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 want to get my daughter the best omega 3 supplement. I know green time can help her focus. I know there are hundreds of things I could be doing to help her ADHD 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.

[Read This: “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.

[Read This Next: “I’m an OK Mom — and That’s OK”]

17 Comments & Reviews

  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

    1. It’s so helpful to know we aren’t alone. I often feel I’m struggling and unsuccessful too. A therapist pointed out to me how much my daughter loves me, and I cling to that knowledge during those hard times. It sounds like your daughter has a wonderful mother, and I bet she knows it.

    2. I feel the same way. I have always known I have adhd- I was diagnosed at 3. It didn’t help when I recognized the symptoms in my daughter at a very young age- 6 months…. I have aBS in child development and specialized my education in special education and understanding autism (due to how similar it is to adhd and my symptoms). I wasn’t able to get any clear answers for my daughter when she was young (her pediatrician saw the same symptoms when she was 2). I took all sorts of bad advice on how to parent her, more discipline, take things away, harsher time outs. None of these things worked. I yell far more regents I should, I am constantly working on it, I have done so much research, now we do have her on medication and we are working on other modes of treatment as well. I would love to meet more moms who are in my boat locally so we can get together and have play dates (my daughter is 6, my son is 4). We would understand the struggles and hopefully feel less alone, give each other tips or just brain storm, and our children would not feel judged (hopefully) as the other kids around them would be in the same boat.
      I love how honest people are being. Life with adhd is hard, parenting worth adhd is hard, parenting kids with adhd is hard. Thank you for this amazing article.

  2. A friend sent me this article and I was entranced. I stopped what I was doing and sat down and read it all the way through. You just laid out all my thoughts and fears in a beautifully articulate piece. Every.word.you.said. Every word I am living. Our daughter was diagnosed in the first grade. I always suspected something was up when she was in preschool because her meltdowns seemed more intense than they should have been. After yet another note from her teacher about how she didn’t listen, I started researching and ADHD popped up immediately and so began the journey down the rabbit hole of endless appointments and therapies all in search of finding the right formula for her. My husband was diagnosed at the same time as our daughter. Unlike my husband who is just distracted, my daughter is hyperactive and it’s exhausting. She’s a wonderful joyful child who is very loving and the light of our lives. That said, as the non ADHD caretaker, it’s exhausting having to always figure out the right technique in the moment. By the time it’s the 5th or 6th iteration of this, I’m tired and it gets harder and harder. It’s not just her I have to do this with but my husband too. I also have a younger daughter who I don’t believe has ADHD but gets jealous of the attention her older sister gets and that causes conflicts.

    It’s helpful to hear others who have the same struggle out there. Here’s a hug of support for you. I keep hoping it will all be enough at the end of the day. One step at a time, one day at a time ….

    1. It sounds like we’re living the exact same life. =) It’s exhausting, especially when you’re the parent who doesn’t understand ADHD on an instinctual level. So glad to know we aren’t alone in this.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing! We could all do better at some things. This phrase from an old song helps me out: “You just keep doing your best, and pray that it’s blessed, and Jesus takes care of the rest!” Yes, I fail. Often. And then I apologize when I was wrong, or explain why I made that request. And then I rest, because all I can do is what I can do, and Jesus takes care of the rest.

  4. I took time to register especially so that I could chime in on this. As a mom whose daughter was diagnosed with ADHD 3 years ago and simultaneously finding out that the fine print of my own third grade testing included the ignored letters ADHD, it was like I was finally jolted into reality and understanding. I wasn’t substandard/dumb but smart/weird (the latter may actually be a little true), but I went on a hyperfocus rampage to learn everything I could about it. It all made sense for both my daughter and myself, even as we are different from each other – unique manifestations. I am writing this comment to let you know that a difficult scenario: not knowing you have adhd until you are an adult, and having trouble in school your whole life, and parents making mistakes, etc. No matter how crazy life got for me, and even if my mom made mistakes (as I do as a parent every day because we are human) I NEVER doubted that my mom loved me and would not give up on me. I can tell that your daughter can safely rely on that from you as well. I tell my daughter that ADHD is a superpower. Not the only one – we all have our own unique superpowers, but the thing about ADHD is that you may make impulsive mistakes, but you are specially equipped to think of outside-the-box solutions to fix it. I point to awesome superheroes who may have ADHD all the time (there arent a lot of famous females that my daughter knows) so that she can see what it can look like: Tinker bell movies, Anne of Green Gables, Alexander Hamilton (if the musical depiction is correct ;)…Of course, no unqualified armchair psychologist like myself can diagnose, but I feel like with fictional characters, we can celebrate how ot can be an asset to have as well as a different way of thinking. When I meet someone at a gathering

    1. …(sorry, it posted before I could spell check and edit the above comment – that is exactly what ADHD feels like!) …When I meet someone, I can always tell when they are like me and may have ADHD: a bit impulsive, socially awkward, all-over-the-place with their conversation topics, a little out of breath from exuberance of what they are saying, maybe a bit adrift…and they are magnificent. Interesting. Their excitement is contagious. Its all how you look at things. We need all kinds of different thinkers in this world. Thank God for neurodiversity. Now we just have to advocate, encourage, and empower. And have the patience and perseverance of a saint. Your daughter knows you love her and that is the most powerful superpower of all!

