What Can I NOT Do Today?

Maybe, the key to surviving right now is more about what I can NOT do today, than it is a never-ending to-do list.

I have always, always been a planner person.

This was true even at a very young age – I remember when I was four years old, I wanted my mom’s written-in calendar so much, I would’ve preferred it to any toy. I begged to go to the office supply section at every grocery store, just to stare longingly at the pens and pads of paper. When I was in college, I spent way too much of my scholarship fund in the bookstore. Even today, when a friend pulls out her planner, I have to take a look. It’s been a part of me as long as I can remember.

Throughout my life, I have planned away, making one to-do list after another.

Then, I became a mom.

Then, I became a stay at home mom.

Then, I became a stay at home, homeschooling mom, to exceptional children with special needs.

Then, I became a very tired, overwhelmed, have no idea what to do next mom.

Suddenly, the to-do list and planner didn’t quite do the trick anymore. In fact, they mocked me. Instead of being the cherished friends I had grown to love, these tools became yet another symbol of my failure as a mom.


To-Dos and Not To-Dos

At first, I thought it was the type of planner (I wish I was joking…). I seriously thought maybe I just needed a different type of planner – one more suited for a mom at home instead of a mom at work.

Turns out it wasn’t having the wrong planner.

Then, I thought maybe I just needed to use it differently. I spent an afternoon recreating page after page to more accurately reflect my life – changing travel pages to meal plans, and lists of important numbers to therapist contact info.

Turns out it wasn’t the way I was using the planner.

It wasn’t until our lives became so completely complicated with sleepless nights, way too many doctor’s appointments, violent, damaging meltdowns, and what felt like emotional trauma all over the place, that the truth finally sunk in.

This is our life. It is not possible to plan it away or fix it all with one brilliant to-do list. 

I slowly began to understand that there would be much, much more on the to-do list. Moreover, most of the list would be things I had never had to accomplish before.

Things like:

  1. make it home safely after a car ride 15 minutes or more
  2.  just make sure only things in this room are broken
  3. find a way to help him swallow the medicine

At first, I fought it. I was sure if I just tried harder, woke up earlier, stayed up later, and worked faster, I could accomplish every single thing on my list. What’s worse,  I thought my children should be able to keep up as well.

I am here to say, it was just not possible. It brought me to my knees (spiritually and figuratively).

I just could not keep up.

So, slowly but surely, I let go.

I asked my husband what was most important to him – turns out he would’ve cared less about 75% of the things I was freaking out over every day. Then, I asked the boys what they wanted. Hanging out  with them and feeding them were the top requests.

In fact, they were the only requests (now that I think about it, my husband’s requests were not that dissimilar…). Suddenly, my list was getting a lot smaller.

What Can I NOT Do Today?

Now, instead of feeling like a failure when I see my huge to-do list, I am trying to mentally start checking things off my don’t do list each morning.

There’s the practical –

  1. Don’t worry about the bathroom today
  2. Don’t even look at that giant pile of laundry

There is also the necessary –

  1. Don’t worry so much about his reading level – just love on him today
  2. Don’t panic at the dentist’s office – just breath and take the next step

I find there is so much more room for joy and freedom when I am not holding myself to my own unrealistic standard.

There is so much grace in saying, “Oh well. A perfectly scrubbed kitchen floor is just not the season we are in.”

There is so much relief in surrendering the illusion of control.

This is my life, my motherhood. It is full of so many to-dos these days.

Thankfully, I am learning No to the unnecessary. No to the soul-killing thoughts. No to the pressure to progress.

So, what are you NOT going to do today?

For more encouragement and support:

Looking For The Good Is Sacred Work

What I Wish You Could See As A Mom Of Children With Special Needs

This Is What Happens When My Expectations Of Motherhood Don’t Match My Reality


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  1. You write such encouraging words Shawna. It’s 3 o’clock in the morning where I live and I’ve been up all night worrying/crying/praying about my son. I have to keep some sort of to-do list as I am expected at work in just a few hours (gulp), but today I am not going to attempt to make any big decisions or figure it all out. Although I suspect my brain will still insist on giving it a go…..

  2. I love checking in on your blog from week to week. Your heart is so open for your kids. I have two little ones who don’t have sensory issues (or really any issues) but for some reason i am lead to read your blog. And i think this post is one of the reasons i read it. Kids don’t care what’s clean or dirty – they just want a mom and dad who love them and spend time with them. As a working mom i still have a “to-do” list but it’s really geared for what do we have upcoming that we can’t miss. Thank you for sharing what i needed to hear today.

  3. Shawna, Thank you again for a great post
    My to don’t is getting cranky and stressing about regression

  4. When I had severe post-partum depression with my first child (who never slept) and was anxious about getting everything done while seriously sleep-deprived, too, my husband wrote a to-do list for me and stuck it on the fridge. It said, “1. Stay alive.” I did it 🙂 and everything turned out ok, dirty floors/bathroom/etc. Eventually.

  5. Wow, love your honesty, learning from experience is a wonderful teacher. Is reminds me to live in the real world of here and now and not a world we make up in our minds. Life is better spent sharing and caring with our precious loved ones and for not worrying about the things that are not important. Thank you for your great post.

    1. Beautifully said, Machele. Thank you!

  6. As always, to spoke right to me. I, too, was certain I needed a new planner – like, a week ago I was thinking that. ? The endless to dos of a life with kids with special needs is so hard bc it’s not tidy in any way. Maybe we should start retroactively crossing things off. Like go back at the end of the day and write all the things we DID do. “Kept kids alive ☑️“. “Everyone stayed in the moving vehicle while driving home ☑️“. “Kids ate food ☑️“.
    This stuff is so hard. Thank you for sharing the burden so beautifully with so many.

    1. YES!!! I love the idea of noting what we DID do. The list is long and valuable, and yet it is so easy to dismiss all we did in fact do. Well said, Ginger. Thank you.

  7. I struggled with the planner and teacher planner too. I wondered if I needed one to deal with the daily caos that I had no controll over. In the end I decided I needed both planners for ME. I needed to see the progress, the growth, the happy stickers of encouragment and my choices in curruculum that are a great fit for my son. Its the best money I have spent all year. I also plan for simple hobbies during down time which are times of rest for me.

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