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“Hold on!” “Wait!” “I know!” This is the regular cacophony of irritated voices as I try to shepherd my family to the dinner table. My daughter is engrossed in a book. My son’s eyes are glued to his Nintendo Switch. My husband is tapping his last bit of thoughts into a text. It could be a scene in many busy families, however, the invisible forcefield in our household is ADHD. Except for me, everyone is locked into what is most interesting to them at the moment. Time stops… or maybe it never began? 

“Time blindness”, or the concept of being so engrossed in an activity that you lose all sense of time, is a term often associated with ADHD that I learned during the lockdown of 2020—and it changed the way I view my family. For years, I only saw this ADHD symptom described as “poor time management” and was determined to fix the “poor” part. As a neurotypical mom who particularly loves to plan (with both a labeler and a laminator), it felt like my neurodiverse husband and kids lived on a different planet whirling around me in time chaos. I had never asked myself, “if my child was blind, would I expect them to see like me?” But it’s the same with time blindness—I experience time differently than they do. I was often left bewildered by why I could feel time in my bones but my family could not. Turns out it’s not in my bones, it’s in my heart. 

Perceiving is deceiving 

The scalar expectancy theory (SET) by John Gibbon hypothesizes that time perception is like an internal clock and measured out in pulse rate. It can provide perspective on why people with ADHD have a hard time perceiving the passing of time more as a sensory issue rather than an intentional disregard or laziness. So in theory, my brain can estimate how many times my heart beats in a minute but the rest of my family’s brains cannot. Psychologists have translated this time blindness to mean that people with ADHD have two time zones, “now” and “not now.” 

Before knowing this, I felt enormous pressure to teach my kids about time in a world that expects nothing less. But to my discontent, school planners collected dust on their desks. Timers got vaporized into the clutter of our apartment. Calendars, lists, and Post-It-note systems just became wallpaper. Even worse, I became their human clock, barking commands with angry cartoon steam coming out of my ears. The results were tears, tantrums and shutdowns. 

My brain might be able to perceive time with precision—but I needed a change of heart. We were all feeling drained by the years of chasing and missing time. I was in a cycle of wrong expectations and it took a pandemic for me to get out of it. 

An unimaginable time pause 

Like all of us during the 2020 lockdown, the crisis turned our world upside down. With remote school, remote work, and the four of us stuck together 24/7, time felt long and short all at once. I would blink and hours were gone and then the next day felt like a year. I was experiencing time differently for the first time in my life.

As our strict schedules screeched to a halt, the inertia of my body was still moving forward until my brain realized what had happened. There were no events to be late for and no buses to miss. It didn’t matter what time we ate. We were allowed to be totally inefficient on stressful days but hyperfocus was a welcomed friend on long, sleepy days. I was living in the “now.” My fists were unclenching as I noticed our family was eating more regularly and peacefully together at the dinner table. In this strange time warp we had finally landed on the same planet and I felt hopeful we’d find the same language. 

As the weeks turned into years, my husband spent countless hours preparing loaves of fresh sourdough bread, while I took my own time to study ADHD. This time, not as my enemy, but as an ally. I dug deeper into the term “neurodiversity,” where I found an amazing community of YouTubers, writers, psychologists, and parents to help change my mindset. I was very logically accepting brain diversity—but could my heart handle it? 

Only a scone can tell 

As Covid restrictions loosened, my family cautiously stepped out of quarantine like bears waking up from hibernation. We were groggy, disoriented and fearful from the devastation that the world experienced. I was hungry to go back to the habits of “normal.” As my own amnesia set in, I found myself one morning yelling at my sleeping husband to wake up 30 minutes earlier to help me get our kids to in-person school. “It’s important that they get there ON TIME!” I proclaimed. 

Surprisingly, a few weeks later, my husband began waking up exactly 30 minutes earlier with a breakfast scone ready for my daughter. I would have felt vindicated in prior years that my scolding was effective, but it didn’t add up. What I remembered about time blindness is that the perception of 5 minutes, 30 minutes, and 3 hours is somewhat meaningless to my family’s relationship with time. So how did he do it? The answer blew my mind. 

He explained to me that after all the loaves of sourdough bread he made in quarantine, he learned what made bread really good—the timing. So in an effort to wake up 30 minutes earlier, he had to trick his brain to remember and motivate. He figured out how to bake the perfect frozen scone for our daughter’s breakfast. 

It involved defrosting it the night before, which was his first reminder to wake up earlier. 

Then the scone had to go in the oven for exactly 30 minutes before our daughter woke up, which ensured time precision. 

And lastly, the motivating reward was the joy of seeing her eating it. This was everything he had to do to plan and feel 30 minutes of time, whereas all I had to do was set my alarm clock earlier. 

Do you feel it? 

In my quest for better time management, the question I kept skipping over is “How do you manage something you can’t perceive?” Unlike my constant march to the clock’s drumbeat, I was eager to know the details of how my family grapples with their senses to find their own way. 

My husband says time feels like he is walking on a rubber band. It stretches and slows down only for it to suddenly snap back and then time is lost. It’s like a spotlight of attention. “Everything is hard because of this,” my husband explains, “but because of this hard things rarely scare me.” 

“Hyperfocus feels like your brain was created to do just that thing,” my daughter adds. As a young female teen, she’s discovering its powers while balancing the mundane tasks that may not stick. She read about a woman with ADHD who touches her kitchen sink twice a day to remember to clean dirty dishes. It gave her hope about the idea of physical touch as a way to feel time. 

My son experiences time at lightning speed but the transitions between tasks feel like an abyss of boredom. He impatiently dreams of when we can beam from place to place. This would be a world he could feel more at home in. I tell him that his brain might be the one that figures it out. 

Time management - time blindness

Forgive and forget, and then forgive again 

Without these honest conversations of our strengths and weaknesses, no tool, app or coach would ever help me help them. Though there has been an amazing amount of progress in understanding ADHD since my own childhood in the 1980s, there still persists today the societal misperception that ADHD is just hyperactive distractible boys who misbehave. 

And that’s on top of the fact that there is still so little research on how girls with ADHD navigate life. So it’s not surprising when psychiatrist and author William W. Dodson, MD, estimates that by age 12, children who have ADHD receive 20,000 more negative messages than those without ADHD. It’s a wake-up call for me to battle my own negativity and break cycles of shame. My mixed brain family is discovering ways we feel, hear, taste or touch time knowing that we continually have to reset our clocks to discover more answers. 

Now in 2023, I hold on to these memories of our time warp in quarantine as a gift to help recalibrate my pulse rate. My heart learned new rhythms to be flexible, empathetic and humble through this unpredictable road of ADHD. Time blindness will inevitably throw difficult wrenches into life that will upset my planner brain, but on my very best days I remember the Herculean strength it takes to conquer time in the dark. 

What is perceived as “easy” by most people is a highly elaborate obstacle course for my family. I recognize all the muscles they are using. The grief of losing seconds, minutes and hours is something my family goes through everyday. In these moments of loss, I give them permission to forgive themselves. That’s the least I can do when they have forgiven me too. I had been blind for so long, but now I see.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. By amplifying each mother's experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you're interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.