When I was diagnosed with inattentive ADHD several years ago, many aspects of my life suddenly made a whole lot more sense, including my sometimes less-than-stellar attempts to parent my four children. As a then-divorced mom with full custody of the kids, the majority of the child-rearing tasks fell to me, along with trying to run a business from home.
The kids, actually quite good children, but still normal kids, figured out early on how to work my ADHD to their advantage. Before I even knew it existed, they could use my distraction and forgetfulness to make bed time later or to get out of a punishment. Guilt and shame became part of my inner monologue as I spun through loop after loop of forgetting to sign kids’ homework or to even remind them do it at all; being purposely distracted by a child who decided just before bed time that it was time to have a serious heart-to-heart talk; not remembering that one of the kids was banned from screens for the day; and dealing with serious time management issues, much to my children’s embarrassment (“Mom, can we please try to be on time for this?” I heard repeatedly).
Why couldn’t I get it together? Why couldn’t I be the perfect mom like my sister, always remembering extended family members’ birthdays, making gourmet meals every night and running kids all over the place, all while maintaining an immaculate house and a full-time job? My life still looks more like arriving late to an appointment with a kid that’s wearing pants that are too short because I didn’t check to see what he was wearing before we went out the door because, after all, we were running late. And now as I’m sitting there waiting to see the doctor, I realize he didn’t brush his teeth either and my niece’s birthday was last week and I still haven’t sent her birthday gift, and oh shoot, I just realized I’m going to get back home at dinner time and I haven’t even thought about what that will entail. And I say to my kid for the umpteenth time, “I have a hard enough time remembering my own stuff, I really need you to remember to do YOUR stuff, like brush your teeth and notice that your pants are too short,” as I’m also remembering that I forgot to wash the clothes my daughter needs tomorrow. And I still have a deadline to meet, which means another late night, and then I’m digging in my purse to find a pen to write reminders down on my hand before they flitter away completely. This entire mental and verbal exchange happens within the space of about fifteen seconds.
Between losing important items, forgetting appointments, needing a ton of sleep to make up for the intense brain cycling that I experience throughout the day, and having to make intentional efforts to get out of my own head and focus, each day presents new challenges. Sometimes I want to take a vacation from my whirling brain, even just for a while, but since it’s sort of necessary to my existence, that’s unfortunately impossible. Instead, now that I know what I am dealing with, I am learning to find ways to compensate for my difficulties, like using timers, putting my entire life in my planner so I don’t forget anything, carrying a phone with a calendar and a note function so I can write myself reminders easily when I think of them, and loosely scheduling myself so I can use my time more efficiently.
I know comparing myself to my sister, or anyone else, is completely unhelpful. Like everyone in the world, she has her own failures, though not the same as mine. And I have my own positive qualities, though distinctly different from hers. Many of us with ADHD are spontaneous, fun loving, easygoing and light hearted, which can go a long way in making our children’s lives happy ones. Remembering our good characteristics can help banish the guilt and shame when we mess up. Finding little tricks to help us keep the stress at a minimum and not get too overwhelmed by daily demands is important too, including learning to say no. It also never hurts to laugh at yourself a little bit. Some of the situations we get ourselves in are, honestly, pretty humorous.
And let’s face it, my kids, and probably yours too, will never complain that their childhoods were dull.
Written by Sarah E. Ludwig