"You should keep your room clean."
"You should try your hardest in school."
"You should take dance."
"You should get along with your brother."
"You should respect your elders."
"You should go to church every week."
"You should go to college."
"You should dress more feminine."
"You should watch what you eat."
"You should have a career."
....and on and on the list goes.
Growing up, it often seemed the expectations were high in our house. Nothing really bad happened if we did not meet them, but there was a cloud of disappointment that would float over us if we didn't meet my dad's expectations.
Moving into adulthood, I did my very best to live to the standard of the "shoulds." I was away from home for the first time, attending a large state university. I began to realize that college was much more difficult than high school, so I spent many hours studying. The college had a workout center and I started working out regularly (at times, I would work out twice a day). I needed to lose the weight that I had acquired during my freshman year. I also began to count calories and watch what I ate. I was feeling so much pressure at that time to get it right, both academically and personally. The "shoulds" became paralyzing during that time in my life. Then by my junior year of college, I was officially diagnosed with depression and an eating disorder. I got down to 78 pounds, was keeping a 4.0 GPA in college, was social, had a boyfriend. But honestly, I felt the loneliest and least confident that I had ever felt in my life.
Please do not get me wrong. My parents were loving and kind and supportive and wanted the best for us; I imagine they grew up with the "shoulds" too. My mom was actually the one who got me into treatment and I started working on reducing this need to be perfect and to be in control. I learned that depression "runs in my family." My mom had been receiving therapy and medication for some years. I met with a series of therapists over those years in my 20's who started to help me explore my relationship with my dad, the expectations I had for myself and others, and how my thinking patterns were setting me up for disappointment and failure.
So, I learned a more balanced way of eating and exercising. I set boundaries and broke up with my boyfriend who was emotionally hurtful, and started to build some confidence in myself and my abilities, even when I could not meet the “shoulds.”
I sincerely felt like I had made some progress by my 30th birthday. I had returned to a healthier weight, I was engaging in relationships with healthier friends, I was married and looking forward to starting a family. I had my first child, a precious little boy named Jonah, at the age of 33. I had waited a long time to become a mom and thought for sure, “I am going to get this right. I will be a great mom." (Insert a “should” somewhere in these thoughts). Then post-partum depression set in and I honestly felt like I was drowning again...lonely and imperfect and full of thoughts of failing as a mom. When Jonah was nine months old, I learned that my husband had been unfaithful. We went to couples therapy, and then I learned he had been unfaithful some more.
“I should be a better wife.”
“I should be exercising more.”
“I should have paid more attention to him.”
And on and on. Back to therapy I went, to work on my depressive symptoms and negative thinking patterns.
Throughout my life, I would have told anyone that I am a Christian, that I believe in God and grace and the never-ending love that God gives us. But why did I often find myself avoiding talking to God about my struggles, my imperfections, my humanness? And why did I find myself telling others at church that I am doing well and everything is great, even when sometimes it was not? And why did I continue holding myself and those closest to me to standards that, frankly, no one can meet all of the time?
So here I am, 45 years old, with a career, two beautiful children and an amazing husband (I think I got it right the second time!). Yet at times, feeling so tired and drained as if I have nothing more to give. I wonder...what would happen if I got rid of the "shoulds?" What if I started giving myself a choice?
"I could clean the house this weekend... or I could use that time to play with my children."
"I could commit to a bunch of activities and responsibilities... or I could choose one or two and try to focus my energy there."
"I could enroll my children in extracurricular activities and sports every day of the week... or I could let them have free time to play and use their imagination as children."
"I could hound my husband about picking up his belongings that he seems to not notice... or I could focus on the way he cares for me and our children and makes us feel very special."
What if I allowed myself some choices???
I have been trying. Oh, it is hard, I will not lie! But also freeing! And now I am noticing my relationship with God seems to be growing closer and closer. I am beginning to go to Him with all of it - the joys, the blessings, my gratitude, my mistakes, my struggles. And guess what? (This is the most amazing part to me) I feel His love more than ever!! And I am finding that I am welcoming His grace and love more than I ever have. And it seems like I may actually be offering more grace to my husband, my children, our families...and even myself!
Sarah has always been fascinated by how the human mind works and how we relate to each other in this world. This led to a career of helping people recover, manage the challenges that life brings and work towards healthy relationships with their partners and children. Sarah's other career is attempting to be the best mom and wife she can be. Those who know her well might say she is a bit obsessive and likes everything to be in its place. She has been known to try to pick up toys and put them away while her kids are still playing with them. God has sent an amazing man to her who is slowly teaching and encouraging her to live in the moment, relax and let things get a little messy. If you want to see Sarah's soul come alive, take her to the beach. The smell of the salty air, the waves, and an underwater dive bring her back to calm and God's creations like nothing else does.