Emotions

10 Pieces of Mom Guilt I Can’t Quite Shake

There’s no doubt about it: My daughter has ADHD and that makes her life more difficult. Which makes me feel all the more guilty when my best simply isn’t good enough — and I add to her burdens. At times, I’m tempted to ignore my mistakes; pretend they never happened. But I know that acknowledging my errors is the first step toward preventing their return. Here are 10 pieces of mom guilt I struggle to acknowledge, surrender, and correct.

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Mom Guilt #1: I Didn’t Notice Her ADHD

My husband was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) when our daughter was a baby. We were told by his therapist to expect one or more of our children to also have ADHD. Hawk-like, I watched my daughter for signs — not knowing that ADHD comes in many forms. I watched only for a repeat of my husband’s experiences: an extreme dislike for academics, a propensity to find mischief (often in the form of fire, broken glass, and makeshift weapons), and a tendency to jump head-first into physically dangerous situations.

When my daughter didn’t behave like her father, I thought we were in the clear. I didn’t know a child with ADHD could be so fascinated by words and letters that she would hyperfocus and teach herself to read at 3. I didn’t know a child with ADHD could be well-behaved in Sunday school and kindergarten but completely fall apart at home. I didn’t know a symptom of ADHD (particularly in girls) is a tendency to talk her parents’ ears off. I simply didn’t know. And because of that, I missed the telltale signs for far too long.

A daughter with ADHD runs around the house in a tutu with a jump rope.
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Mom Guilt #2: I Used the Wrong Parenting Approaches

Because I didn’t know my daughter had ADHD, I didn’t understand my daughter’s impulses. Why did she and her cousin think it was a good idea to paint the basement floor — twice? Why did she support her playdate friend when he wanted to exit our house by way of the second-story window? (Thankfully, his observant mother stopped that plan before its completion.)

So I punished — despite the fact that neither minor or major punishments changed her behavior. Rather than analyzing the disconnect, I relied on lessons learned during my own childhood, when strict rules were laid out and strict consequences were enforced when those rules were broken. Because I don’t have ADHD, I was able to remember the rules, and the consequences. As a result, I rarely broke the rules.

As a mother, I couldn’t understand why my daughter didn’t do the same. And instead of stopping to figure it out, I became harsher, insisting this was the only way forward. I knew no other way. I still tear up when I think of how I did the exact opposite of what she needed for far too long.

A mom hugs her daughter with ADHD
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Mom Guilt #3: I Still Use the Wrong Approaches

After my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD, I came to understand why harsh consequences made no difference: She lives in the moment. It’s difficult for her to keep in mind future consequences in order to change her present behavior. It makes so much sense to me now, and my parenting techniques have shifted 180 degrees. I give her second (and third, and fourth) chances. I hug more. I lower my voice. I try to praise more often than I correct. I’m a better mom.

But even with all of my knowledge and newfound understanding, I still fall back on old habits from time to time. I still yell occasionally. I still give harsh consequences that don’t match the “crime.” I still interrupt when she takes too long to explain herself. I still struggle to recognize when she’s having a hard time and I barrel through, exerting my will simply because I’m the parent — or because I’m tired or frustrated or distracted.

I can see myself taking the wrong approach, but old habits are hard to break, especially when I’m tired. I know I’ve grown leaps and bounds, but I have a hard time shaking the guilt when I slip.

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Mom Guilt #4: I’m Not Patient Enough

My daughter’s challenges are difficult. I research, I practice self-care, I spend quality time with her. But, still, my patience slips. And slips.

While my daughter has a meltdown over something relatively small, her sister is asking for the password to the computer, her brother’s yogurt is oozing onto the counter, and the cat is pawing me and meowing for a treat. If it’s the first such hectic experience of the day, I can calmly meet everyone’s needs while hugging and reminding her to breathe to let the flooding emotions recede from her brain.

