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Why challenging our ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ can be crucial for our wellbeing (and confidence!)

New Year Resolutions make me think of the pressure we often put on ourselves in terms of what we think we ‘should’ do or the way we ‘must’ behave or exist in the world.

We might be telling ourselves a story that we should be thinner, more productive, exercising more often, etc, etc. This story might also be coming from other people in our lives or wider societal or cultural messages or beliefs.

We then decide that ‘fixing’ this particular ‘lacking’ element of ourselves will be the focus of our resolution. As a result, we go out and pay for a weight loss programme, gym membership, scheduling planner, etc. And then we stop using them by February (or sooner)… This is often because we are not connected to what we really want. Or we are not inspired by the way that we think we should go about getting what we want.

I want to acknowledge that some of you may use your New Year Resolutions as a way of giving yourself a focus. You may use them to manifest a change in your life that feels truly aligned for you. I’m celebrating you massively if this is the case.

I’m also massively celebrating you if you are aware that you are making resolutions based on stories that you are telling yourself about what you should or must be doing or achieving. Rather than what you actually want or need right now. Awareness is the first crucial step towards breaking this cycle.

What happens when we allow shoulds and musts to dictate our choices as pregnant and new parents

During pregnancy and parenting, we often tell ourselves we ‘should’ be doing (or not doing) specific things. Or we convince ourselves that we ‘must’ parent in a certain way. And lots of other people may also feel entitled to tell us what they think we should or should not be doing. Even though we may want or need different things.

Trying to achieve ideals that we (or other people) set for ourselves can sometimes leave us feeling anxious or depressed. We may feel that we are falling short of our (or other people’s) expectations. Sometimes these expectations are not realistically achievable. We may also feel conflicted if the expectation we are trying to meet doesn’t feel right for us. This may feel particularly challenging if our gut is telling us that something isn’t right for us and we think it is the ‘right’ course of action or it seems to have worked for other families.

Our confidence and happiness can be jeopardised if we continue to pressure ourselves to meet these expectations when they did not really feel right for us in the first place. We may start telling ourselves that we are not enough. Or we might think that we shouldn’t make trouble. Sometimes we worry that we are doing something wrong. We then might try to ‘fix’ ourselves or the situation to meet these expectations. Then we tend to judge ourselves if we still continue to struggle with how we feel or to achieve our aims.

Focusing on what we really want

In situations where we are pressuring ourselves to do or be something that doesn’t feel right, it can often be more helpful if we are able to take a moment to focus on what we really want or how we want to get it.

The answer might be immediately obvious to us when we check in with ourselves.

Sometimes we need to learn to trust our gut.

I remember being in a baby class when my son was only a few months old. We started talking about bedtime routines and I was freaking out. It sounded like everyone else had nailed a bedtime routine for their baby.

I went home and tried to implement a routine that didn’t really feel right for me, my partner or our baby. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work. And I gave myself a hard time for not sticking to it. A few weeks later, I was talking to someone else who felt similarly about their ‘lack’ of bedtime routine which was a huge relief.

I then used a coaching exercise to get clear on what was right for me. As a result, we went back to our old stress-free non-routine where my baby was getting enough sleep and nobody was feeling bad about themselves. And this gave me more confidence in myself and my instincts.

What if you are not sure about what you want?

Sometimes we might feel that we need more information to help us decide what we want and the best way of getting it for us. In pregnancy, resources like Sara Wickham’s website can be invaluable. Sara analyses maternity care research and provides valuable commentary on the available evidence base relating to maternity care recommendations. And there are numerous resources available about parenting – we just need to find the ones that resonate with us.

Other times, we have the information we need but we are still struggling to determine what feels right for us. If you are finding it hard to get clear on what you want, you might find it helpful to speak with someone. Ideally this would be someone who would not try to tell you what they think you should or must be doing.

You may find it particularly helpful if that person:

  • Is able to really listen to what you are saying

  • Reflects back key insights from what you have said. Hearing these reflections can often give you important insights into what you really want and/ or why the things you think that you should or must do are not right for you. This can help you be more compassionate to yourself for not meeting these expectations.

  • Asks you the right questions to help you get clear about what’s right for you. These questions could also support you to challenge any unhelpful beliefs that may be preventing you from trusting your instincts and doing what feels right.

If this type of support sounds amazing, then coaching is for you. More information about coaching can be found on my Transformational Coaching page.

What if we don’t feel the way that we think we should feel?

We might feel low or anxious if we are not feeling the way we think we should feel about our pregnancy or baby. Again, other people’s opinions on how they expect we should feel may also negatively affect how we are feeling.

For example, you might not be happy about being pregnant for a variety of reasons. You may not want a child (or another child). The timing might not feel right for you. You have possibly had a traumatic or difficult pregnancy, birth or postnatal experience and you feel anxious or fearful about having a similar experience again. Regardless of your reason for not feeling thrilled, you may feel shame or guilt if you think that you should be more excited or that you must respond positively to other people’s congratulatory wishes.

Another example could be if you are struggling with your emotions or to bond with your baby following a distressing or traumatic birth experience. You might be giving yourself a hard time for not being overjoyed about having a healthy baby (especially if other people have told you that should be your focus).

If you are having an experience like these, that can feel really hard. A lack of empathy and recognition for your feelings and experience might make you feel guilty, shameful, alone and unsupported.

Finding the right emotional support

If you are not feeling the way you want to be feeling, it can be helpful to speak with someone supportive. This might be a friend, family member, support service or health professional.

Ideally, this person would be non-judgemental and have a good awareness of the challenges that may be faced by pregnant and new parents. They would also be able to really listen to how you’re feeling. And it can be important that this person acknowledges your feelings and validates why you are feeling this way – rather than trying to tell you how they think you should be feeling or what they think you should be focusing on instead.

Being supported in this way can help you to challenge the expectations of what you think you should feel. And this can support you to have compassion for how you are feeling. Self compassion can be really important to help us cope with our feelings and heal them.

If you are ready to heal your emotions, this person might also help you to think about what support you need to aid you on this journey.

TBR 3 Step Rewind can offer this type of support with your healing if you want to lift any heavy emotions that you are feeling following a distressing or traumatic birth, perinatal or reproductive experience. You can get more information here about this technique and whether it might be right for you.

Notice how you feel after letting go of the shoulds and musts

Once you have tuned into what you need, shown yourself compassion and started to challenge the shoulds and musts, take a moment to notice any differences in how you feel about yourself, your decisions and your parenting.

For example, notice any changes in yourself as you start making decisions in your pregnancy that really feel right for you. Feel the difference as you begin parenting in a way that feels good for you. And become aware of how you feel after acknowledging that your feelings about your baby or your pregnancy are valid.

Has your confidence in yourself and your instincts changed in anyway? Are you doing anything differently?

By cultivating an awareness of any changes and what you have achieved in terms of challenging the shoulds and musts, this can help with any self doubt. This is because you start to feel more confident questioning the shoulds and musts the next time they crop up and tuning into what feels right for you. And this gets easier to do each time we practise it.


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