When you're a parent with ADHD

Sure, this mom is a ton of fun. But, as she explains, trying to parent with ADHD is no walk in the park.

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Photo: iStockphoto

Other moms always seem to have basic systems for keeping life on track. They bring a list to the store, pay their bills on time, plan weekend activities, return library books.

Not me. I’m the mom who forgets everything — snacks, backpacks, lunch boxes, snow pants (only once, but it was so embarrassing), field trip forms. I’ve lost my kids’ birth certificates twice. A low point: I forgot to check that our kids were giving water to their hamster for two days, and she died.

I was diagnosed with ADHD at age 38. I had symptoms all my life — I was called “scatterbrained” and a “daydreamer” — but basically held things together. It wasn’t until I became a stay-at-home mother of three (that third child was the tipping point) that I started to get really bogged down by my lack of organizational skills.

Read more: What does ADHD really feel like? >

Stuff like household maintenance — sorting laundry, putting away toys, planning meals — are important things that I find tedious. Without the adrenaline rush of extreme interest or an immediate deadline, I get bored and stall out, leaving my house in a state of confusion.

I am, however, very interested in my kids. I adore being with them. This is the part of motherhood I’m good at — I’m a fun mom. We play games. I tap into my “hyperfocus” (a common ADHD trait) to help create incredible school projects. We spend hours at the park running, climbing and playing. (Until I realize I’ve forgotten to bring snacks.)

My kids are in school now, and I’m discovering ways to help myself as I teach them skills I’ve never had. I talk to their teachers and have learned ways to help them keep their clothes, shoes and desks organized. We’ve established routines of putting their bags and coats away. I’ve created charts for my kids — and now use charts to keep myself on track with my own goals. I understand acutely how it feels for them to get to school and realize they’ve forgotten their gym shoes, so I’m doing my best to prevent those minor catastrophes from dictating their days.

Being a mom with ADHD is chaotic, humiliating, also funny — but that’s usually only in hindsight. Most of the time, it’s just frustrating. You live in the moment — not in a Zen way, in a purgatory way. You may be bright and ambitious, but long-term goals turn into lost opportunities as you constantly get sidetracked from the daily work of getting there. It’s like you’re a kid yourself, and it can ruin your confidence if you let it.

But I’m not letting it. Awareness of the condition has helped me figure out ways to manage it. In my experience, medication to help with focus can play a role, but it doesn’t solve everything. As the experts say, “Pills don’t build skills.” It’s only been by forming strict systems to overcome my struggles with ADHD that I have finally started learning how to live like a grown-up.

A version of this article appeared in our September 2013 issue with the headline, “Inside ADHD: When you’re a parent with ADHD,” pp.110-13.

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