I never felt good enough as a mother, not until recently that is, now that both my sons are also adults and are sorting out their own life and relationship challenges, using many of the skills and understanding we worked on together.
I totally love my sons and did from the moment they were born, but I felt deeply uncomfortable with the social expectations of the role of mother. All mothers face all of the unspoken expectations, feelings of inadequacy, and daily stresses of the job, but when you have ADHD it is doubled on the spot.
My way through life has always been to live it on my own terms, to be somewhat outside the flock as it were, non conformist, and just plain different to others, for better of for worse. (It often felt the latter to be honest). Some people like me a lot and others really don't. I am ike marmite and I am fine with that.
Motherhood is challenging for everyone.
But when you have any variation of ADHD it can feel like a living struggle verging on a nightmare. It needs planning skills, organisational skills, excellent memory and attention skills, a sense of time and timings, a sense of routine and order, sets of boundaries, and often a lot of menial tasks which are just plain boring. If you just look at that list and if you know anything about any form of ADHD you will recognise immediately that all these are at best struggle for those of us with ADHD and often a complete anathema.
It is only nowadays when I can talk things through with both my sons in a very open and loving way that I can see how good a mum I really was too. These are my successes
My two never doubted how much I loved them for one thing. Having grown up knowing I was not loved, that to me is a huge gift I have given then both.
That I am always there for them if they really need me but please learn to fend for yourselves. Having ADHD makes you less likely to learn independence skills easily, since they require organisational skills (see above ). I had to learn them too. I was / is hard.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. When you have ADHD you may not even notice the small stuff but if you do, or if others around you do and they tut about it, you learn that it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, and you can just roll with the eye-rolling you get from others, that is their baggage after all.
ADHD often means some level of Chaos, at least internally / mentally, and learning to live with the unplanned and unexpected leaves you far more adaptable and resilient to what life throws at you as you get older. No one in our house ever really knew what to expect next and that could be deeply stressful but it could also be fun.
In spite of everything, and with me working full time, they did always have home cooked food on the table — rarely convenience food or takeaways — you need no additives when you have ADHD, and like me they both now have good constitutions.
In spite of everything they did always have enough clean clothes to look presentable, if they chose to wear them that is. Laundry is one of my very first mindfulness exercises which was ultimately how I got on top of and learned to enjoy my life and my ADHD too.
Patience came in bucket loads for them both. I knew they were doing their best even if they fought me or drove me nuts along the way, because I knew I had always done my very best in spite of the criticisms I received daily about all that I got wrong. So yes I got mad at them and I was frustrated with them in the moment, but I always was able to bring it down and start again with patience, again a key mindfulness skill.
Variety, activity, anything but ennui. Boredom is a killer for ADHD and it was for us all, but there was always something to do for all our sakes, even it is was watch a film together and cuddle on the sofa at same time. Thoe are happy times we all still remember together, or when I read stories to them both.
Impatience, as in waiting for things is also a killer for ADHD so finding lots of distractions in between while waiting was a skillset I excelled in, for myself if I could and also for them both.
And this is the big but, motherhood was the greatest challenge and struggle of my life, and is for any parent with ADHD.
The number one killer for me was the boredom. Playing endlessly with little children is boring. In short bursts it is wonderful and charming and great fun, but all day every day it is deeply and mind numbingly repetitive. If I had not also worked, eithr part time or full time, I think it would have driven me deeply into depression. So I found a job that required me to do something different every day with different people, and where I could make it fun too. I used to be a teacher of post 16 students, which I loved until the accountants started to dominate the profession with their tick box approach to life. So I had to leave that eventually too. But for the years my sons were at school, it was the perfect job for a mum, especially once I was single again. And we just muddled through it all.
Housework is an anathema to women with ADHD. It is the worst, unless for me I can hit it just at the moment when my brain is in a mindful meditative zone ,when the repetitive nature of house work kicks into place and becomes a relaxing activity instead — about once a month if I am lucky, often far less, but it does happen and on these days I am a super power house of cleaning and organising. Getting my sons to clean up their own room was on the outside of impossible. Just like me they didn’t know where to start and would walk in circles looking down on their mess feeling utterly overwhelmed by it all. But if I helped them, if we worked together then I could get them to help me clear it up — sometimes.
I am still far better if someone is working with me. My now husband and soulmate will often start me off and then leave me to it because he understand that it helps me to get going, then I can get myself into the zone of mindful absorption with the task at hand — often called hyper-focussing, where nothing else exists except you and the job you are doing until it is complete. I have always harnessed this other side of attention deficits to achieve anything, including writing several full-length books. As long as I can get into the hyper focus zone I can do anything, and of course mindfulness again has worked with that amazingly well to make it more controllable and possible. Both my sons have this for certain things in their lives too, and use it to their advantages.
As a mum I tried hard to look great as well, to be that yummy mummy ideal that is put upon us all as mothers and women generally., but to be honest I am not really interested in appearance, though I do seem to have an innate clothes sense, especially with colour. I have to coordinate or it sends my brain into meltdown. Black works well for me, black coordinates with black very easily and requires little thought. Or all blue, or all purple, etc., so I gave up beauty, makeup, lingerie and I really do hate most perfume — too artificial, often makes me eitehr retch or sneeze.
