The mom that has it “all together” is an idea pitched to us from all sides. That picture most moms have in their heads of what the “perfect mom” is a well dressed lady, works inside and outside the home, super organized, has kids who are clean and sitting at the table eating a full home-cooked breakfast, ready for the bus, her house is clean, laundry done, and makes time for exercise and her family always. Even though this mom doesn’t actually exist, it’s a concept we have all been striving for and told we should emulate.
This expectation can be damaging to any mom, but especially to those moms with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Being a mom with ADHD often means struggling to check the boxes. Today I would like to talk about what it might be like for moms with ADHD and how they can find healthy ways to manage and celebrate their unique parenting abilities.
Is ADHD common among women
Women are less likely than men to be diagnosed with ADHD. It is estimated that 3.2 percent of women are diagnosed in contrast to men at 5.4 percent.
Notice, this data identified diagnosed cases. It is not a true representation of the amount of women who actually have ADHD.
There are reasons for this. One reason is that ADHD can present differently in women.
Also, the social expectations for how women should operate in society and at home with their families makes their behavior mask their symptoms in different ways than men and boys. Therefore, ADHD in women is less obvious and less likely to be identified.
Many mothers I have talked to describe recognizing ADHD symptoms in their lives yet admit to not being formally diagnosed. The reasons given included: medical costs, wanting to “power through” and manage on their own, not wanting to be “labeled”, and the fear of medication side effects.
How to manage ADHD as a mother
Whether formally diagnosed or not, moms with ADHD have extra challenges. The effects of ADHD can range from mild to absolutely debilitating.
What is it like to be a mom with ADHD
To truly understand what it is like to be a mom with ADHD, we need to understand the symptoms and explore the options for treatment.
The symptoms of ADHD are inattentiveness and hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Women are more likely to have internalized symptoms that can contribute to mental health issues.
Women are more likely than men to internalize and develop coping mechanisms that hide their symptoms. Many women are diagnosed with depression and anxiety, but the doctor may miss the root cause of their struggles being ADHD.
This leaves those women with adhd on their own for managing their symptoms. They may feel they are a bad mom. Unfortunately, left undiagnosed ADHD can lead to untreated mental health problems as well.
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Women with ADHD can have:
- low self esteem,
- easily overwhelmed
Fatigue from a constant stressful condition can leave women with ADHD with worry and they may be reluctant to put in the effort necessary to live their lives fully. Responding to our children when not completely focussed,out of agitation, or stress can impact our relationship with them.
ADHD can make it difficult to manage important tasks like paying bills, organization, laundry, child care, work load, relationships, and other responsibilities. An inability to focus can make important decisions and responsibilities completely overwhelming.
Being easily distracted can make it even more difficult to raise children. Getting to school on time, packing lunches, teaching skills, and spending time together can all be affected.
The pressure to maintain the “status quo” is excruciating. It can leave a parent feeling like a failure.
When to consider getting a diagnosis
If you find yourself in need of support, struggling to overcome challenges, or have mood disorders it may be time to consider going to your doctor and get diagnosed with ADHD. Those moms who have dealt with ADHD complications on their own find being finally diagnosed brings tremendous relief and opens the door to the right support.
Another aspect to consider is if your child has ADHD. Often ADHD runs in families . Many adults with ADHD have children who have been diagnosed as well.
Parenting a child with ADHD while managing your own ADHD will require extra effort. Most mothers want the best for their children, sometimes treatment for adult ADHD can be life changing for the adults and the children.
How would treatment change family life?
When considering diagnosis, think about how access to treatment could help. A diagnosis is required for some services. Many women with ADHD receive treatment and support in the form of medication, books, support groups, coaching, therapy, or a combination. It can be life saving.
Treatment can lead to the ability to:
- increase focus,
- boost organization,
- experience less stress on you and your child
- make tasks easier and take less time
- build deeper relationships with your children, husband, wife, other family, and friends
- improve mental health
Most people, no matter their age, go through periods of disorder. Environment matters. During the coronavirus pandemic, people with ADHD saw improvement in their coping as some of the usual demands were lifted. However, others found it more difficult as their lack of focus, organizational skills, hyperactivity, anxiety and coping skills made being at home all the time that much harder.
Getting professional help can make managing adult ADHD symptoms easier or even alleviate them completely. ADHD moms who have less depression and anxiety alone can change the course of their life and the environment in which they raise their kids. Being upfront and honest about the hardships, and being an example to our kids on how to cope can break generational cycles for years to come.
Time with my kids
One parent I spoke with shared that their greatest fear and challenge when parenting with ADHD was missing out on time with their kids. In a world full of distractions and disorder being present is difficult for anyone, ADHD can take that difficulty to a whole new level.
Can I be a good mom and have ADHD?
Part of the most grievous unrealistic expectations society places on parenting is the ideal of what it means to be a good mom. I believe that good parenting is simply loving and taking care of your children to the best of your ability. There are no perfect parents.
Parenting hacks for ADHD
Thinking outside the box is a common trait for the neurodivergent. ADHD often requires this skill. To be successful, parents can look to what works for them and their families instead of what society expects. This can look like:
- designing routines instead of schedules
- setting visual timers
- hiring a nanny
- sharing responsibilities with other parents (utilizing strengths)
- creating time pockets instead of deadlines
- enlisting our children or parter’s help
- utilizing therapy such as Occupational therapy
- implementing a multi-task approach to mundane chores (example: clean up dance parties)
- taking the time to self-regulate
- meeting sensory needs
- saying “No” when saying “yes” will cause problems later
All of these things can look different in individual households. There is no one-size-fits-all parenting style. A little bit of preparation ahead of time can set up systems in place to help promote consistency.
Enlisting the help of others can ease the struggle. Instead of striving for perfection, building on your strengths and the strength of others highlights the reality that we all can help each other. All tasks can be more fun with a little cooperation.
Kids whose parents have ADHD may have a mom who struggles to stay focused, forgets to turn in a school form, may be chronically disorganized, but often that same mom is wonderfully spontaneous, excellent at positive parenting, brings the favorite fast food lunch to school last minute, loves fast paced video games, and might be relaxed in settings other parents may be find uncomfortable. These can all be strengths of parents with ADHD.
Parents know their kids, their house, and their needs best. We don’t have to fit the mold, and we don’t have to break it either if we don’t want to. Bending the “rules” or just being flexible and prioritizing consistency can go a long way.
If you are a mother with ADHD, please know you are not alone. You are doing a great job! Being a parent is not an easy task, reaching out for help. Understand your strengths and celebrate them. Your kids don’t need you to be perfect, they just need you to be you and keep loving them.
Quinn, P. O., & Madhoo, M. (2014). A review of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in women and girls: uncovering this hidden diagnosis. The primary care companion for CNS disorders, 16(3), PCC.13r01596. https://doi.org/10.4088/PCC.13r01596