My personal struggles with ADHD came to the forefront when I became a stay-at-home mom before my 2nd child was born. There are five ways ADHD makes me a “bad” mom, but through reflection and practice, I’ve learned to make parenting with ADHD work for me and my family.
Parenting is hard and it can often feel chaotic. Add in a neurodiverse parent and the struggles intensify. The expectations of a calm, consistent, patient, and ever-present parent are idealistic for even the most put-together person. But parenting with ADHD while thinking I still needed to attain this gold standard left my self-esteem in shambles, despite my children clearly thriving.
Kids need routine. They need to know what to expect. But who says expectations need a time attached to them? You’re supposed to brush your teeth morning and night. Well, we brush our teeth when we happen to think of it. Some days that means once, some days it means 5 times. My kids understand that brushing their teeth is a consistent expectation but there is flexibility in how we achieve that expectation day-to-day. Rigid expectations led me to repeated failure and damaged self-esteem. I want better for my kids, and flexible expectations give them a better chance to succeed.
Another example of flexible expectations is my choice to forgo any sort of sleep training. I set loose nap times and bedtimes and support my children in listening to their bodies.
Kids require patience. Allll the patience. I have exactly no patience. I’ve used this as an opportunity to learn with my kids. When we find ourselves expecting others to answer questions or complete tasks in unfairly short amounts of time, it’s our responsibility to slow down. My kids and I have practiced a few ways to do this. One tactic is to say the alphabet in your head while you wait. Sometimes we need reminders to be patient, and that’s okay. We’re learning patience together and we’re all better off for it. Parenting with ADHD helps me be open to learning with my kids.
3. Distractibility and forgetfulness
My distractibility and forgetfulness can feed into children’s natural tendency to manipulate others. If they asked me a question yesterday, it’s likely I’d have forgotten what my answer was. As my oldest child grows up, I realized this was a problem I would need to deal with sooner rather than later. There are a lot of factors that combat manipulation. We’ve found that regular conversations about honesty, respect, and responsibility help curb deceit and manipulation. My son knows what I said the day before. He also knows lying to me in order to get what he wants is not in line with who and how he wants to be. He is learning to act with more compassion and integrity, and I feel more respected.
Parenting with ADHD means I’ve learned that I cannot be my children’s source of routine, so I’ve outsourced that. They attend school, sports, camps, etc that are all predictable and reliable. I can help my kids enjoy being spontaneous. It’s Tuesday and the weather is nice, let’s go to the beach! My son woke up early and wants to bike to school? Sure, go for it, buddy. Plans are nice, but sometimes, life outside of “the plan” can be freeing.
Indecision can be panic-inducing. You know what’s not worth being panicked over? What your kids wear. Or eat. Or which bathroom they use. Because of parenting with ADHD, my kids have more liberty to make more of their own choices. I needed to let go of unnecessary decision-making for my own sanity. Is the master bathroom supposed to be kid-free? Sure, but it also doesn’t really matter if the kids use it. We control what comes home from the grocery store, so if it’s in our house, they get to eat it.
Trying to micromanage my kids’ choices led us all to feel less successful. I was quickly overwhelmed which resulted in more shame for me and frustration for my kids. Learning what they could reasonably decide on their own has given me a break from near-constant decision making. I then have more energy saved to handle decisions I do need to make.
These are just a few ways my ADHD impacts my life as a mom of 3. Parenting with ADHD may make meeting the typical gold standard of motherhood impossible, but I’ve learned to embrace my own standards. Neurotypical standards decimate my self-esteem. But I want better for me and my kids. So we will move forward in flexibility and adapted standards.
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