“Do Moms with ADHD Have Big Families? I Think So.”
“What did I ultimately glean from my informal Facebook research on mothers with ADHD? All of them seemed to thrive off chaos and embrace life’s challenges. Many have loving, fun, and big personalities. They’re also raising at least one child with ADHD. And despite the many overwhelming and exhausting facets of being the matriarch of a large family, they adored knowing that they had a purpose, and that they were good at something after years of being told they’d never amount to anything.”
I’m a 40-year-old woman with four children. Having a big family has always appealed to me. In my mid-20s, way ahead of my peers, I was married and expecting my first child. Having a child was life-affirming, though I hadn’t anticipated how draining and exhausting motherhood would be.
It was only after my adult ADHD diagnosis that many aspects and difficulties of my life, motherhood, and beyond began to “click.” I suddenly had a greater understanding of my thought patterns, lifestyle choices and, most importantly, my brain.
After my diagnosis, I joined several Facebook groups for women with ADHD, and started to notice a pattern: a disproportionate number of women with large families like mine. Every day, I’d read posts by exhausted mothers about the daily battle of caring for four, five, six, even seven children. These women often spoke about the constant overwhelm and anxiety in their day-to-day lives, and they berated themselves for not doing better.
Like many moms in these groups, I admit to enjoying the raucousness of a busy house. But what often has me teetering on the edge of overwhelm is my overthinking. My highly anxious brain catastrophizes what are far-fetched yet very plausible situations, at times preventing me from enjoying quality time with my family. With a constant churn of possible nightmare scenarios about four children, it’s pretty easy to feel drained most days.
Us women with ADHD are hard on ourselves. Our self-criticism and lack of self-compassion can be cruel and debilitating. We’ve been conditioned to tell ourselves that we’re lazy, disorganized, or useless. These criticisms are exacerbated in motherhood, where the expectations to keep a house tidy, to get kids up and out to school on time, and remember a million appointments and obligation are unrealistic.
[Read: Overwhelmed Mom Syndrome — It’s a Real Thing]
Being the curious person I am, I visited one of the larger ADHD support groups for moms on Facebook one day, and asked who in the group had more than four kids. I received an overwhelming response, with many mothers proudly listing their numbers. A few of the mothers who answered my informal survey, however, actually admitted to stopping after one or two children, knowing the limitations of their energetic capacity.
The Appeal of Large Families to ADHD Brains
What does my slapdash research point to? That ADHD brains can thrive off bedlam and chaos. But we also crave solitary downtime to replenish the excessive energy we’ve exerted throughout the day. Pretty contradictory, right?
The ADHD brain’s affinity for action, it seems, may explain why some parents with ADHD embrace LOTS of kids. In my qualitative research (a single Facebook post on an ADHD mothers-specific page!), not all the children these mothers spoke about were biological children – some were fostered, adopted, stepchildren, or kids who simply needed some love. Though we can lack self-compassion, it seems that having compassion for others runs deeply through our veins.
When further pressed on the big family question, some women admitted that their working memory had let them down, and that they had simply forgotten to use birth control. Some disclosed that they struggled socially while growing up, and built their own ‘private community’ so they wouldn’t feel that same rejection in adulthood. Many also listed their ‘impulsivity’ with romantic partners. Some of the women acknowledged that, due to their high levels of empathy, they simply love caring and being surrounded by others. There is clearly a mixed bag of responses here, but many of them correlate closely with ADHD traits.
I know that I have serious amounts of energy – until I crash. That’s when I’m emotionally depleted, unable to speak or be spoken to until I’ve had a bath or a walk without anyone asking anything of me. Knowing this, I guard my mental energy fiercely. Does a loud and busy house, normally full of kids and their friends, get in the way? Sometimes. But most of the time, when the house is quiet and peaceful, I’m bored and feel a little low without the external stimulus to keep my dopamine flowing.
I also like a tidy, clean home – again a bit of a contradiction for a mum with ADHD. (Aren’t we all meant to be messy hoarders?! )I’ve learned that I can become emotionally dysregulated if my surroundings aren’t tidy. Yes, micro corners of the house may look cluttered and in disarray, but if my kitchen, bedroom, and office aren’t clean and organized, I simply can’t relax. So, having lots of kids in the house (especially over lockdown) has tested my tolerance levels to the max.
Yet, when it’s too tidy and there’s nothing to do, I’m still unable to sit still. Lounging or simply being in one space with nothing to do is one of the most trying things for me, and often makes me feel more anxious. A long bath works, but only if I have something to read or watch. That’s why walking my dog is my number one go-to to calm my busy brain – but it has to be a fast-paced march with intention – dawdling kills me!
More to Large Families Than Meets the Eye?
So, what did I ultimately glean from my informal Facebook research on mothers with ADHD? All of them seemed to thrive off chaos and embrace life’s challenges. Many have loving, fun, and big personalities. They’re also raising at least one child with ADHD. And despite the many overwhelming and exhausting facets of being the matriarch of a large family, they adored knowing that they had a purpose, and that they were good at something after years of being told they’d never amount to anything.”
Apart from a need for frenzied activity, what else could explain these large families? Could it be the ongoing inner restlessness many women with ADHD feel? Perhaps the feeling of never being finished or completed, and constantly searching for the next thing prevents us from satisfyingly stepping back and recognizing all that we have achieved – big families and all.
Or maybe we want to undo our difficult, even traumatic childhoods by orchestrating a re-do with our children. Maybe we lost out on the love department in our own childhood, and we’re overcompensating for this with our own children. This quest for perfection, however, can come at a cost. It increases our overwhelm and worry, which may get in the way of our parenting. ADHD, as we all know too well, definitely seems to come with many contradictions.
Yes, we may sometimes feel like hot messes (don’t ALL mothers?) and fill ourselves with doubt, but we’re also good at problem solving in seconds, looking past the fine print of parenting, and delivering results in half the time it may take others. Our executive functioning skills may let us down at times, but our creativity and humanity help balance it out. I know I can be a fun person to be around (when I’m not exhausted, hormonal, or stressed). I can be immature, creative, non-judgemental, curious, and spontaneous with my kids. I love nothing more than muddy walks in nature while making up silly songs and holding hands with whichever child is still willing.
My Greatest Purpose
I see parenting as one of my main purposes in life, and my kids are my greatest achievements, hands down. Though I have many passions and ambitions (I have a podcast all about ambitious mums), I haven’t found anything that has enabled me to feel as proud, accomplished, experienced and confident as being a mother has.
But this is not me alone. My husband is my partner in everything, especially with our kids. We thrive off each other’s strengths, and give each other time when and where we need it. My ADHD diagnosis has also helped my husband understand why I’ve struggled in some areas over the years, and he is even more understanding because of this. Thankfully, we were both on the same page with the number of kids we wanted – we both love hectic lives, noisy homes, and chatty kitchen tables. We are, it seems, in very good company.
Big Family with ADHD: Next Steps
- Blog: “My ADHD Looks Nothing Like Your ADHD”
- Read: 12 Ways to Build Strong ADHD Families
- Read: Like Mother, Like Child: When ADHD Is a Family Affair
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