But as a younger mother I felt inadequate, exhausted, depressed at times, overwhelmed, bored crazy, limited, frustrated. Even now it is hard for me to admit to these feelings, yet my sons are both fast approaching their 40’s. So add shame and guilt into that mix for feelings those very things. Mum’s are not supposed to feel bored or frustrated or limited by their children. They are supposed to be fulfilled by them. And I was on some levels but not all. The marriage I was in at the time took up none of the slack for me and I eventually felt I would go mad, end up in a mental hospital or start self -harming just for the entertainment of it, and to say ‘something here is seriously wrong for me but I don’t know how to say it, I am afraid to say it.’
And then there is the competition with other families to have the best kids, the best food, clothes, holidays, school marks, the most elaborate home made birthday cakes. The list is endless. Again I did my best on all fronts but my heart sank with it all and nowadays I almost refuse to take part in anything that could be remotely competitive, even having friends round for a meal
Being a single mum at least gave me some more freedom to ruin my own life or to make it as I wanted too. I did both of course. At least I felt like that gave me some shielding and leeway from the patronising comments of ‘ oh she is a single mum what can you expect’. And I was able to ignore most of them because I was at work anyway.
I think what took the hardest toll for me was my lack of self-worth, instilled into me previously by my parents, it was brought to the fore completely by parenting two unruly boys who had not yet been diagnosed with dyslexia or ADHD, and had been labelled bad boys with a bad single mother. My eldest son was traumatised also, by so many experiences, not least at school, that he decided if he was going to be told he was a bad boy then he might as well excel at that. And he did. But his kind heart did also mean that he ran a protection from bullying racket in the school too. All the kids who got bullied could hang around in his proximity and they would not get touched, in return for cigarettes of course though. He was learning entrepreneurial skills of the worst kind.
I had also felt the outsider at school , always being told I was lazy, a poor student, ultimately not worth bothering with. That carried on into motherhood too. No one told me it was my brain wiring (and not me) that made me different, not lazy or dumb or worthless. That all my potential would need to be demonstrated in different ways. I was a typical restless child but also a deep daydreamer, with such a rich imagination that no-one wanted to embrace. I wasn’t diagnosed until my fifties and it was as if the burden of decades fell from my shoulders. My best had been good enough after all and it wasn't my fault that I couldn't do stuff. I really wasn't lazy either, I was exhausted by the effort I put in to try and meets people's expectations of me
They get in everywhere don’t they, and thus do also with ADHD in women — apparently. The highs and lows of hormones often make the struggle with ADHD emotional dimensions even harder to cope with, and no one takes that into consideration, they just write you off as super hormonal, and dismiss your struggle.
And so many people have told me they don’t believe in ADHD and I am making excuses. Well really, aren’t you the expert knowledgeable all-knowing genius of the world then. Forgive me but I consider you ignorant, arrogant and unkind, so what is your ‘excuse’ for that then. But the harder I struggled the more people just assumed I was making it up. They never recognised the burnout and struggle I went through but just looked down on me as somehow being ‘less than’. In the end you accept the judgments just so you can fit in and have some sort of social life, and some people do seem to genuinely like you, until they meet your ADHD and then they tend to withdraw because there is ‘something not quite right with you and your kids, not sure we want to mix with that thanks’ and keep you at arms length. So in the end you are grateful for crumbs and get hardened to it.
Asking for help
This is very hard too. And on the few occasions I did I regretted it as it just made me feel even more exposed and useless. Some fellow mums around did engage with me but it never worked and I will never know if that was my self confidence lows or their withdrawals that undermined those possibilities. Family help was pretty much a no no too. My mother, about whom I have written, had narcissistic personality disorder and my sons just hated her, but sometimes I had to ask her to pick them up from school, and she did because she wanted to find ammunition against me, which she found in spades full. So as they got older she was less and less welcomed, and sometimes they went out of the back door as soon as they saw her coming, or hid in the attic rooms where they would be more quiet that at any other time ever. But that left me with the brunt of her visit to fend off.
Rules and boundaries
Kids with ADHD tend not to follow rules because they simply don’t remember them in the moment of distraction and caught attention. However much I tried to make our life democratic as the complete opposite of the harsh autocracy of my own childhood, the more they took it as an opportunity to argue back at me, and the more exhausted I became. I dug ever deeper to find the reserves just to keep going, and mostly they were there. Only once or twice I completely went empty and had to just stop, though they couldn’t stop their needs.
However sometimes dropping the rules meant we had the kind of fun that other families just would not have. I still remember being splashed by my boys when they were in the bath and when asked they would not stop. So to prevent the water going through the ceiling into the kitchen below- I got into the bath fully dressed and sat between them. Another time they spilled some peas and in the end we just had a pea flicking contest across the table, who could fire the most peas onto the other plates. We laughed a lot, some food got eaten and it took me 5 minutes to sweep up the debris- well worth the investment I think.
As none of us were diagnosed until adulthood, we three just muddled through as best we could and I think it was the chaos and love we shared that helped us all make it, in the end. But finding mindfulness was really the gem for me, and I have been able to be a much better and more confident and supportive mother since then.
I have absolutely no regrets about being a mother. It was the hardest thing I ever did, and from that I found reserves I never would have thought possible of myself. I also found my limits too. And I found that unconditional love does exist, and I have it in bucket loads for my sons. Finally I learned that being a ‘different’ kind of family can be great fun, when you drop the expectations from others, the social rules that don’t apply to you anyway, the internalised shame of ‘being different, weird, wacky.’ Those life lessons were worth it all, but what a journey it was.
I have co-written a book about living with and loving ADHD and neurodiversity with my husband, who does not have ADHD, and who took all three of us on as a family. We have never looked back either.