But if we’re going on the day’s third or fourth meltdown, I just don’t have it in me to patiently walk her through this frustrating experience. I snap. She melts. I’m angry. She’s angry. I feel awful. She feels worse. We have to start over again later, but I kick myself for not just holding it together for that tiny moment.

A worried girl with ADHD sits outside
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Mom Guilt #5: Did I Cause Her Anxiety?

I know ADHD occurs, more often than not, alongside comorbid conditions. I know very few patients escape the debilitating effects of at least one type of anxiety, mood disorder, or other condition. But I still can’t help but wonder if her comorbid anxiety is my fault. Did my poor parenting techniques in her early years contribute? Do I add to her anxiety each time I speak harshly now? Could she have been a lucky one to escape this comorbid anxiety if I had just known more, tried more… if I had just been more earlier on?

And if she develops another comorbid condition along the way, will it be my fault? ADHD is hereditary, and it’s nobody’s fault. But was the anxiety inevitable, or did I bring that about? I don’t know, and I’ll never know. So I research, visit therapists, use calming techniques — and hope it will be enough.

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Mom Guilt #6: Am I Doing Enough for Treatment?

I know we need to try fish oil. I know green time can help her focus. I know there are hundreds of things I could be doing to help her symptoms. Right now, we’re using a handful of natural treatments and working with a therapist. This combination works well in some ways but doesn’t cover every issue.

So why won’t I buy the tasty organic expensive fish oil, already? Why haven’t I done that really brilliant thing I bookmarked on Facebook three months ago? Because it’s hard to wrap my brain around everything stacked up on my to-do list. I also have a marriage, a career, two other children, a house, and community responsibilities. Someone looking in from the outside might tell me nothing is more important than getting my daughter the proper treatment, and I would agree. But then why can’t I find the time and energy to find the magic combination to unlock her best self? I don’t know, and I beat myself up over it. The best I can do is keep plugging along, trying what I can when I can. And, again, hope it will be enough.

A woman stands with her arm around her daughter with ADHD
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Mom Guilt #7: Am I Empowering or Enabling?

When my daughter’s meltdowns are extreme (and when I’m on my best game), I hug her and remind her to breathe. When it’s time to clean her room or her backpack, I practically hold her hand the whole way through. I remind her to brush her teeth, to do her homework, to clear her dishes, and 100 other small things every day.

Her siblings don’t need the same reminders, which makes me feel sometimes that these efforts are too much. Shouldn’t she be able to handle these things on her own by now? Am I enabling her? Is she relying on me too much to handle her emotions and remember the necessities of her day-to-day life?

But then I look at how far she has come. She has learned to make her bed every day as soon as she wakes up. Just yesterday she breathed her own way out of a meltdown. And she doesn’t fight anymore when I remind her she needs to take a shower. She isn’t where I want her to be, but she has progressed. It may look like enabling to some, but I have to remind myself that we are working through tricky issues. Empowerment comes through baby steps for some.

[“I’m Recovering from ADHD-Induced Mom Guilt”]

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Mom Guilt #8: Am I Missing Something?

If I’m not careful, I can let my mind wander down dark, futuristic paths. I missed her ADHD for several years because I didn’t recognize the symptoms. So what symptoms of another condition might I be missing now? What techniques do I not yet know? Am I unwittingly damaging her future because I simply don’t know something?

I’ve developed my own anxiety about this issue, and it plagues me. I feel I am doing the best I can, but will I look back on today and see clearly that I could have done something better? If I let it, this fear can paralyze me. Instead, I have to be vigilant and let these thoughts turn constructive. Worry that I may be missing something is a good reminder to continue researching and to continue parenting with empathy. I have to hope that my love and empathy will somehow compensate for my shortcomings.

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Mom Guilt #9: What About My Other Children?

ADHD is all-consuming. I expend an enormous amount of effort simply trying to understand my daughter and why she behaves the way she does. I’m proud of this, but are my other children getting all they need? Do they feel neglected when I take time to work through an organization problem or an emotional meltdown with their sister?

