It’s Time to Break Up with Should

Okay, all my mama friends, are you ready to break up with should?

I am no longer using the word should as a mom. It’s a word that had crept into my daily speech and I often found myself using it multiple time a day. 

It’s not a curse word, or even a word that is slightly offensive to anyone at all. 

But to me it is. 


Sure, it’s just a simple verb. According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness. Doesn’t that just sum up what mom life can feel like sometimes? 

Why I am Breaking Up with SHOULD 

Why do I want to break up with should? Simply put, I have found that it is a HUGE contributor to mom guilt. 

“I should read to my kids more.”

“I should be more present.” 

“If I want to be a present mom, I should not be on my phone so much.”

“I should keep my voice calm all the time.”

“I should only feed them organic foods.”

“If I’m a good mom, I should have a perfect house.”

“I should volunteer at their school more often.”

“I should host the perfect birthday party.” 

“For others to think I’m a good mom, I should have my kids involved in more activities.” 

“I should have a baby book for each of my kids.” 

“For my kids to feel connected to me, I should play with them for 20 minutes a day.”

“I should sing them bedtime songs.”

“I should workout everyday.” 

“If I want my kids to succeed in school, I should limit my kids’ screen time better.” 

“I should shower everyday.” 

“I should spend less time working.” 

Do any, most, or ALL of these sound familiar to you? Girl, I. See. You. 

Learning how to break up with should brings freedom for moms


My Own Mom Guilt

I know those nights of finally crawling into bed and reviewing the day and all the things I SHOULD have done. Guilt has coursed though me as I’ve cried in my closet after yelling at my kids. My tears have mingled with the shower water as I wonder if I’m measuring up. I’ve fought fear after fear after fear as I boarded an airplane for a weekend away (to go to a conference about how to be a better mom no less!). Just a few weeks ago, I closed the door to my room and lost it on Valentine’s Day when my kids thanked me for a great day – even though I couldn’t find the cute themed games I thought I had prepped and forgot to make the pizza heart-shaped like I’d promised.

It is SO EASY to guilt ourselves for all the things we SHOULD be doing, isn’t it? 

Guilt Is NOT Productive

But here’s the thing, friend. Patterns of guilt over these types of things is NOT mentally healthy. I loved this explanation about guilt from Maya Kahmala on goalcast.com: “No matter what the source, guilt can become a constraining emotional backdrop, coloring everything we do. It may even seem that one’s sense of guilt … is what stirs one to action, makes one a better person… The thing is, no matter what it looks like on the outside, over time, guilt becomes debilitating and toxic. While it may feel like guilt is an important reminder of our responsibilities, in reality it’s accomplishing just the opposite — it’s a deadweight that keeps us from stepping into our full power and potential.”

Guilt is a deadweight that we lug around with us, pulling us down and away from the joy in motherhood we might experience otherwise. I’ve never once heard a mom say, “I am better off because I guilted myself into doing ____.” Sure, we may guilt ourselves into reading the extra story or throwing the Pinterest-perfect birthday party, but in the midst of the action, it is likely that we begin to feel resentment too.

Maud Purcell, a licensed clinical social worker, wrote this about guilt: “…excessive guilt is one of the biggest destroyers of self-esteem, individuality, creativity and personal development.”

Moms and Self-Esteem

A recent study in Norway studied 85,000 mothers and mothers-to-be. Researchers found that for most women, self-esteem rose for the first six months after giving birth, but then started on a slow decline that lasted at least for the next THREE YEARS. And with each subsequent baby, this pattern of lowered self-esteem tended to repeat itself. 

That means that a mom of three kids, each born approximately three years apart, could easily be looking at nine years of low self-esteem. 

Why does this happen? “There is so much messaging out there, and it doesn’t just tell women that there is a right and wrong way to do this, but also that’s there’s a more right way than what they are doing. It’s, at best, exhausting. At worst, it evolves into significant self-doubt and depression,” reproductive psychiatrist Miriam Schultz says.

No Perfect Mothers

While we are so busy thinking about all things we should be doing to be a better mom, here’s the reality:  There is NO WAY to be a perfect mother. 

It is simply impossible to do all the things we think we should do. And isn’t living to meet an absolutely impossible goal a recipe for disaster?

So let’s stop focusing on all the things we think we should be doing. My all-time favorite quote about motherhood is by Jill Churchill: 

“There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.” 

There is no perfect way to be a mother.

Put down the idea of being a perfect mother, and let yourself be okay with being a good mom. I promise you, mama, as long as you are trying, you are a good mom. Your kids love you just because you are their mother. Just keep going, and give yourself grace along the way. 

How to Break Up With Should

First, I highly encourage you to take up this challenge: 

Erase the word SHOULD from your vocabulary. Break up with should for good. When you hear yourself say or think that you should or should not, catch yourself and rephrase. Ask your kids to help you. If they’re under the age of 12, you and I both know that they will make great “Should Police!” 

Next, take a good look at your life, your schedule, and your priorities. Decide on two or three non-negotiables for you as a mother. For me, these are:

  1. being awake when my kids wake up in the morning
  2. putting down my phone at mealtimes and bedtime and
  3. telling them sincerely that I love them everyday. 

That’s it. Those are the bottom-line-I will-do-these-as-if-my-life-depends-on-it habits and actions that define me as a mother. 

Your two or three non-negotiables may be the same or hugely different. And that’s okay. No judgment necessary. But choose a couple and start defining your motherhood based on those actions ONLY. 

A Few Examples

Let me give you some examples: 

In the past, I’d often I saying something like this to my husband, “I stunk at speaking nicely today. I know I should be a better mom…” and I’d spiral from there, thinking of all the ways I could be a better mom.