  5. Lord, this is all too familiar. My 55-year-old ex is mostly undiagnosed, untreated ADHD that our children both inherited in different forms. My daughter just turned 13 this weekend and she’s more inattentive but also impulsive… everything is an insult and the world is out to sabotage her and she doesn’t see anything wrong in her outlook and behavior. My son, who is eight, is dual diagnosed ADHD and ODD. much as I adore him he is hyper and extremely defiant to any authority figures, it drains the life out of me… I am also a special ed teacher, so when I get home my well of patience is mostly dry. Very difficult.

  6. Wow. This article and comments are spot on! It really puts things in perspective in so much detail. I can add guilt for NOT getting my child treated in youth with medications for fear of the side effects that seemed to out weigh the issues, because of parental disagreement about getting a diagnosis, and then later realizing sleep disorders and addicitions do crop up and this pose equally challenging problems to deal with.
    I just finished the book “Easy to Love, Hard to Raise”. That book helped me understand why I have struggled accepting my own parental shortcomings. In that compilation of vignets they call ADD /ADHD the invisible disability. It is not an easy path to parent a child that has a disability that looks much like bad behavior or bad parenting. I am thankful to read other parents experiences, and to find and lend encouragement here.,

  7. My ADD wasn’t diagnosed until I was 14. Most days it seemed like my mother was from a different planet until I was in my twenties. Through all the mistakes we both made, I knew that she loved me very much. My mom is my best friend now that I am a parent with four kids of my own. My tribe even includes one ADHD boy and one ADD girl. The hurts can be intense, but they fade. Where there is love, there is forgiveness. Anyone can see you love your kids!

  8. My experience mirrors yours; as others have written, it’s almost like you live in my home (and my mind!). Our saving grace was a DVD I purchased by Dianne Craft, called “The Biology of Behavior”. My daughter tried all of the natural supplements and products suggested in the nutritional program outlined, and discarded any that didn’t work for her. It was a game changer; the change over a couple of months was nothing short of phenomenal. Much more even mood, more focus, ability to stay on track much better. Probably the greatest bonus is that it helped to preserve our relationship; we are still very close. She earned an Associate of Arts degree while in high school, graduating with a 4.0 GPA. She’s in college, and is on track to graduate in about a year, with a degree in micro-biology. She still has her struggles, but she is “adulting”, and consults me less and less to help her make life decisions. Be encouraged; there is hope!

  9. Hate that we all are going through this but it is refreshing to know that I am not alone. I feel guilty when I am out in public and I start to get frustrated with my son. People look at me like what kind of mom are you. Unless you have lived my life never knowing how your morning is going to start you will never understand. My add kid is 11 he has had it for 3 yrs. I also have a 15 yr old son who does not have add. I do feel he gets forgotten sometimes. I wrote him a letter from me and his dad letting him know that we are proud of him love him and are here for him no matter what. He never said that he loved me or said anything about the letter but he later on gave me a big hug.

  10. Thank you for speaking your truth, it resonates profoundly. My own experience with the fish oil is I can not find a pharmaceutical grade fish oil that offers appeal to my adhd twins. The quality oils are exceptionally expensive and they refuse to take it. I have spent several years trying to incorporate it in. My point being even if you were to charge down that path you’d possibly just find more frustration and heart ache.

  11. All the way to #9 I kept thinking- Are your other kids perfect? Because from the read it seems as though they must be pretty great. My ADHD son is 31. Perhaps more pertinent, my ADHD brother is 66. Yes, not only do the trials and tribulations of having a child who struggles through life- no matter what the difficulty- never end, but neither does parental and sibling guilt. And yeah- your other children will feel guilty that their lives are easier than their ADHD sibling AND they will resent the time and effort you did not put into them.I spent my young life being “good” so that I didn’t cause my mom any more heart ache. Good but not too good because I didn’t want to show my brother up all the time either.
    Life is a balancing act. For everyone. Yes, those with ADHD struggle more but who gets through life unscathed? I have been in daycare for 30 years. And when my parents come to me discouraged and guilty about something they have or have not done I have one answer. If there were a magic way to raise kids perfectly there would only be one book. But there are thousands. Forgive yourself. We do the best we can. We’re going to make a lot of mistakes but resilience is something our children have to learn also. The fact that you feel guilty shows how hard you are trying. Ultimately raising children comes down to doing the best you can and keeping your fingers crossed, because terrible things happen to even the best families.Your children will understand someday, probably when they have their own kids!

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