One of my earliest memories of new motherhood is sitting in my nursery, rocking my four-month-old baby boy to sleep. I remember I was delusional with exhaustion and covered in dried milk. Through the blurry haze of sleep deprivation, I looked down at my son's freshly-formed features, absorbing the curves of his chubby cheeks, tracing his cupid's bow, while suppressing the urge to nibble his dimpled knuckles as he drifted off to sleep. And yet, as I longed to stay completely in the moment, worry crept into the back of my mind.
He should nap in his crib. I'm supposed to put him down while he's still awake so he can learn to self-soothe. I really shouldn't let him sleep on me.
Moms are bombarded with what they "should" do from the moment they share their pregnancy - even if the should doesn't align with their family values or expectations. In fact, I think I heard it all; you should bond with your baby immediately. You should exclusively breastfeed. You should get your baby on a schedule as soon as possible. You should sleep train. And then there were the things I "shouldn't" do; You shouldn't hold your baby too much. You shouldn't rock your baby to sleep. I should. I shouldn't. I should. I shouldn't - and any remaining instinct went entirely out the door.
Because if there's one thing we "should" do, it's to remember that babies don't keep.
"Should" is society's view of the best approach to parenting. And unfortunately for new moms and dads, it leads to doubting that instinctual nudge - the knowing of what your family truly needs. "Should" feeds deep insecurity about self-worth. It's the reason why we compare ourselves to others. After all, shouldn't good moms want what's "best" for their baby?
It's no wonder I was terrified of messing it all up! I convinced myself that if I did things the way I "should," I would have the happiest, healthiest, most well-adjusted baby on the planet. But in my efforts to "should" my way through parenting, I found myself constantly distracted, anxious, overwhelmed, and guilty. It was impossible to enjoy the milestones and soak up the beautiful, spontaneous parts of raising a child. I fought with my husband. I was exhausted and miserable. "Should" completely stole my joy.
As I became a more confident and experienced mom, I realized many of my early worries were unfounded.
Fortunately, time has a gentle way of putting things into perspective. And now that I've got a few solid years of parenting (and a little more sleep!) under my belt, "should" no longer holds the same power over me. As I became a more confident and experienced mom, I realized many of my early worries were unfounded. Wouldn't you know...my son did learn to fall asleep on his own (even if it was in his own time and when he was ready).
It helped that my daughter came crashing into the world 15-months after her brother. With two-under-two, I was quickly forced to abandon "should" out of sheer necessity and self-preservation. And guess what? It all worked out just fine. I didn't miss "should" one bit. I discovered what worked for my family and learned to trust my gut about what felt right.
Still, "should" snatched some things from me. It robbed me of some of those fleeting, precious moments from the early days with my first baby.
If I could go back and do one thing to reassure that tired, worried mama rocking her son to sleep, I'd wrap her in a big hug. I'd let her know she's doing a great job. I'd tell her it's so obvious how much she loves her child (and that he will always feel that love and grow into an incredible little boy). It won't be easy, and there will be so many times she will still wonder if she "should" be doing something differently or better, but when she truly listens to her intuition, it will never steer her wrong.
Then I'd tell her to snuggle that baby close and hold him as long as her heart desires. Because if there's one thing we "should" do, it's to remember that babies don't keep.
Emily Solberg is a soldier, military spouse, mom of two, and fierce advocate of women supporting women. The goal of her writing is to help others feel less alone in their parenting journeys, and she isn’t afraid to share the hard parts of her own. You can find more from her over on Facebook and Instagram at Shower Arguments with Emily Solberg.