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5 Tips to Get Time on Your Side When You're a Special Needs Parent

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Time management experts tell us how to make the most efficient use of our days. They remind us that no matter who we are, we only get 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week.

These experts differentiate between the time spent doing pleasurable things and the time we spend doing the disagreeable things, noting that time can feel different depending on how we use it. But the one thing they continually fail to discuss is how to handle activities that deplete us for far longer than the time spent doing that activity itself.

Last week I spent a painful hour and a half with the insurance company attempting to untangle a denial of coverage. The situation was frustrating not only because of the nature of the phone call, but also because of what the phone call represented. That phone call wasn’t just a one-time, aggravating To Do. It was a reminder that the world often doesn’t understand my child’s needs. Situations like that require consistent and often immediate but unpredictable chunks of my time and attention.

Tasks like these, even when performed for those we love – or maybe especially when performed for those we love – can sap our strength and deplete our reserves. Situations like these make incursions into my time and inroads into my brain. How can we prevent unavoidable tasks from sapping us long-term?

1. Allow yourself to recuperate. Whenever athletes do any kind of strenuous exercise, they rest and refuel afterward to give their bodies a chance to recuperate. If they don’t, they risk injury. We similarly risk harm when we don’t give ourselves an opportunity to mentally regroup.

Because we frequently can’t defer disagreeable tasks to a time that’s convenient, it can be difficult to work “recuperation” time into our schedules. But giving yourself a break can come in many different forms. Go outside. Eat a snack. Because motion changes emotion, do anything that incorporates movement. Look through a photo album. Light a scented candle. Make a list of the things that refuel you and refer to that list as needed.

2. Reframe your thinking. When you fly, you can choose to view weather delays as a disruption, or you can see them as part and parcel of the traveling experience, albeit the inconvenient part. Insurance headaches are not acts of God (to be sure!) and no one needs to put up with incompetence, but life is full of aggravations.

Given that my insurance issue was one of red tape, it’s easy to think, “Wow, there are a number of more productive ways I could have spent that time.” But if I approach it from the perspective that I was dealing with health care for one of my children, then there are certainly far more trivial ways I could have spent that time.

3. Track your time. Tracking your time seems counterintuitive. Why do I want to know the actual number of minutes I spent doing something aggravating? But time tracking can help you see not just the minutia, but the big picture as well.

For example, while a good portion of my morning was dedicated to my insurance phone call, when I view the day as a whole, it becomes more of an annoying blip. There was still time for other far more fulfilling and even enjoyable things.

4. Build in buffers. I am not someone with a high tolerance for a lot of activity. Running errands and being “on the go” leaves me exhausted, not energized. Consequently, once we started adding regular doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions to our schedule, I cut down on other activities, including extracurriculars. While the kids had fewer dance and Tae Kwon Do lessons, adding this extra margin helped immensely when we needed to shuffle the schedule, and more importantly, it gave me much-needed breathing room to absorb life at a less frenzied pace.

You may like to go full tilt when it comes to activities. The buffer you need may be take-out, a cleaning service, or using a delivery service for your shopping or groceries (like Amazon Prime, Google Express or even your local grocery store’s delivery or pick-up service). Find what works for you and then do it.

You may object to outsourcing, given that you’re spending out the wazoo elsewhere. I hear you. I cringe every time I have to pay for parking at the children’s hospital. What kind of a sadist came up with the idea of charging me for medical care and to park in a dimly lit garage to get said medical care? But I can either spend the money on things now or I will pay in the future – at the expense of my health and well-being.

5. Look farther down the road. Some things really do improve with time. Your child’s prognosis may not improve, their condition may deteriorate, and these are hard, hard things. But some things do get easier with time.

With time, some things will feel less intimidating, if for no other reason than you’ve done them before. You will become more comfortable doing the uncomfortable. Some things like hospital visits will never be easy, but you’ll only ever have one first hospital visit. You’ll learn where to park and which waiting room has free coffee, and there will be solace in knowing these things.

Time, for better or worse, means more experience, more practice and greater perspective.

Originally published: August 29, 2016
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