A Message to Mothers with ADHD
Do you remember the joy you felt as a child on the last day of school before the summer vacation? Excitement, relief and a sense of achievement? It would be nice to feel so carefree again, wouldn’t it? But all parents, especially mothers with ADHD, know that “summer vacation” isn’t really a vacation for everyone, especially if you have ADHD! How do you deal with summer stressors with ADHD?
For adults with ADHD, transitioning into a new season or life can be complicated and often scary. Difficulty planning, organizing, focusing, staying alert, and remembering events and details add a level of difficulty that others may not fully understand.
When mothers have ADHD
Mothers with ADHD face more obstacles than their neurotypical peers. For example, if a mother with ADHD relies on external structures to stimulate her weakened working memory and time management, even the smallest changes in routine can throw her off course for a whole week.
Having children more time at home can create more clutter and disorganization, and put a strain on the already strained organizational system of the ADHD brain. It increases the feeling of chaos that makes daily life seem like “too much”.
And then there are the holidays – usually well worth planning, but a stressor in and of themselves.
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Simple tasks turn into enormous challenges
The seemingly simple task of packing for vacation, for example, can feel like a really overwhelming summer stress for a mother with ADHD. Nobody likes to pack, and most of them wait until the last minute to pack everything up. But for a mother with ADHD, packing can be the hardest part of a trip.
Packing for vacation requires:
- Sequencing – “Make a list, find suitcases, look for clothes, put together toiletries, don’t forget your underwear and medication!”
- Time management and awareness – “Hurry up! We’re leaving in an hour! Nothing is packed! “
- Sticking to the task – “How did I end up in the basement? What did I come here for again? What did I just do? “
- Remembering to remember (prospective memory) – “Don’t forget to put your toothbrush on the pile in the morning!”
- Organizational skills – “Do I roll or stack the T-shirts?”
- Memory for details – “Did you say the event was casual on business?” “What would I have wished I had taken with me the last time?”
- Special Needs Consideration – “Have I cut the labels off Joey’s new shirts?” “Do I have the white noise machine ready?”
- Plan Ahead – “Order and collect your medication so you don’t run out during the trip, then make sure it is packaged in a safe place.”
So you can see that something that is supposed to be wonderful can also be stressful and exhausting, especially for a brain already struggling with attention, organization, focus, memory, arriving, persevering, time management and braking! (Phew! That feels overwhelming to just write it!)
A lack of structure can lead to … Fault?
The lack of structure in summertime – family reunions, travel, preparing the kids for camp – means less stability, which can make a woman with ADHD feel like the ground is shaking beneath her. While she may consider asking for assistance or turning down invitations to ease the burden, guilt and shame often stand in the way. At long last:
Every week the neighbors invite family and friends to have a barbecue in their perfectly manicured garden and the hedge grass. My work colleagues always seem tanned and relaxed when they return from their exotic vacation, showing pictures taken from the most flattering angle – with just the right amount of light! Why can’t I just get it together ?!
Sound familiar? It’s hard not to compare, to feel judged “less than” or “not enough” or “too much”. When the burdens pile up, the excessive demands also grow.
So lighten the load
Here are some tips to make this summer less stressful and fun:
- Challenge the Old Bond – Repeatedly playing inside your head saying that it is not okay to do things differently
- Face the fear and do it anyway – ask for help, say no, make your needs known
- Take your time and space – Reduce your list of tasks, projects, and expectations. Assume that everything will take you twice as long as you are willing to admit. Build time and space for the transition.
- Clarify responsibilities – who is responsible for what? Don’t assume that everyone is on the same page. Have a real conversation with partners and children about household chores.
- Say what you mean – If you’re not sure, say you will think about it. If you want to say no, say no. If you want to say yes, say yes. Speak when you need help or feel let down, and do so in a caring and gentle way.
- Expect ADHD Challenges and Barriers – Be gentle with yourself when they do.
- Play – Take the time to play! It’s a basic human need. Dancing, jumping, playing outside, going for a walk, singing, watching a comedy show, reading a book for fun, playing games with friends or family, taking an improvisation or painting class. Just play. And laugh. And move.
- Focus on the important things – (hint: they are often small and intangible!)
Be clear about what is really important
First and foremost, think about what really matters. Think about the images you want your kids to have in mind as they think back to the summer they grew up with you.
Sari recalls: “Sitting on the porch on warm evenings sipping lemonade with my mother, playing twenty questions on road trips and singing to our favorite songs together, and how warm it is to hold Mommy’s hand while she rings. Around-the-Rosie is playing. It was the sticky sweetness of cotton candy at the fair that was important to me. It was chaotic and full of laughter. “
Says Michelle, “What was most important was the smell of fresh tomatoes picked from the vine we planted in our yard, eaten sweet, melting ice cream cones on our evening walks, and off a worn pier into the breathtakingly cold waves of Lake Michigan. It was always about laughter, comfort, warm nights and little special moments that nobody else could give me. “
On the whole, would your children prefer to think back to a well-planned and perfectly organized summer program in which nothing goes wrong? On vacation without rest and laughter and messy silliness?
Or do you want them to remember summers full of playfulness and laughter?
Think about what makes your family happy and do more of it. ADHD will be there and summer stressors are sure to happen, but that’s only part of your story.
And don’t forget the strengths that mothers with ADHD bring with them! You can be warm, fun, sunny, gentle, changeable, creative, and messy in a way that teaches kids that it’s okay not to be perfect … just like summer itself.
Embrace the missteps in the trail while outside and dance in the sun or rain puddles. Immerse yourself in everything!