I was 41 years old when my ADHD diagnosis was handed to me in an eight-page packet full of psychology terms that I didn’t really understand at the time. The evaluation process took three days, yet those eight pages clearly explained my 41 years of struggles with this disorder.
When I was diagnosed, my two daughters were ages 6 and 9. My youngest had been diagnosed with ADHD (and various special needs) by the age of 4, and both girls were very, very hyperactive. My memories from those days of raising such active children weren’t always positive. Sure, lots of young children are active, but mine were far beyond the norm of your typical high-energy child, particularly my youngest.
Yet I saw other mothers manage with three, four, or more kids — without batting an eyelash. If one child was climbing the school fence, the mom could get that under control and keep an eye on her other kids, all while gleefully chatting with friends or walking two dogs. And smiling, no less.
Why couldn’t I manage my kids that easily? Why did I find myself repeating my bedtime mantra: What is wrong with me? Why can’t I be a better mother?
Learning about my and my child’s ADHD
When my youngest was diagnosed with ADHD, I read everything I could about managing a challenging child. I utilized what I’d learned a lot. While little was written on adults with ADHD, gradually, the literature caught up with me and I devoured every book and article I could get my hands on. But there was still nothing describing the struggles moms (and dads) faced when managing their ADHD as well as their child’s. I had to figure much of it out on my own.
One thing I learned early on was that my ADHD was completely different from my daughter’s. She had the hyperactive/impulsive type of symptoms, while mine were more related to inattentiveness. In essence, we were like a turtle and a hare racing through life. Where my kiddo needed to jump, stomp, scream, and start her day at 5 a.m. (and not end her day until midnight), I needed quiet. I needed more than quiet — I needed dead quiet, chaos-free days.
My vision of cuddling in bed with easy-going children every night was simply a fantasy. I learned that if I wanted to connect with my children, I had to play their game. That meant lots of time outdoors on giant plastic play structures. Thankfully, I was too big to slide down into the kiddie pool in the backyard, but I could read while they romped. Still, my heart ached as I realized our temperaments didn’t match. Keeping up with my kids was exhausting.
The silver lining
There was a benefit to my ADHD, though. We might have had some different symptoms of ADHD, but we also shared many in common. For example, my youngest and I were (and continue to be) forgetful. Her short-term memory means she’ll put down an object and, within 10 seconds, will forget where she placed it. I understood that.
She was impatient, something I understood, too. She was also disorganized. Her room looked like a mess (it still does). I understood that as well — you should see my desk.
Whereas other parents might’ve screamed, “Go clean your room!” I knew from personal experience that this strategy simply doesn’t work. So I used systems for her that worked for me: visual cues, like bulletin boards with checklists in her room and bathroom to remind her of her chores. In her case, each chore was broken down into small, doable steps.
This is where having ADHD worked for me as a mom parenting a child with ADHD. But it didn’t mean it was all a bed of roses. The thorns were there as well!
When my youngest was truly unable to sit through a family dinner (I timed her: 10 seconds was about as long as she could manage being in her chair), my stomach suffered. My nerves frayed. Family time at the table was not at all calm. But I kept trying, knowing how important it was to have dinner as a family. My daughter’s therapist finally suggested we let her eat in another room in front of the TV, explaining it would make everyone happier.
He was right. But I had to let go of the idealized vision of that Norman Rockwell painting.
As my kids grew, so did my understanding of how to parent with multiple family members with ADHD. It wasn’t always easy, that’s for sure, but it made for lots of funny moments, too. And it made us all sensitive to people living with personal challenges and differences.
I’d like to think that because of our unique family, my kids (now in their early 30s) are sensitive to others because they grew up with challenges — their own and their mom’s. We all survived — and thrived.
ADHD-US-NP-00009 MAY 2018