Large Household and ADHD: Is There a Connection?
I am a 40 year old woman with four children. Having a big family has always appealed to me. In my mid-twenties I was way ahead of my peers, married and expecting my first child. Having a child was life-affirming, although I didn’t expect how stressful and stressful motherhood would be.
It was only after I was diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood that many aspects and difficulties of my life, my motherhood and beyond began to “click”. I suddenly had a better understanding of my thinking patterns, lifestyle choices, and most importantly, my brain.
After my diagnosis, I joined several Facebook groups for women with ADHD and noticed a pattern: a disproportionate number of women with large families like mine. Every day I read posts from exhausted mothers about the daily struggle to care for four, five, six, even seven children. These women often talked about the constant stress and fear in their daily life and scolded themselves for not getting better.
Like many mothers in these groups, I admit that I enjoy the hustle and bustle of a busy home. But what often makes me sway on the verge of being overwhelmed is my rethinking. My very fearful brain catastrophes far-fetched but very plausible situations and sometimes prevents me from enjoying time with my family. With a constant flurry of potential nightmare scenarios involving four kids, it’s pretty easy to feel drained most days.
We women with ADHD are tough on ourselves. Our self-criticism and lack of self-compassion can be cruel and debilitating. We have been conditioned to tell ourselves that we are lazy, disorganized, or useless. This criticism is exacerbated in motherhood, where expectations of keeping a house clean, getting the kids to school on time, and remembering a million appointments and commitments are unrealistic.
[Read: Overwhelmed Mom Syndrome — It’s a Real Thing]
Since I am the curious person I am, one day I visited one of the larger ADHD support groups for mothers on Facebook and asked who in the group had more than four children. I received an overwhelming response, many mothers proudly reciting their numbers. However, some of the mothers who answered my informal survey actually admitted to quitting after one or two children because they know the limits of their energetic capacities.
The appeal of large families to ADHD brains
What does my slapdash research point to? That ADHD brains can thrive from chaos and chaos. But we also crave lonely downtime to replenish the excess energy we’ve exerted throughout the day. Quite a contradiction in terms, isn’t it?
The ADHD brain’s affinity for action seems to explain why some parents with ADHD adopt MANY children. In my qualitative research (a single Facebook post on an ADHD mothers-specific page!), Not all of the children these mothers talked about were birth children – some were foster, adoptive, stepchildren, or children who just loved something needed. While we may lack self-compassion, it seems that compassion for others flows deeply through our veins.
As they pushed the big family issue further, some women admitted that their working memory had failed them and simply forgot to use contraception. Some said they had struggled socially as they were growing up and had built their own “private community” so that they would not experience the same rejection in adulthood. Many have listed their “impulsiveness” in romantic partners as well. Some of the women admitted that because of their high levels of empathy, they simply love taking care of others and being around others. There is clearly a mixed mix of answers here, but many of them are closely correlated with ADHD characteristics.
I know I have a lot of energy – until I crash. This is when I am emotionally exhausted, unable to speak or be spoken to until I’ve been bathed or taken for a walk without anyone asking me to do anything. Knowing this, I vigorously guard my mental energy. Does a noisy and busy house that is usually full of kids and their friends get in the way? Sometimes. But most of the time, when the house is calm and peaceful, I get bored and feel a little dejected without the outside stimulus of letting my dopamine flow.
I also like a tidy, clean home – another small contradiction for a mom with ADHD. (Aren’t we all destined to be messy hoarders ?!) I’ve learned that if my surroundings aren’t tidy, I can become emotionally dysregulated. Yes, little corners of the house may look messy and untidy, but if my kitchen, bedroom, and office are not clean and organized, then I just can’t relax. So having a lot of kids in the house (especially via lockdown) tested my tolerance levels to the max.
But when it’s too tidy and there’s nothing to be done, I still can’t sit still. Lazing around or just being in a place where there is nothing to do is one of the most stressful things for me and often makes me anxious. A long bath works, but only if I have something to read or watch. That’s why walking my dog is my first port of call to calm my busy brain – but it has to be a fast-paced march on purpose – dawdling kills me!
More for large families than you might think?
So what did I ultimately learn from my informal Facebook research about mothers with ADHD? They all seemed to thrive on chaos and take on life’s challenges. Many have loving, funny, and great personalities. You are also raising at least one child with ADHD. And despite the many overwhelming and exhausting facets of being the matriarch of a large family, they loved knowing that they had a purpose and that they were good at something after having been told for years that they would never achieve anything. “
Besides the need for frenzied activity, what could explain these extended families? Could it be the lingering turmoil many women with ADHD experience? Perhaps the feeling of never being finished or finished and constantly looking for the next prevents us from stepping back contentedly and recognizing all that we have achieved – large families and everyone.
Or maybe we want to undo our difficult, even traumatic, childhood by staging a repetition with our children. Maybe we lost the love department in our own childhood and we overcompensate for that with our own children. However, this pursuit of perfection can come at a price. It increases our stress and worry, which can stand in the way of our parenthood. As we all know only too well, ADHD definitely seems to be accompanied by many contradictions.
Yes, we sometimes feel like a hot pig (not ALL mothers?) And fill up with doubts, but we’re also good at solving problems in seconds, looking beyond the fine print of parenting, and delivering results in half the time it may take others. Our executive skills can fail us at times, but our creativity and humanity help to make up for this. I know I can be a fun person (when I’m not exhausted, hormonal, or stressed out). I can be immature, creative, non judgmental, curious and spontaneous with my children. I love nothing more than muddy walks in nature while making up silly songs and holding hands with the kid who still wants to.
My biggest goal
I see parenting as one of my main reasons in life and my children are hands down my greatest accomplishments. Although I have many passions and ambitions (I have a podcast about ambitious mothers), I haven’t found anything that has allowed me to feel as proud, successful, experienced and confident as I did as a mother.
But I am not alone. My husband is my partner in everything, especially with our children. We live from each other’s strengths and give each other time when and where we need it. My diagnosis of ADHD has also helped my husband understand why I’ve struggled in some areas over the years, and he’s even more understanding because of it. Fortunately, we were both on the same page with the number of kids we wanted – we both love the hectic life, noisy houses and chatty kitchen tables. We seem to be in very good company.
Large Family With ADHD: Next Steps
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Updated May 21, 2021
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