Unfinished and Un-done

I like to-do lists. Writing them helps me organize my thoughts and checking things off helps me feel accomplished and productive.

Before I had kids, I could compose a to-do list the length of a novella and furiously accomplish it in one day, give or take a few straggler items I would attend to later.

Over the past few months I’ve noticed a pattern emerge: I typically wake up on Monday mornings with a brain storm of household tasks I need to fit in, folks I need to connect with, and action items for my business. Frantically, I jot down the list as quickly as I can before I forget something — because, mombrain. On Monday evenings, I look back at my list and see that only two or three things have been crossed off, usually at the cost of a great deal of fussing and gnashing of teeth. At this point, a sense of panic, dread, or deep existential exhaustion sets in. I’m prone to dramatic thinking so the already aggrandized, “I’m never going to get this stuff done,” quickly becomes, “I need to quit my job and change my life so I can get this stuff done.”

I have to remind myself of a few things:

1. Didn’t this also happen last week?

And the week before that, and the week before that? I’m doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. It’s taken me a LONG time to identify the new normal. What I used to be able to accomplish in one day now takes several days or even a week. Even on days when my kids aren’t with me, I can still only manage to get through two or three items from my list. I need to just go into the list-making with the expectation that I’m writing a list for the week instead of “Monday’s List.”

2. CTFD, Jen

Take some deep breaths. Time for some self-compassion. (See below)

3. Basic needs.

I kept everyone alive today. I was able to meet the basic needs of myself and my two tiny humans. Everyone was offered all of the food groups at least once; we snuggled some; the house didn’t burn down.

As a mother, I have this underlying sense that my time is not my own. There’s also a sense that every moment I’m away from my children is precious and should be utilized for getting shit done. Maybe other parents can relate to the feeling that I should be able to account for and justify the time spent away from my kids as well-spent. There’s this drive to be productive with my time.

One day last week, I came home from dropping the kids off and running an errand and I almost didn’t want to go inside. I didn’t have a clear plan of how to use my time. That dark, empty, quiet house was too full of things that needed to be done. I hadn’t made a list! I knew I needed to paint the dining room but that in no way felt exciting to me at all. I was exhausted and hungry because the kids ate my breakfast again. I trudged inside. I lied down on the floor and took a nap—it was 10:30am.

When I woke up, I fed myself. I putzed around a bit. Then I finally made it around to painting. I got through a wall and a half before I had to stop and clean up in preparation for the kids to come home. I probably won’t finish the first coat on my dining room for another month.

There’s a lot of unfinished business. I’m living in it and carrying it around in my pocket and seeing it on my fridge. As I write this, I’m connecting with the fact that I’m unfinished and I’m un-done. And that’s kind of comforting in a way. I turn to self-compassion (mother yourself) so I say to myself, “Just because I do less doesn’t mean I am less.” I have to arrive at the place of rest in the unfinished, the chaotic, the groundlessness. Child’s pose helps…

To the other parents out there, do you feel this same drive to be productive with the time you spend away from your kids? How do you give yourself permission to do less? What does self compassion look like for you in these moments?