Ask the Experts

Q: Single Mom with ADHD Fears Modeling Bad Behavior and Habits

Single moms with ADHD model lots of behaviors and coping mechanisms for their neurotypical children — not all of them helpful. Here, learn how to practice self love and better communication to help your kids discover their own strengths.

Q: “I’m a 52-year-old single mother who has had raging ADHD her whole life. My son is 16 and does not have ADHD. Unfortunately, I have modeled poor ADHD-related difficulties to him for so long (such as disorganization, impulsivity, what I call domestic ‘failure,’ and weak communication skills), that he has learned, and uses, these behaviors himself. My question is, how can I stop modeling these debilitating struggles to my son so that he can become who HE is supposed to be, instead of some version of me and my ADHD?” – SingleMomWithADHD


Hi SingleMomWithADHD:

I applaud you for being so open with your struggles and goals. Your son is super lucky to have a mom who is so devoted and loving. Your question is actually one I get asked quite often. It’s the reason why, at Order Out of Chaos, we work with both the student and the parent(s) to make sure EVERYONE is properly supported. Here are a few strategies to try when the parent has ADHD and the child does not.

1. Put on your oxygen mask first.
If you want to help your son, you must first find solutions that work for you. What might that look like? Let’s say paper management is a real struggle for you and you’ve tried every conventional organizing method to manage it but to no avail. If you’re highly visual, try hanging files, clipboards, or a giant pegboard on the wall to make your papers both organized and visual.

Or, if you don’t have the focus or the mental energy to assist your son with schoolwork, enlist the help of Focusmate. You’ve probably heard the idea of an accountability buddy, someone who works alongside you to help you get things done. Using online video calls, Focusmate pairs you (or your son) with a partner who makes sure you show up, get to work, limit distractions, and accomplish your goals. Schedule a work period through the app’s online calendar, show up at the time you scheduled to meet your “buddy,” and begin working. There’s video but no audio, so your buddy can see that you stay on track and on task.

2. Partner before parenting.
Sit down with your son and simply ask what he thinks would work for both of you in various situations. Perhaps he craves novelty and feels reminders written on bright sticky notes left on the bathroom mirror are more engaging than a checklist on the refrigerator. You’d be surprised how creative kids can be when they are simply asked!

[Click to Read: Overwhelmed Mom Syndrome — It’s a Real Thing]

3. Play to your strengths.
Does your son like to cook? Care for animals? Or is he the resident tech wiz or handyman? I want to be careful here as he is still a child, but perhaps there are one or two categories in your home that play to your son’s strengths and that can be his responsibility. I have a client in a similar situation; her daughter is a master in the kitchen and she welcomes having full control of that domain.

4. Give yourself some grace.
In these crazy times, we are not striving for perfection — just connection! In all my years of working as a parenting coach, I’ve come to realize that as long as you keep the lines of communication open, express how you are feeling (age appropriately), and love on your son, the rest will follow.

Good Luck.

[Get This Free Parenting Guide for Moms & Dads with ADHD]


ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!

Updated on May 12, 2020

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