I can feel guilty about yelling, about responding meanly, about losing my cool. But I will not be made to feel guilty for things beyond my control — namely the behaviors caused by my kids’ ADHD symptoms.
Parenting a kid with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) is just different. Yes, they still need food, sleep, and cuddles. But kids with ADHD are, well, just somehow more. They’re louder. They take more time negotiating the mundane tasks of childhood (“You lost your shoes again?!?”). They misplace things. They live at the extreme edges of their emotional range sometimes. Then there are the endless negotiations and coordination with doctors, with other treatment providers, with school.
In other words, my bandwidth is full. And, as the mother of three boys with ADHD, I just can’t be bothered with a lot of fundamental mom expectations. I don’t have the mental energy. I don’t have the time. And frankly, I couldn’t live up to those societal expectations if I tried, because my kids wouldn’t let me. So I’ve let them go. And I feel so much freer for it.
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Mom Expectation 1: Public Meltdowns Require Stern Responses
We tell our kids: You can’t control anyone’s behavior but your own. That mantra’s a two-way street for parents. I do my best to make sure my boys are fed, watered, rested, and amused. Regardless, someone may lose it in the middle of Target. I’ve been faced with this scenario before: yelling and crying and possibly rolling on the floor (cringe!), all because I said “later” instead of “now”… or because a sibling looked at them sideways… or because it’s Monday.
Old people glare. Younger people stare. Other moms cut their eyes at me, and I can feel their thoughts like daggers: Control your brat. The judgment worsens when I respond with kindness and calm rather than sternness or a threat to spank. But my kids have trouble with emotional regulation. They are not neurotypical. So I cannot be bothered to care what strangers think about their behavior — or my reaction to it.
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Mom Expectation 2: Kids Should Be Quiet in Restaurants
I’m not going to lock my kids in a cage until they turn 18. We go places. We go many places, including out to eat. And when we go out to eat, my sons do… things. They instantly, instinctually use silverware as a percussion instrument. They crawl under the table, or run back from the bathroom. They seldom use their inside voices. They really, really, really want to use my phone right now.
No, my children with ADHD do not sit like perfect gentlemen. And, yes, I do my very best to remind them of their manners and my expectations. But it’s hard for them to wait, and harder still when they’re hungry. So they’re going to be a little bit rowdy. We try to contain it. We try to teach better alternatives… while ignoring some glares.
Mom Expectation 3: Children Shall Be Seen, Not Heard
I don’t even know any neurotypical kids who accomplish this. Still, old people continue to whisper it to one another at church, in stores, and during any other activity that’s the slightest bit boring. They don’t mind seeing kids in public places, but heaven forbid those children remind them that they’re full of energy and enthusiasm and thought that cannot wait.
You know what kids with ADHD are really good at doing? Offending everyone’s eardrums.
And my kids are noisier than most. Even their normal speaking voices are abnormally loud. So with three of them, all usually trying to talk at once or trying to talk to me while another one gives his little brother a particularly squeal-y piggyback ride, we are obviously, loudly, unmistakably present. I used to be embarrassed, like I’d suddenly found myself on stage in my underwear. Now I let the glares bounce off me. I have too much to worry about to care what some stranger thinks.
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Mom Expectation 4: Kids Should Not Roughhouse
Kids need roughhousing. It makes them smart, according to Psych Central. It builds emotional intelligence. It brings them joy. Do I wish my three boys chose better spots than the grocery store aisle? Yes. However, dragging your baby brother into a piggyback ride, or finger-sparring in the check-out line, or flat-out tackling each other at the park — these are healthy and normal childhood activity. This is doubly true for kids with ADHD, who — like mine — may be sensory-seeking or lack a strong sense of personal space.
Yes, people glare at me. Yes, people think my kids are ungovernable hooligans. I’ve seen mothers yank their precious darlings away from mine. But my kids are burning off steam and, as long as there’s no blood, what’s the harm?
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Mom Expectation 5: Kids Should Know the Unwritten Playground Rules
One undeniable strength of kids with ADHD: their ability to think outside the box. Why not, for example, go up the slide if no one’s coming down? Why not chuck a handful of sand if no one’s nearby? Why not climb to the roof of the covered plastic slide? Why not play swords with sticks? Why not try to climb the trees, build forts out of branches, or dive into the bushes?
