“I’m No Neurotypical Parent. Is That Really So Bad?”
“I know it’s hard to relax and have faith that you’re doing a good job as a parent, especially when it feels like a constant struggle. It’s the hardest job in the world. But trust me, you are doing just fine. Most importantly, you never give up. That is love.”
Stop Comparing Yourself
You’re scrolling through Facebook and come across Carol’s new family portrait. It’s spring themed and set up in her perfectly decorated living room. There are coordinated outfits, real bunnies, and everyone is smiling — the works.
This is her tenth staged family photo this year. All kinds of thoughts swirl through your mind. Obviously, Carol loves her family more than I love mine. She is so organized that she gets everything done — and goes above and beyond!
You panic and glance over at your kitchen counter, filled with paperwork, dirty dishes, and stuff you’ve been meaning to put away — for the past two weeks. You begin to feel like a failure.
Listen, I’m a parent with ADHD, so I get it. I see you and feel you. You’re a fantastic parent. I know you absolutely love your family, but that doesn’t change the fact that parenting ain’t easy.
Our executive functions are bogged down with never-ending tasks – piles of paperwork to review, sign, and return; calendars to coordinate; dentist and doctor appointments to book; plus, birthdays, holidays, play dates, and more.
Executive Dysfunction is Real
If we were neurotypical, all these parenting tasks may be a tad overwhelming at times. But we are neurodiverse, so parenting is overwhelming all of the time because our executive functions are not qualified for the job.
Let me explain.
Think of executive functions as employees who keep our minds working. In neurotypical brains, these employees are industrious. They carry perfectly organized briefcases, use synced calendars and apps, and have color-coded Post-Its for everything. I imagine them behind a desk on the phone, furiously taking notes and getting things done expeditiously.
But in ADHD brains, I imagine that our employees are more like 12-year-old kids who mostly play video games and munch on snacks in the office. I imagine their desks messy and full of important papers covered in cheese puff dust. Post-Its are stuck to the wall, arranged in the shape of a heart.
Now, with a pre-teen running the show, how in the world are we supposed to compete with neurotypical parents? Especially the ones who plan themed birthday parties, coordinate outfits for pictures, and are never late to drop off their kids at school or activities.
We can’t continuously stay on top of things like neurotypical parents do — but then again, do we want to? And is doing things differently really so terrible?
I often think of that old saying, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”
In a sense, neurodiverse parents are inadvertently teaching their kids to take care of themselves. In the end, the most important lesson they’ll probably learn is self-reliance.
What Self-Reliance Looks Like
I’m going to admit right now that I have never prepared school lunch for my kids. I knew early on that it’s a task I do not want added to my daily regimen. I felt really guilty at first, because your instinct as a parent is to believe that doing things for your child is equal to showing them love.
A well-packed lunch is definitely a way to show off your creative side. I know because I work at a school. Fancy lunches surround me. Some of these parents go above and beyond, packing lunches in cute little containers, making sure to cut the crusts, and slipping in a loving note, too.
Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate all of that. It is really cute! Yet, I know that if my kids depended on me for consistently well-thought-out lunches, they would inevitably end up disappointed. So instead of taking that chance, I made them responsible for their lunches from Day One.
Have you ever seen the meme of the kid wearing pajamas on picture day? Let’s be real, that kid most likely has a parent with ADHD. His expression says it all — obviously that wasn’t his first rodeo. I would be lying if I said I had never forgotten a picture day — or two.
However, now that my kids are older, they know to inform me immediately of picture day and any other important dates. They make sure I fill out any forms and pay online if needed.
Remember, kids are ALWAYS observing. My kids have watched me write out grocery lists dozens of times, only to forget them at home. My oldest, who is 16, found a grocery list app and made me download it onto my phone. It made a world of difference! He also began cooking dinner some nights because he doesn’t like that I’m never exact with my measurements.
Love Can Look Different
I have a choice: I can sit here and feel like a failure about all of my shortcomings. Or I can spin this into a positive. I’m choosing the latter.
I’m not saying to not do things for your kids at all, or to be a lazy, neglectful parent. I’m saying, especially to parents with ADHD: stop comparing yourself to neurotypical parents. It only leads to unhelpful, berating thoughts.
Also, please dump the perception that doing everything for your child is equal to showing your love for them. Sometimes, NOT doing things for them demonstrates how much you love them.
Kids need to learn how to survive and problem solve. They need to experience failure and disappointment, and to take responsibility for their actions. They also need to feel accomplished and successful. Doing every single thing for them takes those important lessons away.
Constant care-taking and helicoptering can also give children a false sense of security. You can’t be with them for the rest of their lives, making sure everything is organized and pleasant. That’s unrealistic.
Some other things kids need to learn? Respect, understanding, tolerance, patience, and kindness. What better way to practice these qualities than with a neurodiverse parent?
Our children will learn that humans – even their parents! – are imperfectly perfect. They will most likely have empathy and patience for their neurodiverse peers and be more accepting of others’ differences.
I know it’s hard to relax and have faith that you’re doing a good job as a parent, especially when it feels like a constant struggle. It’s the hardest job in the world. But trust me, you are doing just fine. Most importantly, you never give up. That is love.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Others: Next Steps
- Blog: ADHD Parenting Without Guilt
- Read: Hey, ADHD Parents: Shoot for Progress, not Perfection
- Download: Parenting Guide for Moms & Dads with ADHD
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