Parenting

“If I Could Raise My Daughter All Over Again”

My little girl slipped through the cracks — and through my fingers. A conscientious, diligent student right up until puberty hit, she spent her adolescence and young adulthood fighting against ADHD symptoms we missed and misdiagnosed. Now that she is a mother, I’m driven to help her avoid the mistakes and dead ends I wish we’d avoided two decades ago.

A broken heart symbolizes regrets as a mom with ADHD
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Bad Mistakes... I've Made a Few

I did the best I could.

I tell myself this often, but it doesn't ease the knot in my gut or erase the mistakes I made as a parent. Because, though I’m older and wiser now, I’m not so removed from the dizzying days of motherhood that I don’t remember being younger — and dumber.

I'm a mother with ADHD to a daughter with ADHD — and a grandmother to her young daughter. As every parent knows, raising children is the most challenging, heart-wrenching, confusing, tremendous responsibility you will ever take on. I consider myself lucky; I am thoroughly enjoying every moment as a grandparent. But when I look back on my choices and decisions as a parent, I see more mistakes than I should.

Today, I see clearly the things I could have (should have) done differently for my daughter. And I’m left with just one option: Own the pain of the past — and hope it empowers me to make smarter choices, plan better decisions, and learn from my mistakes.

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The Day My Child Went Away

Throughout elementary school, my daughter was the perfect, well-behaved young girl of every mother’s dreams. Then, around the age of 12, something changed.

It was as if she went to sleep one night and woke up a stranger to me. Her interest in school diminished. The friends she chose were wilder. Her hair changed from black to purple to green. And fun was her only priority.

Relax, I told myself, she's becoming a teenager. It's normal. But this transition was scarier than puberty. Overnight, she became an entirely different person — physically and emotionally.

A close-up of two fists of a girl with ADHD having a meltdown
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I Only Made the Meltdowns Worse

Schoolwork became a struggle. My daughter refused opportunities for advancement because they required effort, something she was no longer willing to invest. And then the meltdowns began.

When faced with a challenge she couldn't work through, the Hulk appeared. She smashed the piano keys when her fingers wouldn’t cooperate. She threw books when the math problem challenged her brain.

After a time, I could recognize when an outburst might appear. When they did, though, I was scared, lost, and clueless. I didn't know what to do. So I stood by helplessly, watching her rage, scream, slam doors, and punch walls. Or I cried and slammed doors right alongside her. But the louder I screamed, the more she withdrew. The more I enforced consequences, the less she cared.

[Free Resource: 15 Ways to Disarm (and Understand) Explosive ADHD Emotions]

A mom with ADHD has tunnel vision
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How Could I Guide Her When I, Too, Was Lost?

I felt scared, lost in a dark underground cave with no way out.

Any task that required repetitive effort, concentration, and consistency forced her into a shutdown. She stopped functioning, froze, and ran away. I felt there was nothing I could do to bring her back. I was limited in my perspective. I had tunnel vision. My daughter needed stability, consistency, security, and balance. At the time, I couldn't give her any of the things she needed the most.

Looking back, I think the only thing I could have done to improve those gut-wrenching years is this: Know more about myself. Know who I was as a mom, wife, and stepmom. Commit to what I valued. Know where to draw boundaries. And figure out how to manage my own ADHD.

Now that I am older, wiser, and am comfortable with myself, I can see lots of the things I wish I had done differently. Here they are.

A leaf blowing in the wind
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Regret #1: I Didn’t Truly Know Myself

As a young mother, I was unsure of my values. I felt like a fragile leaf blowing in the wind. I frequently faced crises I didn't know how to manage. My ADHD got in my way — in part because I didn't know I had ADHD.

I was a quirky, trendy, crafty, creative mom who always worked in careers that aligned with my personality and behavior. That was just who I was. If I had known it was ADHD that was steering me, I believe I would have had greater insight into myself. My identity, my values, and my strategies for better managing my family and my life remained a mystery — to me and to everyone else — until I sought an ADHD diagnosis and treatment.

A mom with ADHD and her husband sit together under a blanket
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Regret #2: I Picked the Wrong Partner to Be My Co-Parent

Choosing a partner with ADHD was terrible for me. I needed emergency backup — someone I could count on to show up, support me, and make the "right" decisions for our family. And even when our decisions capsized, I needed someone who could deal with the consequences alongside me as a team, united, learning and improving for the benefit of our family. ADHD family life can be chaotic without at least one person balancing, navigating, and steering the team in the right direction. This isn’t true for all families, but it was true for ours.

