Caucasian mother and daughter hugging on sofa

Mom Overwhelmed By Endless To Do List

by Susan Stiffelman


Although my children see their father every other weekend, I am mostly a single parent. All I do is go to my job, come home, shop for food, cook, clean, help with homework, bathe the kids and so on. I am constantly overwhelmed. Sometimes I can’t believe that this is what my life is going to be for the next twelve years—getting things checked off the list and still never feeling I did enough.

When I was writing my book, Parenting With Presence, Eckhart Tolle—who was publishing the book under his Eckhart Tolle Editions imprint—offered to help me with the edits.

As we were discussing one of the chapters, Eckhart spoke with me about the balance between doing and being, explaining that we are not meant to be constantly in motion—always doing— nor should we simply do nothing all the time—only being. We need stillness to reconnect to ourselves, and activity to develop our gifts.

When it comes to parenting, our work is never done. Things shout at us from every direction, making it easy to get perpetually stuck in doing mode.

Help Sammy with his spelling words! 
Take the splinter out of Shannon’s finger! 
Do the dishes…feed the dog…sign the permission slip…get the boys in their bath…!

If we grade ourselves based on whether we got everything on our list accomplished, we’re going to feel like we’re failing because…drum roll please…

The list never ends!

Every time you check something off the list, a new task will appear. There simply is no way that you will ever be caught up.

Therefore, until and unless you come to terms with the impossibility of doing everything well—whether you’re single or happily married—you will live in a state of doing, and lose the connection with yourself that transports you off that hamster wheel of endless motion.

There is a reason that humans instituted rituals like resting on the Sabbath or going to church. We need to hit the Pause button on doing so we can just be. Whether it’s sitting on the back stoop and listening to the birds, taking a walk in nature, or listening to music that uplifts your heart, it is vital that you take a break to just be now and then!

In The Joy Diet, Martha Beck says, “…perpetually doing, without ever tuning in to the center of our being, is the equivalent of fueling a mighty ship by tossing all its navigational equipment into the furnace.” 

In an interesting coincidence, just as I was finishing up this week’s article, the power in our home went out. At first I was concerned; I had much to do and it all required electricity. But as day moved into evening, we lit candles, had a quiet dinner, and then moved outdoors to breathe in the quiet and peace of the night.

There were many things I had planned to accomplish, but because forces were outside of my control, I relaxed into the stillness. I literally felt my nervous system begin to unwind; by the time the power came back on, I felt like my mind had been bathed. Moving into just being delivered a perfectly timed pause in my busy state, helping me hit the Reset button.

Life as a single parent is difficult—there’s no doubt about it. But see if you can look for small ways to bring a little more being into your days so you can catch your breath and stay connected with your spirit.

Life is not just about getting things done. It is to be enjoyed—today, not just when your children are grown. They will benefit from watching you give yourself permission to recharge and replenish. And of course, you will, too.

Susan Stiffelman, Huffington Post Parent’s weekly advice columnist (“Parent Coach”), is an engaging speaker whose presentations leave audiences upbeat, entertained and fortified with practical strategies that will make an immediate and significant difference in their day to day lives. Susan is a licensed Marriage, Family and Child therapist, a credentialed teacher, and a highly regarded parenting coach. Instead of offering standard, scripted advice to parents about how to control their children, Susan focuses on helping them be what she calls the Captain of the ship their children need and naturally want to cooperate with, confide in, and respect. Those who attend Susan’s presentations routinely email her office with thanks, and a request to come back again!