We can’t just do what we want to all day! That would be chaos. That’s not the real world! That’s not preparing our kids for life, for jobs, for success.”

I know, I know. Our Puritan work ethic runs deep and shouts loudly.

But I actually think that want-to’s prepare us (and our kids) more for the real world than anything else.

The reason?

Passion.

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The most successful people in the world have it. Our modern-day school system, the one supposedly training us for that real world out there, generally sucks it right out of our little ones.

And maybe it sucked it out of ourselves as well.

Somehow we think that unless our family has a strict taskmaster driving us the live long day we’d all prefer to lie like slugs and do nothing. I don’t believe this, particularly when we’ve invested time into creating an inspiring environment and removing unnecessary distractions.

The same spirit that created the world lives in me and in each of my children. We are made in God’s image. That spirit of creativity, passion, and love will lead each of us to incredible interests, activities, and insights.

Or we can spend our lives doing what we should.

What about responsibility?

Sometimes at the day’s end I can’t bear to walk up the stairs and brush my kids’ teeth. I’m exhausted, I’ve worked hard, I’m done for a while.

The familiar voice makes its case. “You should brush the kids’ teeth.”

Oh no, I remind it. I’m done with shoulds.

I consider the alternative–not brushing the kids’ teeth tonight. On a handful of occasions in their lives that would be okay. But when I think about it for a moment I realize, I don’t actually want that.

Which means that actually I want to brush my kids’ teeth. So up the stairs I go.

Thinking through my inner voices this way transforms many of my shoulds into want-to’s. It’s empowering instead of guilt-producing.

The same approach goes with our children. It’s not that our kids won’t ever have required chores and duties (though it is possible to inspire, not require when it comes to academics if that interests you.)

It’s that we are modeling for them an approach to life–one of being thankful for our blessings and taking care of them cheerfully, or one of duty, obligation, and lack of joy.

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In the classic story Pollyanna (We like this version for littles), a young orphaned girl happily discovers that her rich Aunt Polly wants to take her in–only to find out after arriving that her serious aunt felt she should do her “duty” as the next of kin:

“Pollyanna sighed now–she believed she was going to hate that word–duty.

“Aunt Polly, please,” she called wistfully, “isn’t there ANY way you can be glad about all that–duty business?”

“What?” Miss Polly looked up in dazed surprise; then, suddenly, with very red cheeks, she turned and swept angrily down the stairs. “Don’t be impertinent, Pollyanna!”

In the hot little attic room Pollyanna dropped herself on to one of the straight-backed chairs. To her, existence loomed ahead–one endless round of duty.”

~ Pollyanna, Chapter 6, A Question of Duty

This school year, rap those burdensome “should-do’s” over the head and see if there’s any sense in them. If so, toss them back and exchange them for “want-to’s” instead. If not, discard them completely.

Let’s rediscover that joy and freedom are much better companions than guilt and compulsion after all.

“Oh, of course I’d be BREATHING all the time I was doing those things, Aunt Polly, but I wouldn’t be living. You breathe all the time you’re asleep, but you aren’t living.

I mean living–doing the things you want to do: playing outdoors, reading (to myself, of course), climbing hills, talking to Mr. Tom in the garden, and Nancy, and finding out all about the houses and the people and everything everywhere all through the perfectly lovely streets I came through yesterday. That’s what I call living, Aunt Polly.

Just breathing isn’t living!”

Originally posted on September 8, 2014.

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.

Comments

  1. Bec from Melbourne says:

    What a fantastic post. I have read it three times. I think I will read it three times again tomorrow. Thank you.