A mom with ADHD holds up a polaroid picture that sympbolizes her expecations for her children
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Regret #3: I Held Too Tight to Unrealistic Expectations

Before I became a parent, I wrote my kids’ scripts. I fantasized about the roles they would fill without once considering the possibility that personal struggles might get in the way. I was confident my kids would be intelligent, hard-working, athletic, and  — so confident, in fact, that even they believed me. But all of that optimism and passion — totally divorced from reality — made them feel like failures when they couldn't live up to my expectations.

I was an ADHD dreamer who lost touch with reality. I also wasn't strong enough to admit that something wasn’t working as it should in my daughter. I couldn't accept that my perfect little girl was imperfect.

I experienced pain and suffering in my own young life, and I wanted to be sure my children had a smoother ride. I didn’t understand that I could be optimistic and encouraging, while being realistic at the same time. I fantasized myself out of the real world, leaving my kids there all alone.

[Free Webinar Replay: The Teen Years with ADHD: A Practical, Proactive Parent’s Guide]

A mom with ADHD cries
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Regret #4: I Didn't Know What My Daughter Needed

I was so caught up in my own emotions and thoughts that I couldn't see what my daughter needed. What she was screaming for.

I dealt with each crisis as it arose, but I couldn't step back and see the big picture. I couldn’t see the good in my child. I couldn’t experience joy. All I saw were the shredded yarns on the back of a tapestry. I didn’t know I could turn it over and see a beautiful landscape. My own fear, anger, and negativity had blinded me to my daughter’s beauty — and to her pain.

Could I have stopped the tears, frustration and slamming doors? I’m not sure. But I know that my reactions weren’t perfect. In an attempt to salvage a "good" relationship with my daughter (so she would feel comfortable talking to me about anything), I tried too hard to be her friend. What she really needed was a loving mom who would provide structure, boundaries, and limits. I possessed none of those things.

A mom with ADHD holds her daughter's hand
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Regret #5: I Could Not Teach What I Never Learned

As a highly functioning, undiagnosed ADHD mom, I was clueless. I was also an ambitious, driven hard worker. I thought I was setting a good example, but my daughter wasn't receiving the message that governed my life: push through no matter what.

Clearly, my way didn’t work for her. She couldn't be me, and I didn't know how to deal with her or understand the differences between us. Kids (and adults) with ADHD need customized systems that work for their specific traits and processing style. I know that now, too late. It turns out my way was not the only way.

A mom with ADHD holds a cup of coffee
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Regret #6: I Didn’t Trust My Gut

I couldn’t help my daughter. And I was so caught up in my own emotions, ruminations, and frustrations that I become a hovering, overprotective, anxious catastrophizer. In my search for answers, I obsessively took her to therapists determined to figure out why this bright, capable child could not succeed in school. There were no answers. I was told, time and time again, that she was just an emotional, sensitive child going through hormonal changes. I was told that girls don't have ADHD. And I believed the therapists, even though my instincts told me they were dead wrong.

A mom with ADHD is drowning in fear and worry.
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Regret #7: I Took Too Long to Become Brave, Strong, and Grounded

Whether my daughter's ADHD came from DNA or spiritual assignment, guiding her through it was my job, and I had to step up to the plate. Being a mom is never easy, but I had to dig deeper into the abyss of my soul to discover just how much I was capable of doing. I had to do that for my daughter — and for me.

That journey didn’t begin easily or early; in fact, it still continues today. I face this battle every day, and I still struggle to keep my two feet on the ground, and my head above water. I work hard to prevent myself from drowning in a muddy swamp of fear, worries, and torturous thoughts. I know how dark it is down there and I don’t want to go back.

A mom with ADHD walks up stairs with her daughter
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Regret #8: We Didn't Talk

When I’m in the just-right mood — or social setting — I can blabber on for hours in deep, philosophical conversations about “purpose,” or winding dialogs about nothing at all. When required to engage in a serious discussion about my own life, however, I freeze like a deer in the headlights.

Life requires conversations. And an ADHD life requires them even more. A child with ADHD is bombarded daily with evaluations, reviews, plans, shoulds, how-tos and systems for change. Caught up in enforcing rules and repairing everything that was wrong, I missed opportunities to talk to my daughter about how she felt and what was going on inside her.

I couldn’t find the right words to say to her, so she turned her back and closed the door in my face. She was in control, and I surrendered to her. I lost my ability to communicate and, more importantly, to parent.

A mom with ADHD exercises outside
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Regret #9: I Hid from My Anxiety

When I was a young mother, I didn't know how to take care of myself. I was emotionally bombarded, out-of-control, and feeling trapped. Panic attacks hit me hard. I didn't know how to breathe my way out of it. I didn't know how to stop the negative talk so I could stop beating myself up. I didn't know how to manage my thoughts, control my words, and take my life and my marriage back.

I now maintain a rigid system of self-care through exercise, healthy eating, positive thought reframing, walks, meditation, compassion, and spirituality. I am a priority now. If I don’t give myself care, love, and compassion, I can’t be there for the people I love. I know that now.