I’m watching for signs that one or both are getting short shrift, but I’m only one woman. Will I miss something they need? Like the fear I have of missing a comorbid condition in my daughter, this fear for her siblings can become all-consuming if I let it. Again, when I begin to feel this fear, I focus on loving more and being more empathetic. I have to hope it will be enough.

A mom and her daughter with ADHD blow a kiss to the camera
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Mom Guilt #10: Does She Know I Love Her?

I know my daughter knows that I love her, but does she always know it? When I am impatient, and she is met with a mother who sends her to her room instead of one who takes the time to listen, does she feel as if I don’t love her then?

When I punish impulsiveness, criticize hyperactivity, and grow weary of her chatter, does she hurt? Yes. I know she does. Her screams of “Nobody likes me! Nobody listens to me!” lead me to believe that my moments of impatience are more than moments to her.

Will that hurt stick with her? Can my love overpower my weaknesses? Can my love be stronger; so strong that it is the most powerful feeling she feels when she thinks of her home, her family, her mother, her childhood, and her life?

I can only hope — and continue loving.

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  1. Oh, my goodness Rebecca, I read your article and I felt like you had pried into my and the last 9 years of my 13-year-old daughter’s life. I find myself daily feeling like a failure when it comes to my daughter and her ADD. My daughter does not struggle with the hyperactivity, but that is the only difficulty of her diagnosis that she does not suffer from. I knew that something was going on with my daughter around the time she was 4 or 5 years old, and I feel super guilty because I did not realize that she had ADD until she was in the 2nd grade. I find myself constantly fusing at her because she is so forgetful, I rush her through her LONG-WINDED stories about literally her ENTIRE DAY; from the second she woke up until the moment she is in front of me telling me about her day lol.

    She is the sweetest kid. She is not a discipline problem, she respects her teachers and authority, and she has the biggest heart, but my baby is the poster child for what ADD is. It does not help that after her diagnosis, it was clear as day that I also have ADD. I really get frustrated with myself in those times when I am not patient with her or when I do not recognize the difference between her being defiant or when she is just forgetful or struggling, because of ALL the people in the world, I should understand and identify with what she is going through. I was not diagnosed as a child so I just grew up thinking that I wasn’t as smart as everyone else, and I was okay with that because I had embedded in my brain that that meant that I would just have to work super extra hard for everything that seemed to come to everyone else so easy.

    The other day I snapped at my daughter and then she said “mom do you not like me” UGH (tears), I was heartbroken that she could even say that or even believe it. I apologized, as I find myself doing a lot with her and I told her that she never has to wonder if I love or like her because she’s my bff and the reason I live and breathe. It’s completely crazy that I put her through that because I can distinctively remember one day when my mom was really upset with me because I had forgotten to do something important, and I remember crying in my room and thinking to myself how much of a burden I was on my mother and how much she must hate me. It was the worst feeling in the world because I loved my mother so much and I never wanted to disappoint her, so in my eyes I felt so alone and heartbroken that I could make her life so difficult because I was in it and I was incapable of doing anything right even though I tried really hard. My mothers dislike for me couldn’t have been further from the truth. My mom is my bff and she tells people all the time how I am the child that never gave her trouble and she loves me SO much, but neither of us knew that I was struggling with this challenge. I would never in a million years want my daughter to experience even an ounce of how I felt that day, but here we are and I have managed to do that to her and I feel like the worst mother in the world.

    With both of us suffering from ADD, both of our fuses are short and we tend to snap at each other and it doesn’t help that she is in her teenage years, so I am even more confused now about if it’s her ADD or teenage hormones. This is so hard and I am so grateful for your article because it is nice to know that someone else struggles with ALL of this because I have been so ashamed and wondering why I am trying to be a better mother since I am well aware of her struggles but yet I am still struggling and unsuccessful. Thank you for sharing 🙂

    -Never Giving Up

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