Q: Will I Ever Be a ‘Good Enough’ Mother?
How to be a good mom with ADHD: be kind (to yourself and others), be accountable, prioritize your own health and happiness, and value connections over solutions.
Q: “With three children, two of them teenagers, I’m still trying to figure out how to be a ‘good mom.’ I feel like I’m always letting my kids and myself down, whether by overacting during an argument or forgetting a sporting event. Other families seem perfect compared to the disarray of my ADHD household. What am I doing wrong?”
A: Women — with or without ADHD — often compare themselves to an unrealistic image of what perfect looks like. Regardless of your natural human foibles, remember that you are better than ‘good;’ you are the best mom for your children. You have birthed or adopted them, nurtured them, and loved them to the best of your ability. Take stock of what you do well and appreciate the relationships and the connections you have with your children.
In western culture, contemporary women are held back by an idealized version of motherhood that was created in the Victorian age. This was a middle-class woman who stayed at home with her children, who didn’t work outside the home, and who’s primary worthiness came from being a mother. That worthiness was measured by the “successes” of her children. Two centuries later, we are still being judged based on what our children do, and not based on who we are as individuals. This is harmful for mothers — back then and certainly now.
I was trained in psychodrama by Dr. Dorothy Satten, who said, “Real is better than perfect.” When we are our authentic ADHD selves, we’re modeling for our children how to be real instead of some version of perfection that none of us can achieve. You can nurture your own authenticity in your relationships by following these four steps.
1. Note Your Courageous Behavior
Reflect on the ways you’ve taken risks and done things with your children that made you feel proud. Is there a specific family memory that sparks happiness? Look back over your photos and write down some of the good memories you shared or put that picture in a frame. Next time you’re in a dark moment, you can pull out that picture or that list and say, “I have this in me.”
[Read: Overwhelmed Mom Syndrome — It’s a Real Thing]
To be honest, I advocated strongly for my daughter, who is an outside-the-box thinker. I probably pushed her more than she would have liked, but I believed in her ability and presented her with many opportunities. Pause and think about what you’ve offered to your children that has helped them grow and flourish.
2. Hold Yourself Accountable
We have all made mistakes, lost our temper, and yelled at our children. I’m sometimes embarrassed remembering these instances, but the key to self-forgiveness is owning your actions and valuing your naturally imperfect humanity.
Offer a genuine apology for a recent incident that you regret. Don’t make an excuse or an explanation, but rather say, “I did this. I know this hurt you, and I am truly sorry for that. I’m working on changing this behavior.”
It’s important for us to own our issues in the face of our kids’ challenges. I call this our invisible backpack. We all carry around with us the things that our parents said to us or the ways that we’ve struggled. Sometimes we open that backpack and dump its contents onto our relationships with our children, our partners, and sometimes our friends. We all do that. The question is, how much awareness can we bring to it? What’s our accountability?
[Read: A Radically Positive Parenting Technique — The Nurtured Heart Approach]
My book, What Your ADHD Child Wishes You Knew (#CommissionsEarned) and my card deck, The ADHD Solution Deck (#CommissionsEarned), contain helpful tools for combating reactivity and improving self-control to improve accountability and brainstorm new ways of being in the moment.
3. Show Up for Yourself
Many women think that being a good mother is about self-sacrifice. We prioritize others’ needs over our own. We give, we give, we give more, and then we feel bad that we’re not giving enough — or we begin to feel resentful.
Do you put yourself last at home or at work? Do you criticize your efforts as not good enough or missing the mark? This cycle of negativity definitely doesn’t make you feel good about yourself now, and it doesn’t show your kids what it’s like to have positive self-esteem when you’re an adult. Instead of listening to our inner critic or trying to meet impossible standards, what would it be like to show up for yourself without judgment?
My inner critic says things to me like, “You should do this better.” This noise is debilitating because it pushes me too hard to be a perfectionist or it makes me feel like I’m never good enough. As a woman and mother, I continue to find ways to turn down the volume on this voice. Meditation and mindfulness help us call out and quiet our inner critics. It also helps us accept ourselves, warts and all. Only then can we start to fill up our own bucket of nutrients, which allows us to show up for ourselves and others and be the kind of parent that we know we’re capable of being.
If you’re struggling with not feeling good enough, I also recommend keeping a journal where you write down three things that went well each day. They can be small: “I liked the stir fry I made” or “I like how my hair looks.” Noting these positive moments helps shift attention away from negativity towards better self-worth.
4. Nurture Connections Instead of Solving Problems
Most people don’t want someone else to solve their problems. They want to feel heard, to feel cared about, and to be supported in coming to their own conclusions.
When we mothers pressure ourselves to fix things and resolve other people’s conflicts for them, we often overstep our bounds and inadvertently make things worse. Meet your children where they are, not where you think they should be based on comparisons to others. Listen to what they’re telling you with their words, their emotions, and their bodies. Ask if they want your advice before you give it, particularly for tweens, teens, and emerging adults.
More than earning good grades or getting more screen time, your children want to feel connected with you and see that they matter. Turn on the music, dance around, and clean up the bedroom. Have a contest to see who can pick up the most things from the floor. This is what they’ll fondly remember, and they’ll then repeat with their children.
How to Be a Good Mom: Next Steps
- Download: 13-Step Guide to Raising a Child with ADHD
- Blog: “To Be a Good Mom, I Had to Reframe My Picture of Parenting.”
- Read: Your Kids Don’t Need “Perfect.” They Need “Persistent” and “Patient.”
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