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“When Your Child Is a Trigger: Reliving My Own Childhood with Undiagnosed ADHD”

“My daughter triggers me not because of who she is, but because of how the world treats those of us with ADHD. Most days, I’m able to drown out all the trauma and worry with love.”

Teenage girl and young woman walking in the park
Teenage girl and young woman walking in the park

When I found out, at age 23, that I was going to be a parent, I sat in the doctor’s office, wide-eyed and overcome with shock and terror. My childhood had been hellish, and I feared that I didn’t have the tools to raise a child with the calmness, consistency, and love I craved. So I went to counseling. I went to parenting classes. I read books on attachment parenting. I was determined to do the exact opposite of what my parents did so that my children would not end up damaged.

I gave birth to a rambunctious son who turned out to be gifted, with challenges. Two years later, I gave birth to my daughter, who has ADHD, like me. My son is so much like his father, even strangers point it out. But my daughter is my mini-me.

I love my children, and I know that my daughter is simply being herself when she talks a lot, forgets what I’ve asked her to do, or uses the furniture as gymnastics equipment.

So why does my heart still race sometimes when she is in the room? Why does her bouncing, chatting, and fidgeting trigger me?

It’s trauma.

[Get This Free Resource: A Parenting Guide for ADHD Caregivers]

Reliving a Painful Childhood with Undiagnosed ADHD

Watching my daughter grow up and remembering what it was like to be her age chills me to my core. My ADHD was completely ignored when I was a child. Instead, I was labeled as unruly and willfully defiant. All my ADHD traits were seen as character flaws instead of potential strengths. From teachers to parents to classmates, no one accepted me for me. I was always expected to change.

As a tween, I scrawled passionately in my journal about my plans for motherhood. How I would never treat my children the way I was treated. How I would protect them, and make sure that they had good lives and were happy.

So when my daughter jumps on the couch, I think not of the sagging cushions and the poor wooden frame, but of myself being punished and yelled at for those behaviors. I also remember the whys: Why can’t I just sit still? Why am I so loud when everyone else is quiet? Why are my clothes so wrinkled? Why can’t I be normal and stop embarrassing the family?

I had a hard time making friends at school because of my undiagnosed ADHD. I couldn’t sit still, stay quiet, or control my very big emotions. I couldn’t follow the rules in any sport, so I was picked last for every team. I struggled with certain subjects, so I was not viewed as very bright. I could write, though, and that was something.

[Read: Why ADHD in Women is Routinely Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Treated Inadequately]

That’s why it’s a punch to the gut when my daughter comes home from school and tells me that people have picked on her. I am devastated for her, and for the little girl with ADHD inside me. I am re-traumatized.

Drowning Out Trauma with Love

I have a habit of saying that my daughter is exactly like me. But I know she isn’t; she’s her own person, thank goodness. Still, she faces many of the struggles that I faced — and continue to face. But I promise a different, better childhood for her.

I’m making bold decisions in support of my children’s happiness. When my kids continued to be bullied by their classmates, and both started to show difficulty learning and conforming to a traditional school environment, I made the decision to homeschool them.

I try not to sweat the small stuff. I frown but say nothing when my daughter’s arms are covered with dye from making endless batches of slime. When she talks and talks and talks, I try to listen and listen and listen.

When I ask her to do something and she forgets for the sixth time, I remind myself it’s not her fault. I also try to calm the anxious little girl inside me.

My daughter triggers me not because of who she is, but because of how the world treats those of us with ADHD. Most days, I’m able to drown out all the trauma and worry with love. I hope it is enough.

Unresolved Trauma and Parenting: Next Steps


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