Parenting

Mom Guilt Is Toxic. Here’s How to Ditch It.

When you’re a mother with ADHD, and you have a child with special needs, expectations — your own and other people’s — can be your unraveling. Don’t let mom guilt win. Instead, use these 8 strategies for find peace and happiness at home.

A mom and daughter hugging on a roller coaster, overcoming parenting-related guilt that can come with ADHD
Woman and daughter on an old roller coaster, hugging each other, brown hair, yellow roller coaster

I have two young adult children. Kate, age 24, does not have ADHD. Mackenzie, my 21-year-old, does, along with mild cognitive impairments, speech and language difficulties, mood regulation, and oh… who’s counting? Her difficulties arose from a rare vaccine reaction she had as a baby. Mackenzie lives at home, and will likely be with us for five to 10 years more.

I wondered whether I had the parenting skills to raise her well because of my ADHD. With Mackenzie and me, it was the blind leading the blind. If I couldn’t keep my own workspace organized, how could I expect her to keep her bedroom and playroom in order? If I had problems with distractibility, how could I expect her to stay on task? Worse, given my own attention deficit disorder, it was difficult for me to help Mackenzie manage her ADHD symptoms.

I’m not alone. Women with ADHD contact me all the time, upset and anxious over their less-than-perfect parenting skills. I don’t have a magic bullet that will make any of this “mom guilt” go away. I do, however, have eight helpful suggestions that turned my ADHD motherhood into a wonderful, manageable experience:

Anticipate problems — and find solutions. As a mother with ADHD, I learned to maneuver around tense situations. Mackenzie frequently had meltdowns in the grocery store, so when I had to shop for food, I left her at home with a babysitter.

Get treatment for yourself and your child. I made sure that both of us got help from clinicians who were experienced in treating ADHD. I can’t emphasize enough that managing ADHD symptoms makes parenting a whole lot easier.

Think about your sanity. I paid high school and college students to help take care of Mackenzie during the day, even when I was home. I needed time and space away from mothering to recharge my batteries and pursue other interests.

Get rid of the guilt. I refused to allow my relatives — sister, mother, cousin — or neighbors to judge my parenting skills. What worked for them raising a child — one without ADHD — didn’t work for me. Raising Mackenzie was a different ballgame — because of her and because of me.

Change your expectations. It would have been great if the family could sit down together at dinner to discuss our day, but it wasn’t feasible. Mackenzie couldn’t sit still at the table, so I allowed her to eat in front of the TV. It made mealtime happy for all of us. Isn’t that the point?

Connect with your partner. It was easy to get swept up into the ADHD tornado at home. I learned to get away with my husband for a couple of hours for a dinner or a movie. It reduced stress, and it made all the difference in my attitude toward life — and Mackenzie — when I returned.

Get outside help. Think about hiring a professional organizer. I’ve used one a few times to clean up clutter in my daughter’s bedroom and organize my home office. It made a world of difference.

Laugh at the ADHD gremlins. I burnt dinner, and forgot to bake brownies for Mackenzie’s homeroom classmates. For a while, I beat myself up over it, but I learned to put my lapses in perspective. As years went by, whenever I’d screw up, I’d say, “Guess my ADHD is kicking in again.”

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