This Is What It's Like To Mom With ADHD

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Elizabeth Broadbent

I have a planner. Not the way some people have a planner; I need a planner like I need oxygen to breathe. This year I bought mine on January 2nd, already a day too late, already with several appointments scrawled in several places that I had to find and transfer. Then I had to spend, oh, somewhere around an hour sitting down and trying desperately to remember, with the help of Facebook events, last year’s calendar, and my 8-year-old son, what recurring dates, events, and classes I had to pencil in. Yes, this included things that happen every week. Because I will forget them. If they are not written down where I can flip to them, point to them, name them, read them and say, “I have to do so-and-so tomorrow at 10am,” they do not exist in my world.

This is what it means to be a mom with ADHD.

I have moderate ADHD, veering more hyperactive when I was a teen, but now firmly in the inattentive side of the disorder. I lived with the disorder, compensated well, until I had my first son, when everything sort of fell apart. Because it’s one thing to live in a complete mess when you’re childless, but you want to be able to see the floor so you can put the baby down on it.

After a few years of desperate muddling, my psychiatrist finally diagnosed me, medicated me, and for once, my life made sense. Laundry no longer became something I put off until it grew into a fourteen-load monster. Detritus no longer covered the floor of my den. Trash day became something remembered more than once a month. (My husband also has ADHD).

But meds don’t solve the whole problem. I still have a disorder. I still have symptoms. I still have to be a mom with ADHD. And while it’s my normal, I still look like a messy space cadet to the outside world. Or a hyper-organized drill sergeant.

Take my car, for instance. We clean it. This takes several hours. Then, slowly, stuff I forgot to take out — like fast-food containers and an extra purse and Splenda packets — accumulates and I never really got around to using a trash bag, or I used it and then forgot about it, and now it’s two weeks later and fast-food cups fall out of my minivan when you open the doors. This slow inattention? That’s the ADHD. And that’s why my kids ride around in a garbage-mobile I’m mortified for all the other moms to see.

That’s also why I said I’d go to the homeschool boardgame event the same day I told my buddy I’d drive the kids to her house to see her new kitten — because when I talk to my friend, I can’t freaking remember I’ve already made a commitment. Then I remember and I have to decide which one to break: the one to the friends at the boardgame club, who expect to see us, or the one to the friend with the kitten who also expects to see us. Luckily, people tend to be understanding. But even with my obsessive planner use, this happens all the damn time. I’m the queen of double-booking, especially for Friday afternoons. Or afternoons when we have a doctor’s appointment.

But there’s another side: the overcompensation. ADHDers are capable of what’s called hyperfocus, which means that we over-focus on things that interest us. For me, that’s clothes and homeschooling. I have my kids’ outfits planned a week in advance. The night before, they are laid out, down to the underwear. This is soothing to them: two of them have ADHD as well, and it helps that they don’t have to think about dressing themselves each morning.

I also, luckily, hyperfocus on homeschooling. We keep a strict order of business. Reading, math, writing, for my oldest; math, reading, writing for my middle son; science one day, social studies the next. Everything is meticulously documented in their planners and artifacts are saved for their portfolios.

But hyper-focus can also come with a downside, like when I hyper-focus on things that are not my kids. For instance, I got a sewing machine for Christmas, fell down the black hole of Pinterest DIY clothing, and, right now, I spend most of my spare time pinning, cutting, cursing, and stitching. Oh, I’m learning to sew, all right. But my husband is doing most of the parenting, the kids are watching a lot of TV, and I’m finding it really, really, really hard to tear myself away from that lovely pile of fabric to read A Book with No Pictures or play a round of air hockey.

Last month, I hyper-focused on Christmas. Our entire house was garlanded, swagged, decorated, and be-jingled. Now, I have to pack all that shit up, but I am not hyper-focused on that part.

And then there are the social issues. Inattentive ADHD means inattention to a lot of things, and that includes social cues. I have a lot of trouble reading them — I always have — and that makes having mom friends an uphill battle. I’m lucky I’ve found a tribe of besties who get it, who understand and accept me. But still, I often misread their disappointment at something else as anger toward me, or don’t understand an event or another person’s importance to them. I do a lot of apologizing.

I don’t think my kids suffer much. They are immaculately dressed and well-educated, after all. I’m more loose about how my house looks, so I let them break out the glitter and paint, and I’m pretty lax on the PlayDoh protocols. But I know they’re embarrassed about the car. I know that sometimes, they get upset when we double-book playdates, and they wish Mama would stop sewing — or hyper-focusing on writing — and just sit down and read them a damn book.

But generally, they’re happy. It’s chaotic. I wouldn’t venture to say it’s a whole ton of fun, but we manage to scrape by. We compensate. We make do. Really, no matter what your disorder or disease or handicap or particular deal, that’s all you can ask for.