ADHD Moms & Dads

10 Parenting ‘Shoulds’ You Need to Get Over — Like, Now

“TV will rot her brain!” “You let him eat french fries?!?” “Raising kids is a piece of cake, right?” Parenting myths are everywhere, and they’re insidious — particularly for parents raising kids with ADHD, who often feel judged enough for their kids’ behavior already. Let go of these harmful untruths that ignore your child’s (and your) wants and needs.

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Letting Go of Parenting Myths

As a mom whose kids have ADHD, I’ve learned to get over some stuff — little and big. Like, you know, most of what society expects from me as a modern mother.

It can be hard living as a round shape in a world of square holes. It can be painful. It can be downright embarrassing. We look “not normal” to a world sometimes unaccommodating and unsympathetic to the not-so-neurotypical spirits who add so much color. And parenting not-so-neurotypical children requires a willingness to break every rule and myth you’ve ever read in any parenting handbook — and to do so confidently, courageously, and with love as our guiding principle.

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Mommy Myth #1: They Need 3 Square Meals and No Snacks After 4

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Ha! Try small breakfast, snack, snack, small lunch, snack, dinner, snack. Or omit major meals altogether and subsume them all into one long snacking episode. My kids can whine for cake pops at Starbucks ten minutes after they swore they were stuffed and threw out their half-eaten hamburgers.

This used to drive me batty. Now I just accept it. I figure their bodies will self-regulate. I make sure there are always plenty of healthy snacks around, and when they come whining, I point them in that direction. ADHD brains need plenty of fuel — and they melt down spectacularly when they don’t get it, I’ve found. So I don’t get hung up serving three square meals at set times each day; I feel their bodies and minds when they need it most, whenever that may be.

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Mommy Myth #2: They Need a Set-in-Stone Bedtime

We homeschool, with all the luxury of a summer schedule all year round. Often, my kids decide at 8:45pm to hyperfocus on a block castle, a book on Bigfoot, an intricate battle of plastic Army dudes. Tearing children away from hyperfocus — then insisting they clean up the results — always ends in a three-ring circus of a meltdown. So I give them time. That means that sometimes they don’t go to bed until 10:30pm.

Which means they don’t wake up until 9:30am. So school starts late. Somehow, we cope.

[Free Resource: Routines for Morning and Night]

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Mommy Myth #3: TV Will Rot Their Brains

The fact is that TV is a very effective way to turn off kids’ brains, particularly when they need to relax but otherwise can’t. Allegedly, TV will rot their brains like pumpkins in November. I am here to tell you that an hour and a half of Ghostbusters in the morning will not change your child into Reagan from Poltergeist. They may attempt to construct proton packs out of Amazon boxes, but they won’t try to summon Cthulhu.

Lots of hippie moms — and I consider myself a hippie among hippies — like to get all judgy about the TV. They say it influences kids’ play too much. But since Amazon Prime and Netflix mean my kids don’t watch anything made in the last two decades, the effect is minimal. I grew up playing Scooby Doo and never developed psychotic tendencies. Now, making the four-year-old be Scrappy Doo all the time? That might skew a little less healthy.

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Mommy Myth #4: No Junk Food Should Pass Their Lips

My kids had dairy intolerances for most of their lives, something I suspect was tied to their ADHD — especially since their ingestion was behavioral. Now that they can have gluten and dairy, I feed them all the American crap with absolutely no regret. The first time my oldest son ate Cinnamon Toast Crunch, I cried. They snarf zebra cakes and Little Debbies in all forms, tater tots and cheeseburgers and milkshakes and pizza, pizza, pizza.

They act exactly the same as they did before the Great Intolerances disappeared.

This food is far cheaper than the super-healthy stuff I used to feed my kids. They eat more of it, too. All of them have gone through growth spurts. Yes, they still get veggies and fruit. But they have also eaten their fair share of hot dogs. And they’re still alive, I promise.

Unless, of course, someone gives them red food dye. Then all bets are off. That stuff is evil.

 

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Mommy Myth #5: They Need a Bath Every Night

Who has time for this? Do parents of neurotypical kids have time for this? I’m serious, here. Who has perpetuated the myth that children need to be dunked in a basin of water every single night without fail, or they might turn into Gremlins at midnight? Because, seriously, I do not have time to bathe my children every night, and my children are simply not dirty enough every night to merit it.

Why don’t I have time to bathe my children? They have ADHD. They get in the bath and hyperfocus on tub toys. They splash each other and deluge my bathroom and use up all the hand towels covering their tracks. They pretend to snorkel. They forget to actually wash themselves. Sensory issues make them scream when you try to wash their hair.

As long as they aren’t stinky, we’re good.

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Mommy Myth #6: They Must Pick Up Their Toys Every Night

This myth discounts several hard realities. It discounts the ability of an ADHD kid to make a tremendous mess — tremendously fast. I can leave a clean playroom, come back ten minutes later, and find a federal disaster area, complete with caution tape. There’s some complicated mathematical formula related to the time it took to make the mess vis-a-vis the time it takes to unmake it, but rest assured those are both a) out of proportion, and b) far exceeding the actual time in your day.

This also discounts the fact that my kids, by definition of their neurological difference, do not have the attention span required to clean for that amount of time. Nor do they have the ability to survey a mess, break it into its component parts, and pick it up bit by bit. They see a horrifying conglomeration that, like Lady MacBeth’s hands, will never be clean.

So either you help them, you coach them, or you do it yourself.

