ADHD Moms & Dads

Overwhelmed Mom Syndrome — It’s a Real Thing

Running a household is grueling enough without ADHD. Here are 8 life-saving tips for parents with executive function deficits, lagging patience, and hardly enough time to read this.

Mother with ADHD who is overwhelmed
Mother with ADHD who is overwhelmed, illustration of woman doing work and household chores with multiple arms

Managing the home is one of the most unfriendly lines of work that anyone with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) could undertake.

But the multiple-task coordination required to keep a household functioning smoothly bumps directly against the executive-function difficulties inherent in ADHD. Adding to that is the pervasive gendered division of housework, where women are still the ones expected to manage a household. This makes for a crisis of overwhelmed mothers with ADHD.

It is key to recognize the challenges on the domestic front, be realistic and forgiving of yourself, and put organization systems in place that will help you work around the difficulties.

Tough Work, Indeed

Consider the job description of homemaker and child-care giver: “You’re required to provide all the organization and structure for three or more people. Tasks are poorly defined, filled with distractions, and require constant multitasking. Because much of the work — including cooking, cleaning, and laundry — is boring, you must be able to function without needing a high level of interest or stimulation.

“Appearance is important as well: You must create an attractive household, attending to the details of décor and the children’s clothing. It is also important to maintain a calm demeanor while caring for children, who, by definition, have problems with attention and behavior.

You’ll need to carefully structure their lives in order to give them the calm, supportive, organized home environment they need to succeed at school and with friends. Excellent calendar and scheduling skills are critical. You are required to prioritize without guidance, and work without incentives, such as raises, bonuses, promotions, or even the support and company of co-workers.”

[Free Download: The Parenting Guide for Moms with ADHD]

Would anyone with ADHD (or, without, for that matter) apply for an impossible job like this?

Of course not.

Yet many women with ADHD remain determined to achieve these ideals, even though, as Lynn Weiss, Ph.D., notes in her book Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults (Taylor Trade) (#CommissionsEarned), “an ordinary day for a woman is a nightmare for a woman with ADHD.”

Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D., co-author of ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life (Routledge) (#CommissionsEarned), points out that mothers with ADHD “may be struggling valiantly with demands which are often difficult, if not impossible, to meet.” Women with ADHD, no matter how successful in other areas of life, struggle on the household front. They may ponder on the “how to be a good mom” question, and experience stress and a feeling of failure to measure up.

Take Control — Now

What to do? First, stop beating yourself up about ADHD patterns. Instead, create a household that can accommodate them. An ADHD-friendly house is one that is easy to clean and easy to keep in order — one that works for you and everyone else in the household. That means finding creative solutions to the daily challenges you face. Nadeau points out eight common problem areas below, and offers innovative approaches for each. Good luck!

[Self-Test: Could You Have an Executive Function Deficit?]

1. Need housework help? Do whatever it takes to hire a cleaning person. Don’t immediately assume that you can’t afford such a service. If necessary, take on part-time employment just to pay for a cleaning person. Look at it this way: Housecleaning is a part-time job for which you are poorly suited. Why not take on a job at which you can excel?

2. Hate laundry? Most individuals with ADHD do. Instead of letting laundry pile up, do one load every morning. Better yet, train the children to do their own. Can’t remember to sort, fold, and return clean laundry to the appropriate spots? Put out two baskets: one for clean clothes, the other for dirty clothes. Let household members find the clothes they need and deposit soiled ones in the designated basket.

3. Need a quick de-clutter? Use the old garbage-bag trick. Get a big bag and drop unneeded items from every room into it.

4. Mail building up? Most ADHD households struggle with the daily influx of mail (mostly junk, interspersed with the occasional, carefully hidden important item). Stick to this simple mail-handling routine: Open the mail while standing next to the kitchen trashcan. Throw away junk mail immediately — or, better yet, drop it into a handy recycling basket. Then, place any bills (unopened) in one pile, important correspondence (that which requires a response) in a second. Immediately take both piles to the desk where they “live” — the bills to the “bill-to-be paid” slot; the correspondence to the pile for “action” items.

5. Need a home for newspapers and magazines? Place a pretty recycling basket in the room where they are typically read. Toss in reading matter when you’ve finished with it. Another family member can easily find the magazine or newspaper he or she’s looking for on the top of the pile.

6. Hunting for important items every morning? Create a “ready-set-go” site in your home — this can be a small bookshelf, with hooks on the wall next to it. Place all items needed the next day — books, papers, clothes to take to the cleaners — on the shelves or hooks. Mount a bulletin board above the bookshelf, so you can tack up reminder slips: “Robby, dentist, 4:30 Tuesday.”

7. Redecorating or remodeling? Take ADHD into account as you make decisions. A dark rug in front of the sink catches drips, and a hardwood floor hides crumbs and spots that would be glaringly evident on linoleum. Sponge-painted walls make a great fingerprint-hider and are attractive to boot.

8. Need peace and quiet? Most ADHD households are lively, cluttered places. Not a problem, except for the fact that women with ADHD sometimes need to downshift for a few moments in a quiet space. Turn one room into a calm, visually appealing space where you can go to gather yourself. Make it a house rule that this room is for solitude or quiet conversation only — not a place to bicker, tease the dog, or argue with your mom.

[13 Survival Strategies for Moms with ADHD]