How I won the “mom guilt” battle with myself


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Several years ago I made a decision that changed the way I think about my daily choices.

I banned one word from my vocabulary: SHOULD.

It’s a simple word. Most people use it frequently: I should call so-and-so. I should do laundry. I should exercise more.

So why did I get rid of it? For me, “should” is a dangerous word. Should carries a negative connotation that makes me immediately feel guilty for not innately wanting to do something I “should” do, or for not feeling a way that I “should” feel.

For years, I found myself regularly arguing with myself over everyday decisions. When I was still single, I would tell myself that I “should” go be social at some party or other even though I really just wanted to watch a chick-flick at home. Feeling guilty, I’d go, but then I’d be cranky and just want to leave while I was there. Then, I’d tell myself that I “should” not be cranky because parties are supposed to be fun, and I’d feel bad all over again for not being a happier person. I would get myself stuck in a downward spiral of self-criticism as I struggled to meet the demands I’d given myself for the person I “should” be.

I would tell myself that I “shouldn’t” be worried about something, or that I “should” go help out a friend. “Should” made it a chore, and so even when I was doing good things that could have been fun, if I acted only because I thought I “should”, I robbed myself of the accomplishment and focused on my negative emotions instead. No fun.

When I finally realized this, and made the choice to change it, I was shocked at how much altering my word choice altered how I thought about myself and my choices.

I realized that there is no “should” or “should not”.

There are things we need to do.

There are feelings that will not make me happy if I dwell on them.

But, there is no feeling I “should” not have.

Once I learned to acknowledge and accept my feelings as they came, I found I was able to cope with them better. Rather than tell myself, “This is dumb; I shouldn’t be stressed over this,” I rephrased the thought: “Okay, I’m stressed. Why? What is in my control in this situation? What do I have to let go because it’s outside my control?” All of the sudden (okay, maybe not suddenly, but definitely over time), I felt much less guilt for feelings like stress, anxiety, fear, doubt, and frustration. Instead of beating myself up, I have learned (at least more often) to step back, look at the situation, and act according to what really matters most…without feeling guilty.

I still catch myself using “should” sometimes. When I do, I make myself go back and delete the “should” in my brain and replace it with a classic “If…then” statement. If I do _____________, then I will be happier because _____________.


Yesterday I thought, “I should clean the kitchen, but I’m tired and I really want 20 minutes to myself after several hours of wrangling my adorable-but-extremely-exhausting boys.” If I say “should”, I feel guilty for not being a good homemaker and I start feeling like a lazy blob of a person, despite all the other productive things I may have done that day. So I rephrased the idea in my mind. I told myself that the kitchen really needed to be cleaned, and if I dedicated a half hour to doing as much as I could, then I would reward myself with the remainder of nap time to read a book or whatever I wanted to do. I knew I’d be happier relaxing when I knew I’d gotten something productive done. When I think this way, I still accomplish what needs to be done, and I avoid the guilt. I feel empowered by choosing to act instead of feeling enslaved by the many “shoulds” in my life.

Sometimes, I even realize that I won’t be happier because of doing the thing, and so I don’t do it. Awesome! Now I don’t have to do the thing I don’t want to do, and I realize that there’s no reason to feel guilty for it.

There are a million things I can tell myself I “should” be doing or doing better in life:

I should be a more patient mother.

I should be able to handle more on my own.

I should not ever be stressed when my husband comes home.

I should find more time to serve others.

I should learn how to do my hair in something more than a ponytail.

Oh, how I could keep going. But I won’t. Because all the shoulds in the world don’t do me any good. So I’m trashing them. Instead, I’m going to love who I am, where I am, and work from where I am to become better. Not because I should, but because I want to. It makes me happy.


Maybe I’m the only one who has gone through “should”-induced guilt. But I doubt it. We as humans (and especially women) are often too hard on ourselves. So give yourself a break. Trash the word “should” from your vocabulary. Don’t do it because you feel like you “should”. But if you do, I bet you’ll be happier.

Question: Are there words in your vocabulary that cause you to feel negatively?

Challenge: Pay attention to how often you use the word “should”. Try replacing it with another word like “need” or just consciously allow yourself to let go of the guilt associated with it.


4 thoughts on “How I won the “mom guilt” battle with myself

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