[Free Resource: What NOT to Say to a Child with ADHD]

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Mommy Myth #7: They’ll Catch Their Death of Cold

Kids with ADHD need exercise. Kids with ADHD need to be outside, or they will drive us all up the proverbial wall. Research shows that kids do better when they’re exposed to nature as much as possible. And that means that there is no mooning around inside the house for days on end — even when it is rainy or snowy or just too darn cold. There comes a time when you have to stuff them into raincoats and boots, pull down their hoods, and tell them to go out and discover this rain-soaked world of ours.

Yes, they will get wet; they’ll probably like that part more than you do. Yes, they will end up throwing mud balls at the house, the dog, and each other. Then they will track mud through your house to the bathroom, where they will summarily demand a warm bath.

But they are learning and growing instead of climbing the walls, and that’s all that matters.

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Mommy Myth #8: They Must Finish Their Homework 100%

ADHD brains rebel against busy work. Once they get a concept, they get it, and once they get bored, they tune out, turn off, and get ugly. So what does any seasoned ADHD mama do who’s more afraid of burnout than of the big bad teacher? She makes sure they get the concept, and then she lets them stop. Finishing to the end may do more than defeat the purpose; it may defeat the child.

At the same time, if they get it, if they love it, if they want to read ahead in the chapter book or keep going with that Social Studies or work the next set of math problems because the light bulb’s on and they’re on a roll, you stand back and let them. The teacher can fuss about reading ahead, but you know you can’t guarantee your kid will want to read tomorrow or next week. You need to harness her excitement here and now.

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Mommy Myth #9: Natural Consequences Are the Best Teacher

Did little Johnny forget his lunch/tuba/science project? Most neurotypical moms will tell you (sort of smugly) that this is the time for a Life Lesson in Responsibility: If you forget things, you will not have them, and then you will have to live without them.

Except that my kids can’t remember things not because they just forget, but because they have a brain difference. It’s literally part of their disability not to remember that they need to pick up their lunch, that they need to grab that science project, that they need to ask for that permission slip, especially if whatever they must remember is outside their normal routine. So yes: I’m the parent who drives in their lunch. I’m the mom who takes in the science project, and who runs over the tuba. Snicker up your sleeve and call me a helicopter mom. But it’s not helicoptering; it’s disability accommodation.

A woman laying stones on a larger rock, thinking about unfair ADHD parenting myths
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Mommy Myth #10: You Should Keep These Things Secret Because You’re a Failure

Having kids is hard. Having kids with ADHD is super hard. It’s different than neurotypical parenting. But how are people going to know that if we keep our mouths shut, afraid of their judgment? We have to be open about our struggles. Neuro parents complain about theirs. So shoulder in and make space for your realities. They’ll be confused at first. They’ll think it’s strange or different. But they’ll try their best to understand, I promise, if you just open up.

And that mom? The one with the newly diagnosed kid? She’ll look you in the eye — the first time she’s looked another parent in the eye in a long time. “It’s like that for us, too,” she’ll say. “Thank you.” And she’ll mean it from her sometimes-frazzled brain to the bottom of her big, fierce heart. You’ll make her less afraid.

And that’s something we all should aspire to do.

[Free Resource: Natural ADHD Treatment Options]

7 Related Links

  1. This made me want to cry. Thank you. Now off to explore the “When you have ADHD too” link. Because yup he got it from me…. *falls down in heap of exhaustion.*

  2. I have AdD and my two boys ages 18 & 13 have it, too. I read through the list of “mommy shoulds” and I don’t follow any of those. When they were babies I was a bit more strict about bedtime routines and mealtimes but honestly, I am very casual – it causes much less stress (we all suffer from Anxiety, too) – We’ve never had yelling in our home and we work together to keep life as smooth as possible. It’s never perfect but it’s pretty good! We laugh and hug more often than some families we know and to me, that is better than counting vegetables and baths! People have those signs on their living room walls that say “Love, Laughter, Live” – we don’t need those signs…we just DO those things!

  3. Uh, I’m a dad. I’ve got ADHD myself and I’m the “mom” while my wife is the long-hour-working breadwinner.
    But I’m not Mom. I’m Dad.
    Even if that wasn’t the case, this article would still be relevant. It’s not like dads that work long hours aren’t still confronted with these issues of child raising.
    So…any chance of ditching the ADHD Moms category?

    1. Oh, and calling these Mommy Myths. I know it’s catchier than “Parenting Myths”, but maybe there’s another option? “Daddy/Mommy Myths”?
      Or even a caveat sentence I’m the first paragraph how this applies to everyone caring for ADHD kids.

      Sorry. I’m in easily triggered. 😉

      1. I don’t think you have a reason to apologize for bringing this up. I completely agree with you. Inclusive language is beneficial for everyone. It makes it more acceptable for dads to be the main parents (with less mockery from other people), and also allows moms to be able to decrease their workload a little too.

        My hubby and I each took turns being stay at home parents, and I was appalled at the amount of men and women who felt it was acceptable to mock him and tell him to “man up and get a job.”

    2. Dear Johnny,

      At last, a real dad who I can relate to. It is sooooooo refreshing because moms are awesome don’t get me wrong. I have one too but what about those DAD’s dealing with this on the perverbial front lines. This article nailed me between the eyes because my 14 year old daughter is every word of that article. They are describing her to a “T”. The fact that you sir, Johnny, are dealing with the same thing and seem to feel we as dads are never mentioned or thought well I’ve felt alone for the longest time. Knowing your out and after reading this article, well, we’re not so crazy after all. We are parenting the way we should.
      Drodisme

  4. As I read this, I could just feel my anxiety melting away. My mom was pretty strict and very consistent about everything when I was a little kid. I can’t seem to find that consistency with my own kids, but I try my best with at least one or two things and am very flexible on the rest depending on the kid and the situation. I’ve always felt like a failure because of that but now I don’t. Thank you.

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