How often in the day do you find yourself saying ‘I should...’? I should eat a salad for lunch rather than a fry up. I should do more exercise. Should is so ingrained in our language that we use it without thinking. But for a small word it packs a mighty big punch as to how we see ourselves and whether we are likely to do something. The implication of saying ‘should’ is that what we are doing already is not enough or isn’t acceptable. We aren’t doing what we are 'supposed' to. But in whose eyes?
The role of ‘should’ in when returning from maternity leave
From the point of view of Maternity Coaching when I hear a client use the word ‘should’ it sets off some pretty big alarm bells. It implies that they feel obliged to follow a particular course of action following maternity leave, not because they necessarily want to but because of some external pressure to.
"I should return to work full time."
"I should return to work part time."
"I should take my full one-year of maternity leave."
How ‘should’ affects your emotions and behaviour
The word ‘should’ in these examples suggest that you will be letting yourself or someone else down in some way if you don't do what you think you 'should'. If you make decisions based on what you feel you 'should' do, you are likely to resent the decision you make and ultimately feel less happy in your life. Returning to a particular working pattern because you feel that you 'should' takes away your sense of control over your life.
Where do 'should's come from?
These ‘shoulds’ can come about for a variety of reasons. Comparing yourself with your peers, who are on a different career or life path, can make you feel that you are not doing as well as them. Comparing yourself with society’s image of the perfect mother can make you feel that you aren’t doing enough for your family. Making decisions based on time or financial investment to date rather than doing what you enjoy means that you are removing your autonomy or free will. (Note I do not include financial reasons here as in that case it would be a ‘need’ rather than ‘should’.)
How can you turn ‘should’ into something more positive?
As a Maternity Coach, my first step is to investigate where the word ‘should’ is coming from. Why do you feel that you should be doing something? Who says that you should? What happens if you don’t do it? It’s a pretty challenging question and often uncovers some deeply ingrained thoughts and beliefs that can stem from your upbringing, family philosophies and societal stereotyping.
Once we have got to the bottom of where the ‘should’ is coming from, the next step is working through whether this is something you actually wants and if so, to reframe the statement to elicit more positive emotions around it. Using ‘want’, ‘can’, ‘could’ or ‘would like’ all lead to more positive feelings around your goals or aims. They can make you feel more motivated to do what’s needed to achieve your goal and feel like you have control again.
Top tips to stop your ‘shoulds’ from weighing you down
1. Stop and think about why you feel you 'should' do something. Using one of the examples above, why do you feel you 'should' return to a particular working pattern? Is this for society expectations, peer pressure, parental pressure?
2. Once you understand a bit more about the ‘why’ you can then start to think about whether it will benefit you. If so, by reframing the ‘should’ into something that elicits positive feelings or emotions, you are more likely to do it and be successful. For example, 'I want to return to work part-time for the first few months so that I can spend more time with my daughter.’
3. If you feel that it won’t benefit you, you can then start to generate some ideas about what you would ‘like’ to do instead. For example, ‘I would like to take the full year of maternity leave. That way I will feel I have seen my baby reach most of her milestones and won't feel that I am missing out on too much.’
Are you struggling with any ‘shoulds’ around your return to work right now? If my top tips don’t help, do get in touch to see whether maternity coaching can help you turn your ‘shoulds’ to ‘coulds’.