Ask the Experts

Q: How Can a Mom with ADHD Build Consistent Routines?

There is no magic formula for conjuring the perfect daily schedule and routine for your family. The best solution is the one that actually sticks, and getting to that point means first taking a hard look at what is working and what is essential. Here is how.

Reviewed on April 18, 2019

Q: “I am a stay-at-home mom and no matter how hard I try to develop routines, they always seem to fail. Or, rather, I seem to fail them. My 7-year-old son with ADHD needs a structured environment, but how does a mother with ADHD go about creating structured routines? From meal plans to budgeting to remembering to take my meds and give my son meds, to chores and discipline, I feel like I am always coming up short and living in utter chaos. I know routines would simplify our lives, but I can’t seem to hang on to them.” Getittogethergirl


Dear Getittogethergirl:

Thank you for being so honest with your struggles. Being a mom is hard, but being a mom with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) can often feel impossible. But I assure you it is not, and this advice may help along the path to ‘possible.’

1. Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First
If you truly want to help yourself, you must FIRST identify your own challenges and find solutions that work for you! What might that look like? You say that meal planning is a real struggle for you. Put other work-arounds in place like having three go-to meals you make every week, and/or finding an affordable meal-delivery service you can use regularly. Or perhaps household cleaning help is what you need? Can you barter services so that you get several hours of housekeeping in exchange for childcare at another time? In other words, if you can delegate the “chores” you struggle the most with, you’ll have more time, energy, and focus to concentrate on the ones that truly matter.

[ADHD Symptoms in Women and Girls]

2. Recognize the Right to Say No or Enough
A wise woman once told me that I could do everything — just not all at the same time. You have a lot on you plate. Determine what is absolutely necessary to get done in your life at this stage and do just that. The less you say yes to, the less overwhelmed you will feel.

3. Build On Your Success
What systems do you have in place right now that are working for you? Perhaps you always charge your phone in the kitchen and never forget since you pass through the kitchen often. Or, you always leave your bag by the front door so you literally have to trip over it to leave.

My point is that, if you have a system in place that is already working for you, then pairing another task to it might be the best way to put an additional routine in place. For example, I had a client who never forgot her medication since she kept it in her “coffee drawer” in her kitchen and saw it immediately when she opened the drawer in the morning.

4. Use Visual Cues
Try using visual prompts. As I say to my coaching clients, “You need to see what you need to do — coming AND going.” And, after a while, we stop seeing to-do lists. They just add to the clutter. So try this out-of-the box idea: Have someone take photos of you moving through your routines. These should be “action shots” of you. Post the photos in the most heavily trafficked areas of your home. Research shows that we remember images faster than we do text, which our brain has to work a lot harder to process.

It might seem unconventional, but I’m hopeful it will get the job done!

[Free Sample Schedules for Reliable Family Routines]


Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, answers questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to Dear Organizing Coach here!

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