But here’s how it sounds now that I’ve decided to break up with should: “I stunk at speaking nicely today. I will try again tomorrow. But I was awake when the kids woke up, and I connected with them really well at lunchtime when we laughed about Hank the Cowdog.” 


I used to say to myself, “I am the worst mom for not doing art projects with my kids. They do really enjoy them. I should just get over the mess it’ll make and do it.”

But now that I’m breaking up with should, I tell myself, “I really don’t like art projects, but I know it means a lot to my kids. I will look for something quick and easy that we could do outside together.” 

There’s no more need to evaluate myself based on all the things I should be doing. Breaking up with should means I alleviate the constant evaluation of myself as a mother and start being real. I can find things that I will change, I can return to the things that matter most that I am doing, and I can find solutions that work for both me and my children. 

Whether or not you or I make the Pinterest party doesn’t matter. How we feel about ourselves as mothers (and as humans for that matter) will have a far greater impact on our children. 

Break Up with Should Movement

So let’s STAAAPPP obsessing over what we should be doing. Do the things that matter most TO YOU and your children. Join me, friend, and decide to break up with should! 

Let’s make this a movement! Please share this blog with your mom friends. Let’s work together to help moms break up with should for good.

And before you go, comment below that you are ready to start this now!  

Related article: 2o Ways to Avoid Mommy Burnout

Breaking up with should means breaking up with mom guilt


Jen Bradley is the creator of The Confident Closet

Hi there! I’m so glad you’re here. I am a mom of five kids who is trying to live a stylishly intentional life and help other moms do the same. Read More …


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36 thoughts on “It’s Time to Break Up with Should”

  1. I’m going to bookmark this so that I can keep it available for when I need these reminders. Love this great article, especially the idea of formulating the non-negotiables!

  2. I love this and I am on board! My kids are all in their 20’s now but the “shoulds” are still trying to creep their way in. I have been trying to break up with “should” for several months now. Thanks for bringing awareness to this topic!!

  3. I loved this! We are so so hard on ourselves as mothers. And you’re so right, the guilt does us absolutely no good. Its just more time spent being unproductive. I love the idea of picking a few non-negotiable and sticking to it. You can’t do everything ALL THE TIME! Prioritizing is definitely key

  4. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you! I find myself “should-ing” way too much. It’s like a sneaky way on not having unconditional love for myself. I also forgot about my “non-negotiables”- I’ve used them for dating and “dangers” when talking with my toddler, but really need to apply them to myself. Thank you again!

  5. This is so good! The mom guilt is so real and hard. Life is all about balance but as mothers we rarely give ourselves grace and we need to! Your brain believes what you tell it. We need to take it easy and know we are doing the best we can! Thank you for sharing this!

    1. Amen. Amen and amen! Mom guilt is so real and awful. I have 5 kiddos from 13 to 1….so I’ve had a lot of practice at the “should of” game. I love the idea if picking non-negotiables and making sure those fit in my days.

  6. I speak as a daughter who has a very close relationship with my parents and especially my mother. Nonetheless, her support has never slowed me down, rather it has pushed me to want to show her more and more what I am capable of.

  7. Love this perspective. I’m guilty of the mom guilt of “should” as well. It holds us back as parents always focusing on what we should be doing instead of being proud of all the things we are already doing. Great way to look at it!

  8. Love this perspective. I’m guilty of the mom guilt of “should” as well. It holds us back as parents always focusing on what we should be doing instead of being proud of all the things we are already doing. Great way to look at it!

  9. This post really resonated with me. I always seem to have a to-do list that never ends and I often feel defeated by the end of the day. My husband often tells me to just do what I can but I can be such a perfectionist, it hurts. Maybe if I just tell myself, “I’ll try my best” instead of “I should”. Thanks so much for this eye-opening post.

    1. I’m so glad to hear it, Corinne! I know exactly what you mean about the never-ending to-do list and the perfectionism. Both are a giant weight that we lug around. Changing my inner dialogue has been a huge step to help me become more of a “recovering perfectionist” – it’s still a work in progress!

  10. I use “should” a lot too. Wow!
    Usually, I’d write I should break up with should lolz:)
    Breaking up with it is surely the biggest step to overcoming mom’s guilt.
    Nice post. Thanks.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! I did think about titling this post “Why Moms Should Break Up With Should” but then I caught myself!

  11. This is a great article. I’ve thought about my word choice in that way before. Thank for shining the light on that matter.

    1. Sonja, you are so right! Focusing on our strengths and learning to celebrate the strengths of others takes mental work, but it is so worth it! Thanks so much for your comment!

    1. Madi, thanks so much for your sweet comment. And you are so right – this could totally apply to everyone, whether a mother or not. 🙂

  12. Love this!! I think it is so important to highlight all of the things I DID DO, as opposed to those I “should” have done. It really helps to put things into perspective.

  13. Yes! Yes, yes, yes, yes. A million times over. The reframing with the “I will try again tomorrow” really resonates with me. Yes, we will try again tomorrow. Or in five minutes. I can’t tell you how much I love this post.

    Btw, I feel the same way about “have to.” We often use it when we should say, “I get to.”

    Working on both. Thanks!

  14. I tell my husband all the time before bed all the things I should have done that day and it’s a never ending cycle. Going to have to get on this movement and remove it from my vocabulary.

  15. I’m all about reducing mom guilt and I had never really thought about the word “should”… MIND BLOWN! Words have such power in our lives! I’m totally reframing the way I talk about things like this from now on! Great read!

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