This is the final week in a 3-week series on parenting observations. Week one is based on gentle parenting, week two is about parenting with compassion, and week three is about parenting with a disability.
These posts are based on my personal experiences as a parent and are not meant in any way to judge other parenting styles or decisions. I am offering my personal research and conclusions as possible suggestions for others out there, therefore these posts will be as objective as possible. When it comes to parenting: provided the method isn’t abusive, there really isn’t a wrong way to parent your child. Be secure and do what works best for you and your family and ignore outside judgment.
With my MS, my disability manifestation breaks down into two parts: brain fog and fatigue.
Brain fog makes it difficult to remember to do things, important details, and conversations. Fatigue makes it hard to get through the day, especially after chasing a toddler.
One of my biggest fears during pregnancy was that I would leave the stove on or forget Jai somewhere. That’s how forgetful I can be, “pregnancy brain” aside. Likewise, my MS makes it difficult to make new memories so I can lose the precious moments that many parents treasure while watching their children grow up.
I have had to reorganize my life to manage my MS and improve my ability to parent. I’ve recognized what I excel at and what my limitations are and changed my routine to better balance the MS and child-rearing.
What works for me may not work for someone else because each case of disability is different, but hopefully, it will provide some insight as to how I handle everything. It may not be super efficient, but I am flexible to keep adjusting as needs change.
The main thing that helps me make it through the day with brain fog is managing my time. It’s not a strict adherence to a schedule, but an acknowledgment of the natural flow of the day and accounting for periods of high energy or fatigue.
Managing Time and Priorities
When I feel unproductive, I get depressed. Even before my diagnosis, I would get frustrated if I didn’t tick off marks on my checklist. Because I combat daily fatigue, I deal with the reality of not getting everything was done which can lead to momentary depression and personal frustration.
In order to prevent these low periods, I must figure out ways to manage my time better in consideration with my energy levels.
I have the most energy in the morning right when Jai goes down for his morning nap and that lasts until he goes down for his afternoon nap. On days that I go for a run or exercise, my energy level might be extended an additional 2 hours, but I can’t count on that everytime. If the run was particularly challenging or discouraging, I may not have enough energy to make it through lunch.
Tracking my natural rhythms, a typical day might look like this:
- 5-6am: Jai wakes up and we snuggle or slightly doze depending on everyone’s tiredness.
- 6-7am: Ash takes Jai for playtime before Ash needs to get ready for work. This gives me an additional hour of sleep.
- 7-9am: Go for a run some mornings, otherwise make Jai’s breakfast and let him play until naptime. I typically have more energy during this period of time so I am able to do minor chores while Jai is awake.
- 9-11am: Jai’s morning nap. If I am particularly exhausted I will use this time to nap as well. Otherwise, I will write, clean, or organize the house.
- 11am-2pm: Jai wakes up and we play, I make lunch, and if any errands need to be run, now is the time we do it. By the time 2pm rolls around, if I didn’t rest in the morning I am feeling very fatigued.
- 2-4pm: Jai’s afternoon nap. I make sure to take at least 30 minutes rest, but some days I will nap for the entire duration of his nap. If he ends up napping in the car because errands or playdates run late – I do not get a period of rest in and I am usually exhausted by 4pm.
- 4-6pm: More playtime, I make dinner, and when Ash comes home – we switch so he primarily takes care of Jai.
- 6-7pm: Ash and Jai spend time alone, playing together. I use this time to rest or work on any minor tasks.
- 7-8pm: Put Jai to bed.
- 8-10pm: Ash and I spend time together relaxing before heading to bed ourselves.
As you can see, I’ve worked periods of rest when I can, but I am flexible for the days where I have more or less energy.
I will unashamedly admit to this: on my bad days when I have absolutely no energy, I will make sure all of Jai’s needs are met (diaper, food, water, etc) and put him in the crib with some toys and lie down in another room with the monitor on. If he needs me or gets frustrated with being left alone, I will go immediately to him. But I take this time to recharge even a little so I can make it until Ash comes home.
