The Struggle Is Real When You Are A Mom With ADHD

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Devonyu / iStock

“I’m sorry,” I apologize to my teenage babysitter. It’s 2:45, and I agreed to pick him up at 3:00. He waves me off. “Don’t worry about it,” he says.

“No,” I explain. “I have ADHD. I have a choice: I can either be late for something and have to scramble, or I can overcompensate and show up early. So I overcompensate. I was going to be 25 minutes early, but I drove around for a while.”

He laughs. I laugh. My sons, in the back, roll their eyes. They know I’m not kidding. We sometimes show up a half-hour early for homeschool co-op. I plop them in the car and make it halfway down the road before I do the math, realize what time we’ll arrive, and add a long, long detour to our trip. We sing along to The Beatles. It isn’t bad, really. It’s just one more time-waster.

And as an ADHD mom, my life is full of wasted time, of things undone, of possessions left and lost. Even with my medication, I sometimes have a hard time with the basic functions of motherhood, with the things everyone else takes for granted.

Take, for example, my laundry. My hampers stand empty. Instead, my kitchen overflows with baskets of clean clothes. I have to take it out, sort it, and carry it to the room it belongs in (I long ago gave up folding it into drawers and just leave it in person-specific baskets). One basket would take 10 minutes, tops. But I have 12 loads waiting for me in my kitchen. This calls for not a laundry chore, but a laundry event. I don’t want to do it, I can’t find the time to do it, and by the end of the day, I’m too damn tired to do it. So there it sits, surrounding my kitchen table, taunting me.

My husband also has ADHD. He treats the dishes much the same way. We politely ask guests to just stay out of our kitchen.

My oldest son has ADHD too. This means that while I can’t keep track of his possessions, neither can he. His backpack is constantly left at co-op, at the church after class, at brunch after that. We’re always driving over to our friends’ houses, or they to ours, to deliver or retrieve that tattered Star Wars backpack. Luckily, I’m so addicted to my phone (another ADHD trait), I tend not to leave it anywhere. But we leave toys at the playground. We forget shoes and socks. I leave lunch at home and have to sub with fast food. Something is always lost or forgotten. This is no big deal when it’s artwork. It’s scary when it’s an EpiPen.

Ritual is important to us. I have to take my medication first thing in the morning, or I forget. Then I have to drink coffee for an hour. When we start school, we must do things in a prescribed order: reading, math, social studies, writing, science. Maybe throw some catechism in there first. Lunch happens at noon. We always go through Target the same way, or we’ll forget something on the list. Targets set up differently than our own are neither acceptable nor patronized.

Then there’s the hyperfocus. This is what allows me to write an essay while my children jump on our brand-new couches for 15 minutes, and only look up when someone wails. I am, of course, very dimly aware of their couch-diving. It just doesn’t register in the same way as a crying child. You cannot speak to my son during Ninjago. He simply won’t hear you. You have to touch him to get him to listen.

Today, both he and I hyperfocused on his reading, and we missed the younger two kids dousing the bathroom with a diaper sprayer. They claimed there were ants. They really just wanted to spray water all over the damn place. They know when we’re in the zone that they can get away with practically anything because we legitimately tune them out. We have to. It’s a coping mechanism.

Being a mom with ADHD means always being late, or early. It means always forgetting wipes, or paper towels, or a trash bag, or a knife, or the whole damn lunch. It means my husband has to run the credit card to the doctor’s office while I’m in the middle of the physical because he left it on the computer desk and then so did I. My car looks like a garbage mobile because it gets full of everything and we always, always, put off cleaning it until tomorrow. Someone is always handing me my son’s coat, or his artwork, or his stupid freaking backpack. We lose library books. I don’t notice my children pouring glitter glue until it’s too late.

But mostly, being an ADHD mom is being a mom. It may be exaggerated, it may be writ large, but it’s the same struggles every mother goes through. Just more often. Just more publicly. Just more likely to make you look frazzled, disorganized. But for all the chaos and enforced ritual, we get along. We’re happy, and so are the kids. This is just our life. And we live it the best we can, even if that means in hyperfocus.