Just by itself, motherhood is tough. But when paired with neurodivergence, it's a job that's significantly more difficult - especially for those on the ADHD or autism spectrum.
[Image: a Black mother is wearing a white knit jumper and she is standing next to her daughter, who is wearing a patterned shirt and black leather jacket. They are both next to a motorbike and both are looking in the revision mirror, poking their tongues out at each other.]
by Najite Phoenix
The hormonal shifts that accompany motherhood often exacerbate the more challenging symptoms associated with autism and ADHD. Which means, not only does being autistic or ADHD make motherhood more tough, but motherhood itself makes being neurodivergent a little - or a lot - more intense.
For any mum, juggling the day to day chaos of motherhood requires patience, self-control and some nifty organisation. But executive dysfunction - which often goes hand in hand with neurodivergence - can make things like time management, patience and organisation a real challenge to employ.
So, the following time management tips are for the neurodivergent mamas attempting to keep it together, while running households and/or businesses.
First up... visibility is key.
I've always been a list writer. Getting things out of my head and onto a piece of paper is not only satisfying, but gratifying too. We all love that feeling of an item crossing the threshold of 'to-do' to just did.
But the thing with lists is that, on good days they're great; but on mediocre days they're often out of sight and out of mind.
Post it notes, however, keep your attention in a way that the list on the table can't quite compete with.
At a time when I was struggling to get things done around my three children - all under five - I was desperate to finish creating and launching my online course. After weeks of chasing my tail, I wrote all my tasks on sticky notes and stuck them on the wall. I could see it and feel it. Everything I needed to do to get unstuck just felt easier.
My productivity skyrocketed and I finished creating my online course in just two days. And apparently, I'm not the only one who's experienced the magic of sticky notes.
Jasmine Anderson, who is an intuitive coach and mother of three, says a similar thing:
"I brain dump everything I need to do, then I write a list and I try to prioritise 3-5 things a day in the order of the most importance. I won't always do it in that order, but as long as it's in view it will annoy me and be on the forefront of my mind until I do."
As well as visualising tasks, getting into the habit of timing them is helpful too.
When we have no grasp on how long it usually takes to complete an activity, our minds can deceive us. We often end up putting it off due to fear that it'll take longer than it actually will.
Or we don't give ourselves enough time and quickly become overwhelmed when we realize we've bitten off more than we can chew.
But not only that, when we don't have an estimate of how much time a task should take, we often don't give ourselves any real structures or boundaries to adhere to. So we might end up allowing a task that should take three hours to take ten hours instead - simply because we failed to set a limit to stick to.
Getting into the habit of time-tracking and setting limits makes it easier to find our flow and to plan accordingly.
Jennifer Barton - a London mum of 4, shares why this is also something she prioritises:
"The psychiatrist who diagnosed me told me to get a Fitbit/smartwatch. You can set multiple alarms a day and that was helping me with multiple pickup reminders which I need because when I get into work mode, I have no sense of how much time anything takes me (same with getting places; managing time stuff has always been tricky and this helped a lot)."
Rituals and routines help us to find and establish a flow.
For me, having to think about what I'm going to make for breakfast each day would be too stressful - especially when starting the day. So I don't think about. Thankfully I'm in a position where me and my three children are happy to have oatmeal for breakfast every single morning without fail. Yes, really. We love it.
This won't work for everyone but it's not uncommon for autistic folk to enjoy eating what's affectionately known as 'same foods' for an extended period.
If every day doesn't work for you or your family, perhaps you could try having the same breakfast for a week and having four on rotation for the month.
Not having to make a daily decision on what we eat first for the day is more helpful than you might think.
Jasmine explains that she also finds planning and prepping meals to be overwhelming at times:
"If we have places we need to be I'll have cereal bars, fruit, toast, sandwiches- things that can be eaten on the move. Meal-times can also be a sensory trigger for my son which can take up a lot of time, so this also helps reduce the stress of that."
Buy those game-changing gadgets. Just make sure they're right for you.
If you like to keep things dynamic in the kitchen then time-saving gadgets are a must. And when it comes to kitchen hacks for the busy mum, slow cookers are often the go-to.
Although I think they're great - they're definitely not my go-to. Slow cookers require you to prep food 4-6 hours in advance - as the name suggests - for it to slow cook while you work or rest. But as somebody who often forgets to prepare food until I'm actually hungry, a slow cooker still requires me to manage my time and avoid procrastinating until the last minute. I struggle with that.
So when I recently decided I needed a new kitchen hack, I got a soup maker instead. I chop up the ingredients, throw them in, press a button and within 28 minutes I have perfect soup ready to eat. This is ideal for me. It means that on those occasions that I've forgotten to plan ahead, instead of opting for a takeaway, I go for the soup maker instead.
With the added functionalities of being able to make smoothies, baby food and oatmeal too - the soup maker has truly been a game changer. And despite friends and family advising me to opt for the slow cooker, I'm glad that I tuned in to my individual needs and followed them.
But gadgets aside, what's most important is that you give yourself a break - both literally and figuratively.
Jasmine also said it's important to remember you're only human:
"Sometimes you just drop all the balls. You're human. Being a parent is exhausting and so is being neurodivergent. I'm also a single parent with little hands-on support. We don't get a break from our minds and we don't really get a break from our kids either; so it's important to be kind to ourselves."
Whenever you can, bake time into your day to give yourself regular breaks - not to work, or cook or clean - but to do nothing. This might mean putting something on the TV or a laptop for your little ones while you unwind for twenty minutes - or putting on your headphones to escape the whining, at least for a short time.
The impact of sleep deprivation and overwhelming sensory input of motherhood has devastating impacts on our nervous system. No amount of fancy gadgets or apps will change that. So for the sake of our physical and mental health, it's important to give ourselves a break.
Najite Phoenix is a writer and poet, Decolonial Strategist and Campaign Magazine's "One to Watch" 2022. Check out Najite's other words on Huffington Post and in Elephant Journal. You can follow Najite here on Twitter - @thephoenixtype
Tiimo is a visual daily planner that will help you stress less and plan your time better. It works by creating a visual schedule on the app, with Tiimo reminding you of your schedule throughout the day. And it's easy to get started, simply download the app or check out the Tiimo website - click here