If this post wrecks your marriage, you didn’t hear it from me.

“Shouldn’t they be watching a nature documentary?” My husband, beloved, father of my children, has just walked in the door. After accepting a well-earned hero’s welcome from his family, he is now suspiciously squinting at the TV.

I just say, “Yes, probably they should be.”

He doesn’t really want the long answer. Here’s the long answer:

I might have them watching a nature documentary, if we had not spent the entire forenoon at the zoo. That’s two hours of driving, by the way.

Then, all the way home, we talked about wild animals and their habitats.

Then, during afternoon snack, we watched videos about wild animals and their habitats on YouTube.

After snack, I sent them to play in the yard because I couldn’t talk about one more wild animal. They spent an hour pretending to be wild animals in the yard. Wild animals track a lot of mud into the house, did you know that?

Now the kids are all natured-out. I am all kidded-out.

They want to watch Barbie.

I am going to let them.

Discussions of what I “should” be doing with the children are among my most agonizing. They’re in the same category as helpful stranger advice, but they hit so much closer to home, touching on family harmony, spousal approval, co-parenting support, and other areas that don’t like being poked with sharp sticks.

Plus, thanks, I “should” myself plenty as it is. At this very moment, I “should” be playing a board game with my children instead of preening in this blog about what a great parent I am. See how sly that is? How insidious? How soul-stealing?

I’m working on it.  I learned about “de-shoulding” from the amazing Tammy at We Love Messes — not an affiliate, I’m just a fan.

I’m starting to recognize what “should” does to my world.

Disclaimer: Tammy uses “de-shoulding” to help people get organized in business, home, and personal arenas.  She doesn’t know that I’ve run wild and carried the concept into the parenting zone. Just telling you, in case of a backfire.


“Should” gets us wondering if we should be doing something other than what we’re doing. Yet, we’re not sure exactly what. And nobody’s offering to help us clarify it.

Which leads directly to self-criticism and stress.

“Which every parent needs more of,” said NO PARENT EVER.

So here’s something you can try. Three things, actually:  (1) agonize over it, (2) roll with it, or (3) call the bluff. Because agonizing makes us stressy, we won’t explore that one. Here’s how to do the other two.

Try this at Home: Today’s Takeaways

  • Get steady. Reassure yourself that if your parenting gut says the kids are just fine, the kids are just fine.
  • Get ready.  Allow yourself to be freakin’ exhausted from spending all day at the zoo and driving and managing meltdowns and making snacks and picking out videos and explaining animal zoology and de-mudding the front hall. This is real work, friends. How do we know it’s real work? Because nobody’s lining up to do it for us, that’s how.
  • Roll with it. To let a “should” lie on the table:  “Yes, they’re watching Barbie.” End of sentence. Often, end of conversation.
  • (or) Call the bluff:  “Yes, they’re watching Barbie. If you would like them to be doing something different, feel free to engage them in a different activity.” To DH’s credit, a game of Monopoly often does commence. Without me. Booyah.
  • Pat yourself on the back. You didn’t just sit there and feel bad about your choices. You did something self-affirming! Yay you!

De-shoulding takes a little practice. If you’re from the Midwest like me, it takes a lot of practice. But you have my permission to try it at home, provided you read the disclaimers in the right margin (which basically say that if this post wrecks your marriage, you didn’t hear it from me).