Confessions of an ADHD Mom: 10 Truths I Hide from Even My Friends
Dear friends, you are not the mom-shaming types. You don’t judge me for my impressive lack of punctuality or my uncanny ability to forget birthdays. Still, there are aspects of my ADHD parenting that I may never share with you one-on-one. Here they are.
Sometimes I’m Too Ashamed to Tell You How I’m Really Doing
One hour and 7 minutes. The average mom gets 1 hour and 7 minutes to herself each day, according to a new study. That’s just over an hour for exercise and showering and generally not losing it. In other words, we’re all busy.
But even my busiest mom friends all seem to exist in a place where life runs on predictable paths, in predictable patterns. My world, on the other hand, is a chaos of running and shouting, of paint smears and glitter bombs, of things lost or left scattered. The big difference? Attention deficit disosrder (ADHD or ADD), of course.
I’ve long known that parenting a neurotypical kid is just plain different. Which is not to say my mom friends don’t have struggles of their own, but mine are different — and they might even make me ashamed sometimes. Here are the things I may never tell my friends about my everyday life with ADHD.
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1. My House Is a Wreck
There are LEGOs in my house. But not in the way there are LEGOs in most people’s houses. There are LEGOs literally carpeting my playroom, spilling to the living room, trailing down the hall. There is a fully built LEGO plane thing “decorating” my hall table. Beneath it, a high water mark of spare parts.
This is just one way my ADHD boys make it feel impossible to keep a clean house — and my sanity, simultaneously. If they don’t want it, they drop it — whatever ‘it’ is, and wherever they happen to be. Make them clean up? It works for a few minutes — they have ADHD, after all, and remain unmotivated in the face of threats, revocation of privileges, and even loss of toys. And I can only pick up so much. So my house looks like a proverbial tornado whirled through. And that tornado is my kids.
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2. My Car Is a Rolling Garbage Truck
My kids insist on bringing things into the car. They are not so good at bringing things out. So my minivan is paved in a layer of books and toys, hats and coats (or towels, depending on the season). The piles become cemented with apple juice and cake-pop residue. Beneath it all is the Sprite my six-year-old forgot for two days and then spilled, in all its sticky glory. Under the seats, you may also find french fries and apple slices. And dropped popcorn — lots of popcorn. All of which they swear they will pick up.
And they really do intend to tidy up. They aren’t lying or lazy; they just forget. There’s a butterfly. There’s a package at the door to investigate. There’s a brother to unbuckle. And a sloshed drink stands forgotten until it molds and cements a library book to the floor. Not to the floor. To whatever detritus lays beneath it.
And that is why no one gets to see the inside of my car. No one.
No, really. I promise that, no matter how much you yell, I yell more.
I’m not talking “I’m angry” yells. I’m talking “Get your butt down here” yells. “Do you hear me” yells, and “Do you hear me now” yells. Of course, “If I repeat myself in a louder voice maybe you will listen to me” yells. And the occasional “Where are you? You wandered off again and I’m panicking” yells. I’m also guilty of “Oh my gosh, no, you can’t pee on that tree” yells. And more than a few “Be careful in the parking lot” yells.
When we hang out, we probably joke about it. You might think I’m having a particularly loud day. But I’m not. My voice just naturally gravitates to that register now. Because it has to.
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4. I Repeat Myself Constantly
You know how they (old ladies, strangers on the street, the clerks at Target) advise you to give a command to your kids once, authoritatively, and let the chips fall where they may? That doesn’t work in my house. The reasons for that are numerous, but the big one is called hyperfocus. It means that my kids get so involved, so zoned-in, so focused on something — be it a video game or a book or a block castle — that they literally do not hear me.
So I have to repeat myself again. And again. And then again, touching them while I do so, which finally, Cinderella-like, breaks the spells. If I ask for something once and they’re hyperfocusing, then I get mad that they didn’t do it, they get (justifiably) mad in return. “I didn’t hear you!” they huff. They aren’t lying. They really, truly didn’t hear me yell from 10 feet away.