  2. I participated in a happiness survey earlier in the year, which involved answering questions several times a day. One set of questions often paired together were “Do you have to do what you’re currently doing?” And “Do you want to do what you’re currently doing?” Experiencing the questions again and again, I realized what you did about the toothbrushing. More often than not I did want to do it. It was good for me to see.
    Caroline starr rose’s latest post: Kate Bassett’s WORDS AND THEIR MEANINGS, a Giveaway

  3. Hmm…I’ve been thinking a lot about how I should get up earlier…Now I really need to figure out if I want to 🙂 I really like this post- thank you!
    Amy’s latest post: The Shark Project Continues

  4. Bravo! No more shoulds! What an encouraging post for anyone at any stage in life. Thank you, Jamie.
    Traci Matt’s latest post: Five things your home- school co-op teacher wants you to know

  5. Thank you so much for your amazing articles. They seem to be perfectly timed; God-incidences! This is one I will read and re-read. I am grateful for all of your posts; many of them help me realize I am doing exactly what I want to do! 😉

  6. Wow…I so need this. May I ask your opinion on something, though? How do we look at things as parents that we really don’t want to do but perhaps our kids would love it? For example, I really do not like amusement parks, concerts…basically large venues with crowds. Our kids love going to amusement parks, splash parks, etc. and I love seeing them happy but I dread going to them for days and feel completely depleted after we do. I don’t have a problem leaving our house or anything…I just don’t like crowds and I feel completely drained afterward. But do I ‘take one for the team’ and go anyway or talk to my kids about having different needs or ask the hubs to take them?? I would so welcome advice.

    • Personally I would try to operate within my strengths as much as possible, meaning have someone else take them, find a spot that the family is all excited about that works for everyone, etc. Then there will of course be times when we need to compromise as well – we can ‘want to’ do that easier if we haven’t HAD to do it other times. Hope that helps!

  7. Brennan Manning wrote/talked about a friend who had the phrase, ‘Stop shouldin’ on yourself’ on a plaque above her door. 😉 Wonderful post! I enjoy all your writing!

  8. I enjoyed this post! It’s funny how a small change in perspective, a slightly different angle will produce dramatically different feelings. Thank You!
    Mel@TheDizzyMom’s latest post: how to handle your mother-in-law

  9. I just started preschool with my four year old this year and I have already felt the weight of “should.” Thank you so much for relieving me of this! I feel better already. 🙂
    Hannah’s latest post: Nativity of the Theotokos

  10. You are so right!!
    Phyllis at All Things Beautiful’s latest post: Lego Challenge #33: Monochromatic

  11. I think it’s kind of art to be able to listen to yourself, listen to your own intuition. Most of the time i have to push myself to do something I SHOULD – it’s not turning well.

  12. Wow, I never would have thought about it that way. How freeing! I really like your perspective about God’s passion and creativity and how He wants the same for us.

  13. I find that most often I simply want to HAVE DONE something than to actually do it 🙂
    sarah @ little bus on the prairie’s latest post: Are you a realist or a fantasizer?

  14. Thank you for this post. This is EXACTLY what I needed to hear – a reminder of WHY I chose to homeschool my children in the first place (passion!).

  15. Wow. This post is exactly what I needed to read. I’ve been telling myself for (days, weeks, months…….years) all these things i SHOULD be doing, but what i SHOULD be doing is listening to what God says, and what me and my family need. Awesome post!

  16. I am a 15 year homeschooling “veteran” and this may be the best homeschooling advice I’ve ever read! Thank you!

  17. I needed this today.
    Christy’s latest post: big things are acomin’

  18. So, so true! Our kids recently started attending an International School here in Japan and I realized how much they didn’t learn back in their US school. I started with this attitude of I should teach them US History and everything they’re behind their classmates on. Then I took a deep breath and decided we’ll just take it day by day. What a huge difference it made by simply shifting my own attitude!
    Esther’s latest post: This week’s healthy journey recipes: snacks and lunch boxes

  19. thank you……..

  20. What a fantastic post! Thank you!

  21. Timothea Sharpe says:

    Nice transition from “should” to “want.” Another thought that helps me is to shift from “I have to… ” to “I get to… ” Creates an amazing whole body transformation.

  22. Hahahaha!! I guessed the word before I clicked over to read the whole article! I struggle with the ‘shoulds’ hourly and I’m going into the 7th year of ‘officially’ homeschooling… I so needed to read this NOW, in September, before I drive myself crazy by January. Thanks for giving me a reflection (“Do I want this?”) to help mentally take a step back. Something so basic, but profound!

