Posted in musings

shelter from the shoulds

Sometimes it seems like there is a lot of pressure to do things for rather external and arbitrary reasons. Preparation for adulthood is a big one, for example – learn these math facts now so that you’ll be educated and prepared for your job as an adult; exercise and eat healthy now so that you’ll have better health when you’re older; practice a musical instrument as a child because you’ll regret not having done so when you’re older; and so on. Of course, if you attempted to prepare for adulthood in every possible way (even limiting yourself to a single culture), you would lose your childhood and probably wouldn’t be able to cover everything anyway…

Happiness is another oft-cited reason, and an even more arbitrary one, as the things which lead to a fulfilled and happy life for one individual can be radically different than the elements that are necessary for another. There might be pressure to get married and start a family when a person honestly does not want children or is not ready for the commitment of marriage. There might be a push to get off social media as a sort of “spiritual refreshment” when a person struggles to connect with their friends and communities through other means, so that the lack of social media pushes them into isolation.

And worst of all are the cultural “shoulds” – the things that people thing you ought to do, just because they are considered normal, or aspirational, or “good.” You “should” read these books, or listen to that music, or study American history in junior high, or clean your house with only vinegar and baking soda, or live in the city to fight suburban sprawl, or live in the country and try to be self-sustaining, or ride your bike as much as possible, or eat only these types of food, or dress in these types of clothes – just because that is what everyone else, in a large amorphous and vague blob, things you should do.

I’m trying to keep my kids sheltered from these “shoulds” for as long as I can.


I want them to be free from that pressure long enough to gain confidence in who they are and in how they process the world.


I want them to have the time and space to form their own goals, to explore their own interests, to decide what path makes the most sense for themselves, and to develop their own motivation.


I don’t want them to be so exhausted from trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations that they have no margin left to imagine a future of their own choosing.


I don’t want them to feel self-conscious about the judgment of others when they take a step backwards, or make a mistake, or pause to observe and analyze their course – the “shoulds” of perfection and speed are powerful and deadly.


And whatever their goal might be – if it is finding a perch to sit on to study the world in its beauty and complexity, or taking a flying leap for the rush and satisfaction of a challenge overcome, or some path that never even occurred to me before they charted their course – I hope that they continue to live free and wild and bold and uniquely themselves, whether they accomplish that goal or not.


(Images are of Limerick playing on a spiderweb-type piece of playground equipment. In each image he is a bit more confident in his body language. In the second-to-last image he sits on the corner looking away from the camera, choosing his next step; in the last image he is leaping from one step to the next, completely airborne.)

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