Guest Blogs

“The Story of My Not-So-Empty, Very-ADHD Nest”

My college students with ADHD traveled a long road at school, and the end was in sight. Then the pandemic hit, and old challenges became new again as all three of my young adult children returned home to face remote learning — an unwelcome hurdle we will vault together.

A not-so-empty ADHD nest of baby birds

Mine was not the motherhood of my dreams — baking cookies while my children colored quietly, teaching them to garden, and then reading fairytales by the cozy fire at night. Raising two littles with ADHD and a third with auditory processing issues and anxiety was mostly chaos. There were messes everywhere, lots of tears, delayed learning, little sleep, and lots of worrying. And then… they grew up.

And, oh my gosh, they got into college. And, with some support from the learning centers at their schools — plus a few dropped classes and grades that barely squeaked by — for the most part, they are thriving. (Okay, thriving might be a bit generous.) Anyway, they are handling it on their own — a reality I was unsure I’d ever see.

And then… the pandemic strikes. And they all come home.

At first, it’s an absolute joy. Here they are, my three kids, now young adults. They are now able to sit at the dining table through the entire meal without tears, without tantrums, participating in thoughtful and funny conversation. This is the motherhood of my dreams! I actually like them — and for those of us parenting in ADHD families, we know that’s not always the case. I feel secretly bad. The pandemic and lockdown is awful. People are suffering. But I am reveling in my adult kids and the gift of having them home at a time in their lives when I wouldn’t normally.

And then… the novelty wears off. And with ADHD, when the novelty wears, things take a turn. Moving all their classwork online means various challenges for their learning styles. Their carefully structured school schedules, ability to access professors after class with questions, and live classes and tutors all just vanish — and all the tightly orchestrated elements that contribute to their narrow window of success disappear with them.

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I find myself thrust back into the motherhood of old, the one where I needed to hold a hand every step of the way, to calm anxious tantrums, help organize, decipher instructions, check work, suggest routines. Only my kids aren’t six years old anymore. Even when they pull for the support, they don’t always accept it if they don’t like the suggestion. I don’t have the same control over them — nor, do I want it! They need to be figuring life out on their own at this point, but here they are back at home, struggling right in my face. It feels like Groundhog Day.

Once again, I face the fact that what I hope for my children — that they travel a neurotypical path along with their peers, finishing college and finding a job — is at stark odds with their needs at this time. Man, we were so close!

Our reality is that they will be home for the foreseeable future with only online learning as summer and fall options. In a non-pandemic world, I’d suggest a gap year where they experience life in a different way. But sending my children to travel or work away from home with so much still unknown does not feel like the right option for our family.

Since online classes don’t support their learning styles, we’ll accommodate needs with leaves of absence or reduced class loads, which will delay their academic journey, but such is life. If they take a leave, there will be structure at home. They’ll need to find safe local work, develop a hobby, help around the house, and do it all on a schedule so they aren’t waking at noon to play “Destiny” all day. And for the classes they choose to take, I’ll come out of retirement and wear the shoes I’d so happily shelved when they went off to college, once again holding their hands as they slog through homework while squirming in their chairs.

This time is my reminder that ADHD is a life-long condition. As they grow, my kids find their own ways to accommodate their struggles and, for the most part, things get better with time and experience. But, sometimes, life hiccups and jolts us onto a new path — or back onto an old one. We might kick and scream because we don’t like the scenery here, but we know this path, and we can walk it again with them until they can once again travel alone.

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