  23. This expresses exactly what I’ve been thinking for awhile, but thanks for applying it even mundane things like brushing teeth.

    One thing that’s really been grating on me lately is all these articles titled “X Number of Things You Should Be Doing As A ___.” I don’t even read things like that because who are they to decide what I *should* do?! Thanks for some philosophy behind why I feel like that about those titles! 🙂
    Diana’s latest post: 5 Things I’m Putting in My Freezer This Summer

  24. Love this. Nobody should lead a “Shouldy” life.

  25. Adriana Watt says:

    I read this post when I should have woken early and didn’t. I do a lot of things out of guilt so I get this. But after this first hour of snapping at my kids and being plain mean. I want to get up eArly because I need that time to center myself and have my quiet time so I can welcome them with a pleasant, peaceful, and able to handle morning squabbles attitude. Maybe seeing this a new way will get me out of bed a little easier tomorrow.

  26. This is my goal for this year. Mostly with my kids and the “grade level” thing I can’t seem to get out of my head. But also with myself. It reminds me of Stephen Covey’s book (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) where he talks about having the bigger “yes.” He suggests having a personal and family mission statement full of what you want out of life. Then you can more easily align your actions to that. You have a list of all the biggest yes’s. It’s easier to ignore the should’s and say no when you are reminded of a bigger yes. The teeth brushing thing is a perfect example of that… the bigger yes was the kiddo’s and a happy cavity free mouth. Probably super confusing, but it’s a great read! 🙂
    I had written down what I wanted from homeschooling when if first started last year (oddly enough, none of it was academic!) and when I feel like I should be, or my girls should be, I look back to it and see if it coincides with all the things I want out of our daily lives to see what’s the bigger yes. I hope in the future it comes more naturally to me. Thanks for the article!

  27. Jamie, this is such a great article, especially the idea that “It’s that we are modeling for them an approach to life–one of being thankful for our blessings and taking care of them cheerfully, or one of duty, obligation, and lack of joy.” I’ve also written about the opposing ideas of joyful stewardship and duty (which I called “responsibility”) when teaching my kids. It’s one I’m applying to my life because I so often find myself committed to so many things I “should” do that I begin to resent them. I don’t want to live my life that way either!
    Anthea’s latest post: Teach Time Management With This One Tool

  28. Wow! What an amazing post. I really relate to the tooth brushing conversation and appreciate the perspective. There are things like that, that I just need to look at differently because they need to be done and I desire them to be done. And lots of times I think I should stop reading my book and go do the dishes…and then I realize that my kids need to see me reading and loving books too. Thank you for your insights!
    Katie Laws’s latest post: Successful Homeschooling

  29. I can only partly agree with this article, mainly because I know I (and I suspect most) have a bad case of the SHOULD WANTs! For instance, I should want to be healthy, but really I’d rather indulge in ice cream and watch TV. I should want my children to have their needs met, but too often I’d really rather just take care of myself. The Word of God says that the heart is desperately wicked, which is why duty often must be the bridge to (eventual) joyful stewardship. 😉

  30. Jamie, Your post hits me, and likely most every other(honest) school at home parent, or any other parent for that matter. You give some awesome insight, and I thought I would share a distinction that has helped me immensely. Guilt is a natural and in many ways good thing for us to feel. It can inform us to what behavior we are avoiding(which we should hit head on when we recognize it). Where the problem arises is rather than “There is something wrong with my behavior(guilt).” it becomes “There is something wrong with me(shame). Guilt should be recognized and dealt with, usually by promptly doing the thing we are avoiding(now doesn’t that feel better?), but shame should be banished from our lives at all costs.

  31. Thank you for writing and sharing this. I’ve been contemplating lately things I think I ‘should’ have my children signed up for, classes I ‘should’ have them in, while also feeling like that would take away from the things I really want to do with them and what I want for them. It was giving me a panicky feeling, which I know is a red flag. After taking it to my husband and to God I feel like I am now heading peacefully in the right direction, and this post gave me the reassurance I needed as well.

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