My first year of teaching was, like for many others, a comedy of errors. Though I truly had the best of intentions, I was practically fresh out of diapers and doing my best to teach and love on 30 second graders. Even with a top notch curriculum and a very supportive team, that’s tough work for a twenty two year old. There are so many moments from that time that I think on regularly, but one in particular has surfaced lately more often than the others.
It’s the “s word” incident. Early on in the year I remember a sweet girl named Darby coming to me and urgently telling me that Jim had said the s word. For those of you that do not spend copious amounts of time with young children, you can probably imagine what that word is. As I was only a few weeks in with these seven year olds, I had the same thought about the s word.
“Shit. I thought. I have to talk to the kid about saying shit.”
I gathered my thoughts and prepared myself for a deep and meaningful conversation with Jim about why we don’t say the s word. I thought ahead to the phone call I’d need to make to his parents (and probably Darby’s too) and how I needed to remain calm despite the egregious offense.
I sat both kids down and talked sternly to Jim about being respectful and using appropriate language in the classroom. He sat there stone faced for a few minutes before apologizing for calling Darby stupid.
As I listened to the little boy stutter through his response, all I could focus on was the fact that the s word was stupid and not shit. Now for sure I don’t advocate saying stupid in my classroom, but that’s a different conversation to have than with a kid saying shit. I was relieved at the misunderstanding and promptly gave a often practiced speech about how stupid is not a nice word.
16 years later the s word is making a comeback in my life. This time though it’s me saying the s word. At 38, married with four kids and working full time, the dirty word is should.
As in, I should be home with our four month old.
I should not be going to dinner with friends.
I should be planning a birthday party for Sophie.
I should get up early to run.
I should stay up late with my husband.
These days my life is a series of shoulds many of which exist in contradiction with each other leaving me only with a pile of guilt to wade through at the end of the day.
With the help of a friend* I’ve been working through the shoulds in my life. She’s taught me that should equates to shame and implies there is no other legitimate choice. If I follow my shoulds I’m a good mom, if I don’t, I’m a shit mom. I’ve been down the shit mom road before, and while I’m open to the title, it’s not one that I actively seek.
I don’t choose to be a shit mom on a regular basis.
But I will consider it. Especially if it means that I can escape the guilt that comes with shoulding myself into a corner with no visible escape. Replacing the word should with the word consider takes it to a legitimate choice.
So I will consider being home with our four month old in the context of my professional goals and obligations.
I will consider whether or not I go to dinner with friends after a long week.
Or consider planning a less than Pinterest-worthy birthday party for Sophie.
I can consider getting up early to run or stay up late with my husband.
I can actually consider both, but there’s no should in what I should do.
Life is a series of considerations and choices, not a list of shoulds. As this friend* has taught me, we can each define what motherhood is for ourselves and hold ourselves accountable for our choices, not merely check the boxes on the shoulds of good motherhood.
Like we did with the s word at 7, maybe eliminating this s word from our vocabulary is the best thing we can do to make our own little world a bit more peaceful.
I should listen to my own advice.
Or at least consider it.
*By “friend” I actually mean a paid professional that is helping me learn to manage motherhood with four. She’s magic and I cannot recommend her highly enough if you’re trying to figure out your own path as a woman and/or mom.