Monday, October 19, 2009

The Shoulds

From the days of June Cleaver (and perhaps earlier?), there have been expectations of what a mother and wife should do. While I get incredibly angry over the idea that she should be submissive - even subservient to her husband, put everything aside for the sake of her children, and is responsible for the actions of everyone in her family (think about it, how many times are women shunned because her children act out), I still feel that I'm failing because I'm not accomplishing certain "shoulds."

Last night, as I was reflecting on this, I made a list of the "shoulds" I have struggled accomplishing.
  • I should have a neat house.
  • I should have a clean (spotless) house.
  • I should only eat and feed my family healthy food.
  • I should never turn on the tv, especially if Jack is in the room.
  • I should always be happy.
  • I should love very day.
  • I should never spend money on "extras" that may cause us to go over budget.
As I have been a stay at home mom, I have had a running track in my head telling me these are the things I should be doing and that because not one of these things has been done all of the time I am failing. The message in my head is telling me that I am not a good mother or wife because there are books and papers constantly stacked on the dining room table, there are almost always dishes on the kitchen counter, and my bathroom floor has not been mopped in months (which does gross me out by the way). I am embarrassed to have friends over because my house doesn't look anything like the homes in Real Simple or the house porn catalogs (I stole your phrase Carla!). Because I have been feeling so horrible about these things, when I start looking at everything that needs to be done in order for life to be "perfect" I become overwhelmed and am paralyzed from doing anything. Hence, the dishes stack up, the laundry piles up, and the dust builds up.

Now don't get me wrong, as I write these things and read them I know they are ridiculous. I know that the heart is more important. I know that Jack knowing I love him and spending time with him is more important than me putting away the laundry. But it can be so hard to fight those voices when the world continues to tell you that your house should look like this (with only one toy strategically placed):

and your meals should be like that:

While my house currently looks like this:

And our lunch today was that:

Many years ago, when I was a sophomore at Bethel, Brennan Manning came to speak at our chapel. I can remember one line from that sermon and it has been playing in my head over and over as I write this: "You shouldn't should on yourself." (try saying that ten times fast -yikes!)

You shouldn't should on yourself.

Why? Because God is the God of grace. He is the God of forgiveness. He is the God of healing. These shoulds put us down and damn us when "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). I believe these thoughts, these shoulds that make us question our worth and our value are from the devil himself. Our enemy who seeks to destroy us when God wants us to experience life (John 10:10). When we strive after them, we are striving after an image of ourselves that in reality is worth less than who we truly are, loved by God.

Last night, these words from Zephania 3:17 brought tears and healing as I pictured God's great love for me - messy house and all:

The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.

He will take great delight in you,

he will quiet you with his love,

he will rejoice over you with singing.

I wonder, what are your shoulds? It may be that you have no trouble keeping your house immaculate and you are gifted at whipping up delicious and nutricious meals. Do you have areas that you feel you are constantly failing in? Please, bring these hurts, these shoulds before our Father and reflect on the verse printed above.

He delights in you.

He rejoices over you.



  1. Leah, I so needed this reassurance! Thanks so much for sharing. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who gets bogged down with all the "shoulds" in life.

  2. thanks for this, leah. and thanks for posting the picture of the reality of living with a kid in the house! i've been feeling the pressure lately, too...esp knowing after next week a lot of people will be stopping by. it's embarrassing to me that i can't keep my tiny place under control and when the little guy arrives, it's going to be even worse. so, thanks for the encouragement of real life. i think i'll go unsubscribe from all my "house porn" blogs. :)

  3. Alexis, I'm glad this was reassuring for you. You are wonderful!

    Carissa, for the next few months your priority is resting, recovering, and adjusting to your new life. I hope your house will be messy if I'm ever able to come be! :) And yes, unsubscribed from those blogs and catalogs. They only make me feel like I'm failing. I'm gonna unsubscribe from mine too.

  4. i will definitely be resting! ah, sleeping without hip pain...blessed relief! yes come over and jack and nameless sheehan can be friends! :)

  5. These "shoulds" happen for me too... they happen at every stage in life, I think. Don't you agree? As a college student, you should clean more, study more, and have more fun. As a working person, you should save more, worker harder, stay later. As a wife, you should clean, cook, and be sweet--always. As a mom, well, you listed the shoulds-- and man, these are just all so true, and there are always so many "Shoulds!" It really can bring me down sometimes. The photo of your house and food in comparison... oh how true! It's almost laughable (if we have a sense of humor), but instead, we really do often just feel bad about it!
    There are so many shoulds for me every day, and I fail every day. As someone with ADD, I can relate to anyone who has daily "failures," and/or expectations not met. I think sometimes we just have to say to ourselves "You know what, I am doing the best I can, and God sees this, even if anyone else doesn't."