Judging by the looks on other parents’ faces, kids are not supposed to do any of these things. Oh, the huffs and glares. Occasionally, other moms will actually try to discipline your kids, and you’ll have to intervene. Other times, they’ll just yank their kids away while muttering something about bad parenting. Either way, I’m beyond caring.
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Mom Expectation 6: No Screens in Public
We have a 4-year-old with ADHD. He simply has no capacity for waiting. At all. Ask him to wait in line, and he’s bee-lining to look at a rack full of candy and toys. Ask him to wait to get a toy, play a game, do an activity, and you’ll get, “I hate tomorrow/an hour/a minute/next week!” in an impassioned, near-to-tears screech. When we venture outside the house, one of the only ways to keep him happy (beyond playing tic-tac-toe with 4-year-old rules for 30 mind-numbing minutes) is to hand him a phone.
We had to turn off some games because he got too addicted. But he will also happily look at Google image searches of triceratops. He plays Toca Life Pet Shop. He plays Angry Birds, much to my chagrin. But he is happy. He is quiet. And we can have a rare adult conversation.
I know we get looks; I’ve even seen the waiter give us the side-eye. I don’t even blink anymore. Maybe a neurotypical 4-year-old can sit quietly and color for half an hour. I wouldn’t know, because I’ve never raised one. Hence, the lifesaver of a phone. And I don’t care what anyone thinks about it. Mom needs some adult conversation, damn it.
Mom Expectation 7: Brushed Hair and Matching Shoes Are a Must
My boys with ADHD have some very mild sensory issues. They also like their hair long. That means that the youngest sometimes screams when I brush his hair. It is a battle. I do absolutely everything I can to ease the process (special comb and detangler, my own stupidly expensive product), but sometimes he gets a big knot. Cue the yells. And some mornings, it just isn’t worth the screaming. So I stick a hat on his head and call it a day. Because, of all the things I need to worry about, perfectly coiffed hair is not one of them.
Mom rules also state that kids’ shoes should match their outfits. My kids are always losing their shoes in ways I cannot fathom, as if our house has achieved a break in the space-time continuum. So if they can only find a pair of water shoes for our trip to the library, judge me all you want. Come to my house and find another pair of shoes if you’re so offended.
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Mom Expectation 8: Momplaining Is a Bonding Exercise
It seems that, as soon as little Jimmy runs off to play, his mom is turning to me to complain about his various strains of naughtiness: his bed-wetting, his fighting in preschool, and can you believe he’s still sucking his thumb?! Then she pauses. She looks at me expectantly. She’s waiting for me to join in the kid-bashing.
I don’t play that game. My kids have their struggles. They need someone to cheerlead for them, all the time, without fail. Inside the family, I can complain. I can dump my stress on my spouse. I can dump my stress on my mom, or the BFF who’s been there through diagnosis after diagnosis. I refuse to show anything but a loving, caring face to the strangers who are not struggling with the same issues I am. This may make me seem like a blinkered woman living in a Pollyanna dreamland. Oh, well.
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Mom Expectation 10: Kids’ Bad Behavior Is the Parents’ Fault
Momspectation goes like this: If the child is misbehaving, that behavior is directly attributable to parenting. There’s no room for other explanations. So when my non-neurotypical kids roll around the Target floor, shout in restaurants, sneak onto the bottom pallet of the cart, hit things with sticks, or brush too close to other people’s cars, this behavior is my fault. I am directly responsible for it.
Some mornings, I can’t make my kids eat blueberry pie for breakfast. I definitely can’t dictate their behavior at any given moment. I can respond to it. But I can’t literally, physically, make them act any certain way.
I refuse to be guilted for the things I cannot control. I can feel guilty about yelling, about responding meanly, about losing my cool. But I will not be made to feel guilty for my kids’ actions.
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Mom Expectation 11: I Must Entertain Strangers’ Suggestions About Diets and Essential Oils
My children do not need to be “fixed.” Their ADHD does not need to be “cured.” They need to learn how to manage their behaviors and harness their energy, but they are not somehow “wrong.” If there were some miracle solution that could make my kids sit quietly and color for half an hour without hyperfocusing, I would have heard of it.
I will not hesitate to tell these things to the moms who corner me, offering and often peddling their solutions, because my kids need someone in their corner. My kids need someone in this world, which tells them so often that they are all wrong, to speak up and say that they are all right. They need acceptance, not a non-cure. And I will never stop saying so.