The key to making it through the day is figuring out how to manage my time. I know when I have the most energy – I know when I need to rest. That helps me figure out when I will be the most productive and I attack important tasks during that time.
But as this article points out, time management only gets you so far. So it’s a bit misleading to say it’s all about time management: it’s really about priority management. Time management comes naturally once priorities are established.
This is how I go about managing my priorities:
- Each morning I figure out what is the most important thing I must do and add it to my to-do list with a priority assigned to it. “1” is most important, while “3” is least important. I add all other tasks for the day and assign priority.
- Some items are carried over from day-to-day because they are so low of a priority (or I avoid doing them) that they don’t get done until I am sick of looking at them.
- Here are some tips if you struggle to determine priority when everything seems important. This is originally for work, but it can be applied in your personal life.
- Once I have established the importance of priority, I figure out when during my day I am able to achieve that task. Some things must be done in the morning when I have the most amount of energy, while other things wait until later in the day because my energy level is less important to the completion of the task.
- I do not underestimate the power of checking things off in order to feel productive. There may be days where I write every single detail of a task down on the to-do list because the only thing that keeps me moving forward is the tick-marks indicating “done.”I think one of my favorite apps said it best with this tweet:
Before breaking down your tasks: 😓
After breaking down your tasks: 😊 pic.twitter.com/6kJnfulGtu
— Todoist (@todoist) February 5, 2018
If time management isn’t working for you, don’t scrap it completely, but adjust your focus to priority management. Once you’ve figured out your priorities, you can manage the time needed to get those priorities done.
And don’t be afraid of rolling those tasks over day-to-day. They will get done eventually.
The Importance of a Calendar
Maintaining a schedule helps keep things straight when it comes to my brain fog. I have tried physical calendars/planners in the past, and while I love the romantic notion (and flexibility) of them, I find that I am less likely to maintain or look at them.
I always have my phone on me and with Google calendar, I am able to share my schedule with Ash. I also love how my Google Calendar integrates with my email, so if I am making plans via email I can click a couple of links in order to automatically add something to my calendar.
Because it’s always by my side I am more likely to look at the calendar, add reminders, and add in events. It is the most effective way to keep my time organized and prevent me from forgetting important things.
I have learned to tell people “hold on, let me put this in my calendar otherwise I’ll forget it.” I still forget to add to my calendar sometimes and therefore double-book myself or forget about something, but chances are decreased if I am comfortable stopping everything in order to update my calendar.
By removing the need to keep track of things in my head and placing them externally, I am taking control over my brain fog. While it won’t ever go away completely, I am doing something that is recommended to people without a disability and therefore normalizing my actions (and not allowing the disease have control). This helps bolster my productivity and decrease my frustration.
While I love to have a digital calendar, I find that having a physical to-do list for my on-the-fly tasks helps more. I do use a digital to-do list for my repeatable daily activities, but as I am going along, I am more likely to write it down on some paper than enter it on my phone.
But list writing can be boring and cumbersome so as to make it interesting for myself, I use Knock Knock pads around the house for my various lists. Below are some of my personal favorites:
*I receive compensation for these links.
Like with a calendar, I am no longer allowing my brain fog to take control of my life by creating lists, but I am also making my abstract ideas more concrete. They feel more achievable when I look at them on paper.
The trick is to not lose the paper and remember to recycle them.
I always remember that I need to be flexible throughout my day, no matter how well planned I have it. Some days will be ideal and I will be able to get a lot done and other days I’ll need to accept that I won’t get everything done. Remember that that is okay is key to not getting depressed by low-productivity.
I make sure to build flexibility into my daily schedule.
I acknowledge my fatigue and brain fog by knowing that I might get overtired or I might forget to do something. I work in an extra 20 minutes for a project or an extra 30 to get Jai ready for a playdate because, well, toddler.
What do you do to help keep you focused and manage your disability (or if you don’t have a disability, yourself)? How do you combat the threat of low-productivity? This is something that interests me so I would love to hear your suggestions and tips. Comment with them below.
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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography