The Motherhood Myth is Crushing Women with ADHD
The fact is, motherhood is not perfectly packed lunches. Or folded laundry. Or even a home-cooked meal. If societal expectations are depleting your energy and self-esteem, replace those expectations with these practical, positive mom tips for women with ADHD.
Moms with ADHD face at least three competing sets of challenges:
- societal expectations for mothers that are not only unachievable but downright unhealthy
- a differently-wired brain that often operates with executive dysfunction, poor working memory, and emotional sensitivity
- and, in many cases, children who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) as well
Despite all this, most women work impossibly hard to be “good moms” – and find themselves burned out, demoralized, and lost in the process.
So let me say this directly to the moms with ADHD: it’s absolutely essential that we reframe who we are, and rethink everything we’ve been told about parenting and motherhood.
First and foremost, we must make ADD work for us before we can be there for our loved ones (especially if ADHD runs in the family). We do this by shifting our internal expectations about parenting, finding strategies that make sense for us, and paying no mind to imagined or real judgments from the neurotypical world.
Parenting Tips for Moms with ADHD
Make Time to “Ease” into ADHD
Here’s a handy acronym that every mom with ADHD should know – it forms the basis for daily living with ADHD: EASE
Educate yourself about ADHD and your unique symptoms. If you haven’t been diagnosed but think you have ADHD, get an assessment. Make sure you’re evaluated for other related conditions as well; anxiety and mood disorders, for example, often travel with ADHD. Ensure you’re receiving proper treatment — whether medication, therapy, ADHD coaching, or other combinations including nutrition and exercise. These steps will eventually lead you to…
Accept yourself, ADHD and all. Remember that you are a mom with an ADHD brain. Celebrate your strengths (because you have many) and find ways to work on weaker points. This, of course, can take years and, just when you think you’ve accepted ADHD, a negative experience can still set you back.
Simplify everyday life. When thinking about preparing meals, doing chores, and completing other household tasks, know where your strengths and weaknesses lie. This will help you know what you can own, what you should delegate, and what you should find other means to get done. Think to yourself: If it doesn’t work for me or us, then why do it?
Eliminate over-committing. Women with ADHD tend to be people pleasers, agreeing to spend our limited time and resources on other tasks, especially when we see other moms with similar lifestyles doing the same. Give yourself permission to break from the mold of these roles and expectations. Break the mold in order for your world to work for you, and for you to change your expectations of yourself.
Make ADHD Accommodations… for Yourself
Just as children with ADHD often have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) with detailed accommodations for school, moms with ADHD need what I call an ILP – an Individualized Living Plan – to accommodate ADHD challenges to daily life and parenting.
Let’s look at some areas where accommodations can help with distractibility, procrastination, disorganization, and other ADHD challenges:
Meal Tips for Moms with ADHD
I spent years feeling ashamed for screwing up meals, for being unable to get my kids to sit at the dinner table, and for feeling like I had no time for anything else afterward. Today, I no longer do things that I know are too difficult for me, and I’ve abandoned whatever notions I had of how meals should be planned and eaten. Here’s what I do instead:
- Consider carry-out. A lot of people cannot afford to do this every day, and you don’t have to – but carry-out can save lots of time, energy, and stress. To afford it, I made changes to my budget that ultimately left me at ease, as being able to put food on the table for my family helped my self-esteem. Note that the entire meal doesn’t have to be carry-out. Buying a roasted chicken from the supermarket or other ready-made foods can make for a quick, healthy dinner in combination with foods from home.
- “Plan or Starve” (POS). If planning meals from scratch seems impossible, especially if you tend to think about meals too close to meal time, try listing simple dinners (a protein, a vegetable, and a carb) on index cards, with plans for how to prepare the foods on each.
- Shop at smaller stores. If you’re like me, you can get lost at large supermarkets and end up wasting time in them. Smaller stores help avoid this and have layouts that are easier to remember.
