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When My Daughters Need Me, I Chuck My To-Do List to the Wind

Don’t let ADHD hyperfocus get in the way of the most important things in life — our daughters and sons.

A few months ago my third oldest girl called me out of the blue. She was having trouble with her homework, and she wondered if I could help her that moment. My list of things to do is a mile long, and there is no end to the items that are top priority, yet I didn’t even blink before I told her “Yes.”

I tossed my to-do list aside, made a big spot for my daughter right in the middle of my day, drove over to her mother’s, and brought her back to my place. I didn’t regret it for a moment — not then and not afterward.

Thinking back on that day, I realize that giving into impulses rarely works out for an adult with ADHD. There was that to-do list with very important things to get finished, and I chucked it to the winds so I could do something fun. (Figuring out Common Core math isn’t as much fun as politicians would lead you to believe. I’m lucky I still have hair after the tug I gave my follicles that day.) Being spontaneous is usually a disruptive and irresponsible thing for adults to do. Given how relieved my daughter was for my help, I couldn’t have been more responsible by deciding to help her. There was a time when I wouldn’t have helped her, not because I was selfish but because I couldn’t let go of that list.

I love lists! They are my life support in a chaotic world. But lists get backlogged. That’s their largest downside. When you live in fear of forgetting to get things done, and you fall behind on the long list of what you need to accomplish before 5 p.m., you begin to grasp onto those lists like there’s no tomorrow. Under those conditions, dealing with things that pop up today can become a challenge. Oh? You need my help with your homework? Sure, honey. I’ll pencil you in right under filing my quarterly taxes, contacting my clients, and learning Esperanto.

I’ve trained myself to tell friends and family “No” if they call with distractions, but I’ve put my daughters on the exception list. They are top priority, so if they call, it is an easy matter to push the other items aside. It took training, and more than a few broken hearts, before I learned to let spontaneity rule when my daughters were concerned, but I don’t struggle with it anymore.

The inability to switch tasks may seem like OCD, but ADHD hyperfocus is really the culprit. I trained myself to let the list go by mentally telling myself three things: 1) The items are still on a list; they aren’t forgotten. 2) My girls are at the top of all lists, so if they need me, I’m doing the most important thing on my list. 3) Stop breaking their hearts.

I had to force myself to let go in the beginning, but putting the list aside these days has become an act of spontaneity. For me, my children are the sole occupants of the exception list.

You probably have your own exceptions. It’s good to have a list of people you’ll put time aside for. ADHD hyperfocus can help us catch up when we fall behind, but it can also block the outside world from our attention. This has consequences. Sometimes it’s a good thing to let your ADHD spontaneity have its way with you for a while, especially when tender hearts are involved.