A mom with ADHD hands her daughter a flower as a gesture of support
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Regret #10: I Failed to See That the Pain She Feels is Worse than the Pain She Causes

One day, I had an awakening that changed my perspective. During my daughter's meltdowns, I had always felt like the victim. I thought the vicious verbal arrows she shot were aimed right at my heart. Then one day, as I watched her throwing things, screaming, and slamming doors, a realization hit me.

I put my own pain aside and I saw how horrible she must have felt when a meltdown took control of her body and mind. I realized that she had no control over what was happening to her.

As an adult and a mother, she no longer has the freedom to let her breakdowns win. She must get help to develop coping mechanisms so that her daughter is not a petrified, innocent victim watching her mother turn into a scary monster. She is learning to help herself, and I am learning to support her.

Just breathe, and other mindfulness tips for adults with ADHD
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Regret #11: I Didn’t Teach Her How to Manage Her Emotions

Looking back, there is one huge thing I wish I could have done for my daughter: Stand back and give her time to process the intensity of her emotions.

By the time I learned how to breathe, pause, and release my suffering, it was too late for her. I missed the chance to provide my daughter with the skills she needed to cope with her daily demons. It’s too late for me, as a mother. But it’s not too late for her. And I work hard to remember to cautiously choose my words so they are not daggers of judgment, criticism, or blame that pierce through her soul.

A row of hearts crafted by a mom with ADHD
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And Now That She Is a Mother, Too…

Like any mother, I want to give my daughter the wisdom of my experiences. I want to give her my rearview perspective, and save her the pain and suffering I invested in learning my lessons. I want to hand over the right skills. But I cannot. I have to stand in the background and watch her stumble, fall, grow, and evolve into the mother she is capable of becoming. This process is out of my control. All I can do is practice letting go, take care of my marriage and myself, be supportive without enabling, and struggle to detach with love.

[Free Resource: 10 Things to Never Say to Your Child]

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  1. Boy does this hit home. I am the adult child of an alcoholic and have an ADHD alcoholic challenging my serenity today. The goals of detachment, self-care and the regrets for not being wiser sooner are constant companions. I am grateful that I was finally diagnosed and am much better on medication but, like many, I mourn the things I didn’t do before getting things under control. I mourn the me I never was and that, in some ways, it is too late to be (professional aspirations). My children saw me struggle more often and worse than I would have liked. But, it is what it is and it was what it was. All I can change now is the me they learn from going forward.

  2. @cathy5468 — Please try to let go of those “regrets for not being wiser sooner”….and instead focus on your wise observation that “All I can change now is the me they learn from going forward.” Your comment about the lost opportunities with professional aspirations really strikes a chord with me….but just maybe, that’s not as true as you fear. More so now than ever, there are opportunities to “create your own career” & reinvent yourself at almost any stage of adulthood.

    At the age of 58, after struggling with my ADD all those years, and only recently in the past couple finally getting on meds which have had a subtle but undeniable positive effect on “pulling it together”, I’m in the middle of training to completely change careers, from one I still actually get a lot of satisfaction from but which I likewise greatly fell short of excelling at, due to all the self-sabotaging habits we ADDers wrestle with (distraction, procrastination, lack of follow-through, etc. etc.). I may discover I’m facing more of a wall due to age-ism than I hope is true, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

    But just as important as the future-income aspect, I feel energized & proud of myself for making a change like this. As the adage goes, “the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago; the next-best time is now.” For a lot more things than we tend to believe, it really is true that “You’re never too old” to improve yourself. My main point here, in reference to your comments, is that when a grownup shows they’re willing to be positive, take risks & make sacrifices, and “learn from going forward”, our loved ones, especially the younger generation (just like I see in my own 3 kids), will love us & admire us tremendously for it….and the “mistakes of the past” we made with ourselves and with them will fade away in importance.

    1. This hits home for me also! Although my daughter doesn’t have outbursts. She is bothered by very little. Has little to no motivation to do better in school. She always takes the easiest way possible. Doesn’t really have any interests other than reading. Even that wains when she can’t find another series to peek her interests. I do wonder what I could do to help her? She is no longer on a med to help her. And there are times I feel lost. And just wish I knew how to help her gain motivation. She is sad when she doesn’t receive awards at school when all of her friends do. But they have worked for those . And I try to lovingly explain this. Glad I could find this community to find similar situations.

  3. This is an excellent article. As an adult with ADHD, I have a very difficult time with this format; additionally, it seems my computer doesn’t like it either and freezes up around page 8 or 9. Please, please, please, provide an option to view these articles all on one page! I know there have been times in the not-too-distant past when I could do that; please bring it back as an option.

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