- Eat before or after the kids. Most of us have an image in our heads about the “correct” way to dine with the family. There is none. If your children have a hard time sitting still to eat, help them with their mealtime without taking away from yours. Let them eat in front of the television if it means reducing overall stress. Have your (relatively) uninterrupted mealtime prior to or after theirs. You can also plan to dine with your partner once the kids have cleared the table.
Household & Organization Tips for Moms with ADHD
Fight the idea that your home must adhere to some unrealistic standard of cleanliness.
- Messy zones. Organize your spaces “just enough.” If one spot in the home is a perpetual trouble area, designate it as the one of many areas where messiness is okay. Allowing yourself to leave a spot alone does wonders to your stress and self-esteem.
- Find a “home” for everything. One of the simplest organizational methods is separating and storing items into designated areas. Knowing that your keys have a general “home” close to the door and that all kitchen utensils go in one drawer eliminates guesswork and the chances of misplacing items.
- Use visual cues… in the most literal sense possible. For example, keep a Post-It note on your front door or on your car steering wheel with a list of items you need before heading out.
- Externalize information. Use your phone to jot down information (time stamps and dates are automatically created) so that it doesn’t get lost in your head. Use clocks and timers rather than relying on an internal clock.
Make it fun. So that pick-up doesn’t fall entirely on you, try devising a fun clean-up plan with your partner and children. A 10-minute clean-up challenge before bedtime, with the reward being 5 extra minutes of TV time, is one fun idea. These plans can also turn into routines, which are beneficial for your children and the entire household.
Family Tips for Moms with ADHD
- Solve problems together. Your partner and/or your child may do things that get on your nerves. It’s natural to want to respond with anger and frustration, but it’s better to approach these instances as problems to be solved in unison. Frame the problem as a question and work together to come up with productive answers.
- Remove yourself temporarily when it comes to conflicts and other family battles. Give yourself time to calm down by physically stepping away from a situation. This will also model ideal behavior for your kids – that when they feel themselves ready to explode, they can give themselves space first.
- Listen before reacting. Even if our bodies are not hyperactive, our brains can be. Practice patience and pausing after receiving information for more effective responses.
- Pick your battles. This takes many people a long time to learn. Give yourself permission to let things go if the fight is not worthwhile. If your child wants to wear mismatched socks, let them do it, rather than having a fight about it first thing in the morning. If getting homework done is a nightmare, consider outside help from older students, or see if your child’s IEP can be adjusted so that homework can actually be finished at school (an accommodation I managed to secure with my child).
Personal Survival Tips for Moms with ADHD
- Seek and accept help. Whether that’s babysitters, people to help you clean your home once in a while, or the help of family and friends, don’t be afraid to streamline your life where you can. Some services require additional resources and budgeting, but if it stands to improve your quality of life, then go for it. Remember – getting help is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.
- Find a support group. Whether online or in person, it’s essential to be connected to a group of people that shares the same struggles and experiences.
- Advocate for your workplace experience. Would starting work earlier or later favor you? Is multi-tasking your style, or do you prefer one thing at a time? Whatever the preference, try negotiating for a workplace experience fit for you.
- Self-care. This term is ubiquitous, but powerful. Do yourself a favor and follow through with things that help you be at your best. Meditate, jog, take a bath, shift to a positive internal dialogue, and deliberately carve out time for yourself, even if you do “nothing” in that time — because re-energizing is important work.
Parenting Tips for Moms with ADHD: Next Steps
- Essential Reading: “Never Good Enough” – The Emotional Toll of Motherhood
- Learn: ADHD is Different in Women
- Watch: The Secret Lives of Women with ADHD
The content for this article was derived from the ADDitude Expert Webinar “Moms with ADHD, Unite! How to Shape a Peaceful, Organized Life for You and Your Kids” by Terry Matlen, LMSW, ACSW (available as ADDitude ADHD Experts Podcast episode #285), which was broadcast live on February 5, 2020.
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Updated on February 5, 2021