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(note: this column is from a woman to women. Written by Sarah Cheyette MD)
Motherhood. It’s not a job for the faint of heart, but when a Mom has ADHD , the level of difficulty is magnified. So this Mother’s Day, let’s all raise a glass and take a moment to appreciate these women.
Women with ADHD have challenges that begin when they become pregnant. A lot of women treated for ADHD choose to stop taking ADHD medications while pregnant. This is a good idea, as the effect of ADHD medications on a growing baby’s brain is not completely understood. But it means that while pregnant, an ADHD mom doesn’t have her usual medication to help her focus.
As if that weren’t enough, during pregnancy many moms - even those without ADHD - find that hormonal changes from estrogen and oxytocin change the way their minds work. These hormones impact the brain; among the important things they do there is help assure that moms bond strongly to their infant. Of course that's great, but they also affect the brain in other ways, and it turns out they are not so good for focus and memory . This is an added challenge for the ADHD Mom-to-be.
Once the baby is born a whole new set of challenges present themselves: First, a new mom endures continuous sleep deprivation for months - and sleep is super important for focusing. While that is happening, continued hormone changes wreak havoc with the mommy brain. And then there are the constant interruptions: There are days when your biggest accomplishment as a new mom (or indeed, until your child is about 5 years old) might be going to the bathroom to pee without getting interrupted. With these constant zaps from the environment , it’s hard to hold a coherent plan together past a few minutes. Mommy’s attention span quickly becomes toddler-sized.
Say "I love you" whenever you feel it, even if it's 743 times a day. You simply can not spoil a child with too many mushy words of affection and too many smooches. Not possible.
There is also, for some women, a feeling of lack of accomplishment. Before you become a mom, you may enjoy easy-to-see accomplishments both at work and at home. After having the baby, getting dressed and getting out of the house is HUGE. Your breasts are spurting, you can’t find the binky, "Whoops where are those spit cloths?", "For God’s sake don't forget the diapers!" And the change of clothes. And teething rings. Oh, and the baby of course! The stress of having to remember everything that baby needs, on top of everything you need yourself, can be overwhelming. So although you are accomplishing a lot by bringing a new little person into the world, some days that just does not give you the same satisfaction or instant self-esteem boost as other accomplishments at home or in a work-place.
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As kids get older, the pain point changes. There are so many activities and items to keep track of, and Mommy is often at the center of them. The kid gets invited to a birthday party? Great! Mom reads the invite, RSVP’s, marks her calendar (with reminders!), orders the present, wraps the present, gets the kid back and forth to the party, etc. Homework? If the child doesn’t do it, mommy gets the evil eye from the teacher. Moms are often at the center of arranging child-related activities: hobbies, play-dates, sports , lessons, school registration forms. Bathe the child. Feed the child. There are clothes and shoes to be bought. Not to mention housework and jobs. And "me" time - aka rejuvenation time? That gets pushed aside for more pressing concerns.
Remember that discipline is not punishment. Enforcing limits is really about teaching kids how to behave in the world and helping them to become competent, caring, and in control.
The key to motherhood is juggling - keeping all the balls moving continuously in the air at the same time. For better or worse, moms in our society still tend to have to do that more than dads. A recent study confirmed what many women have felt for a long time: moms shoulder more of the household responsibilities than dads. If one of those balls you are juggling gets dropped, moms tend to take it to heart and blame themselves for it. It’s not that men don’t do anything - they tend to work longer hours outside the home - but women tend to do the boring quotidian tasks that can be so important to the children in the family. (Do you know where that field trip slip is? Have you arranged the mandatory vaccines before seventh grade?) At its worst, it can feel like death by a thousand paper cuts.
The saying “A woman’s work is never done” is true, and even in the most socially progressive families the home and children often remain a bit more in mom's domain than dad's. One issue relevant to moms with ADHD is that work around the home is less structured than in some other places - and lack of structure is particularly difficult for an ADHDer. When you go into an office, there are other people around working, so you work. There is a schedule that people follow, so you follow it. There are clear expectations and performance metrics. These kinds of structures reinforce focus. But at home, none of these structural reinforcers exist. Every task calls out for your immediate attention, all at once. There is a chorus of a thousand "do me first!" tasks.
Related: The Real Joys of Being a Mom
And everything is compounded if mom also has an ADHD child. Double the pleasure, double the fun - but if the ADHD is completely unmanaged, then there's at least two people in the family with a little extra chaos to multiply together. That can be difficult for family dynamics. Non-ADHD members may not understand what's going on.
What can you do, as an ADHD mom, to help yourself?
M= Me time. Get some “me time”--time with friends, time to exercise, time where you won’t be interrupted. It does not have to be for hours on end and it does not have to be daily, but make it yours.
O= Organization. Trying to memorize all your appointments and kids’ activities and other things to do is the hard way to do it. Find ways to organize and keep track of your schedule (Google Calendar is your friend ) .
It means that we, as parents, have fewer hours in the day available to us because of our investment of time into our careers and commuting, sometimes out of a desire to have a professional identity and sometimes out of necessity for two incomes, but yet we are still spending the same amount of time tending to our children’s extra-curricular activities, homework, and social life.
M=Make your own priorities. You have to choose what is important to you. If folding laundry is not important to you, that’s ok. Let somebody else take care of it.
M= Magazines. Throw out the magazines that are pictures full of Instagram-worthy moments. Life’s only perfect with stylists and professional photographers.
Y= You, not your kid. There is a difference. Not everything that goes wrong with your child is your fault. Impart a sense of responsibility to your child. That’s good for everybody. Assume your child is more responsible than you think he is. Give him not only a chance, but the firm expectation that he will step up.
ADHD helps make many moms fun, creative, inventive, and empathetic. It's not all bad, in fact a lot of it is really really great! - but it can be a little extra challenging. So for all the ADHD moms out there, today we salute you!
Repeat: I am not a short-order cook. "It's a child's job to learn to eat what the parents eat," says Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian and the author of Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family. Instead of the all-or-nothing scenario, offer a variety of foods at mealtime: the main course, plus rice or pasta, a fruit or vegetable, and milk. This way, your child can eat just the pasta and the peas and get protein from the milk. "What a child eats over the course of a day or a week is more important than a balanced meal at one sitting," says Stephen Daniels, the chairman of the department of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, in Aurora.