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5. We Are Those Unrelenting Screentime Parents
Remember how I mentioned hyperfocus? My kids will hyperfocus on old Ghostbusters cartoons for literally four hours at a time. Then they’ll shift the Roku over to Star Wars: Rebels and repeat the hyperfocus. We had to remove the 8-bit Nintendo because my oldest not only played it nonstop, he started throwing tantrums when he couldn’t. But my 4 year old is the worst. He begs for his sitter because she brings an iPad with her. He screams and screams when she leaves, because she’s taking the iPad away. He asks for his grandmother all the time — because she gives him games to play on her phone.
Because of this, their TV time is strictly limited. Their videogame time is almost non-existent. My 8 year old doesn’t know what Minecraft is. We’re trying desperately to keep it that way.
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6. I Turn Them Out Back Like Puppies
The best thing for ADHD kids? Sunshine and fresh air and creative outdoor play. Yes, all kids need outdoor time. But my kids become ungovernable if they don’t get it. So I open the back door, order them to put on their boots, and kick their butts outside. They build toad houses, play on the ninja line, flip and jump off the geodesic dome, bang on things with sticks, and generally play. If they say they have to pee, I tell them to pee on a tree. If they come inside, I fear, the indoors will absorb them.
If I don’t turn them outside like puppies, it’s because I’ve taken them somewhere to play. If it’s pouring, we go to the children’s museum. Otherwise, the outdoors is fair game to find tadpoles and frogs, to play in the dirt, to throw mud at each other.
Like I mentioned, we spend a lot of time outside in the front or back yard. Sometimes I’m out there. Sometimes I’m not. Regardless, my kids live life at top volume. They’re always yelling across the yard. “Look at my toad house!” and “Look, I found a stick!” On top of that, you’ll hear layers of screaming and whining when someone takes someone else’s spot on the ninja line, or pushes them the wrong way in the hammock, or accidentally-on-purpose drops on them from the geodesic dome. These things provoke a lot of noise.
On top of that, they’re yelling at the dogs, and shouting at each other, and shouting for me, and shouting at their dad, and shouting, shouting, shouting, because they are little boys with ADHD and they are outside.
Neighbors we have never met know waaaaaaaaay too much about our family. And I honestly don’t have time to care.
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8. Regular Consequences Don’t Work On My Kids
Say my son does something naughty — he hits his brother, or snatches a toy, or refuses to clean when we tell him to. Yelling does not help. My kids tune it out. Taking away privileges doesn’t help because privileges happen in the future and they live in the now.
As a result, in our house you will hear, “Clean up your toys. I will help you start.” Then we have to make a game of it. We might have to settle for cleaning, taking a break, cleaning, taking a break. When they hurt someone, they have to apologize and make reparations. The consequence connects to the crime.
This is not a holier-than-thou parenting technique I whip out at playdates to make everyone else look bad. It’s the only way our lives will function.
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9. I Beg People Not to Give My Kids Gifts
My youngest two kids’ favorite toys are a set of wooden blocks and some plastic dinosaurs. They have plenty of costumes, which they play with intermittently, and a kitchen set they adore. Beyond this — except for the LEGOs, of course — I could set fire to their toys in the front yard, and they probably wouldn’t notice for days.
But because they have all of these other toys, my boys feel like they have to play with them — and they get paralyzed trying to decide what to play with. Instead of being creative, they get stuck staring at a cluttered shelf. Clutter stresses them out. It makes them itchy and twitchy, gets them cranky and overwhelmed. They scatter it all over the floor, and now all the clutter has to be picked up. It’s a nightmare.
I beg people to buy my kids intangibles, like museum memberships or trips or gift certificates for ice cream. They don’t listen. The cycle continues.
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10. My Kids Are (Thankfully) Behind the Cultural Curve
Kid culture is so insidious. Designed by marketing execs and psychologists, the sales messages are so powerful that my kids are sure to get snowplowed under. So we shield them from it. They have no idea what video games are hot. They do not watch popular TV shows (other than Star Wars-related ones), and they rarely see Disney movies.
This isn’t because we think all this stuff is evil and bad, or that other parents are uncaring monsters. It’s because, well, while a neurotypical kid could maybe resist the marketing temptations, my kids would get unhealthily obsessed. I see how Wild Kratts mesmerizes them, for goodness’ sake. I can’t imagine what Bubble Guppies would do. Our guard slipped once, and we let the youngest watch Paw Patrol. Now he screams and screams whenever we turn it off. Lesson learned.
This is not my sanctimommy coming out. It’s an honest appraisal of my kids’ capacities — not to mention my own.