ADHD Confessions: Heavy Burdens of ADHD Guilt – For Parents With ADHD
When you’re a parent with ADHD, guilt is no stranger. Most parents feel the weight and pressure of raising their children the right way and giving them the home and childhood they deserve. An ADHD parent feels it at least twice as much.
Because the kinds of things a “normal” parent struggles with when they’re extra stressed or sleep-deprived are the kinds of things ADHD parents struggle with just about every single day. Things that are easy or natural for “normal” parents are real challenges for ADHD parents. And on top of that, we have all the same relational challenges as neurotypical parents. Communicating, understanding, teaching our kids in personalized and effective ways, etc.
Essentially, we’re doing this parenting thing with one arm tied behind our back.
The Swiss Cheese Effect
My parenting efforts often feel and look like a slice of swiss cheese. Holes, holes, and more holes. I know what I should do and I know what should happen, but the canyon-sized gap between that and reality is extremely disheartening. I catch myself in “parenting fails” all the time.
My forgetfulness and distractibility is a real problem. I go on auto-pilot and give my kid something without even noticing she didn’t use her manners. I put them in time out and forget to let them out of it. I promise to tuck them in, but then I get distracted and by the time I get to them, they’re fast asleep. I set consequences for a particular set of actions, but then I forget one or the other and I’m unable to follow through. I answer their questions without even listening to what they were asking. They tell me stories and instead of being fascinated and in awe of their amazing little brains, my brain is pulling me in 100 different directions and I’m physically restless, trying not to rush them to the end, trying to listen and engage with what they’re telling me…
And I’m also keenly aware of the times my hyperfocusing has gotten in the way of my parenting. When I can’t pull myself away from what I’m doing long enough to engage the children properly – whether to mediate, discipline, love on, or just listen to them. I see them trying to get my attention out of the corner of my eye, but my stupid brain doesn’t process it until they’re walking away, dejected. And I remember what it was like to be that little invisible kid to an ADHD parent and it hurts.
And don’t even get me started on the practical side of things. Things like housekeeping, remembering to remind your kid to brush their teeth, getting them to appointments on time, being consistent in routines (or being consistent in anything other than inconsistency…), feeding everyone at regular intervals, folding laundry promptly so their clothes aren’t wrinkled… I exhaust myself just to keep our home livable. Forget about presentable. Clutter, dishes, laundry – those three things alone could bury us alive!
Just writing this post, I feel myself getting defensive. These are the sorts of things that neurotypicals don’t understand. These are the things they judge most harshly, because our children are so precious and the standards for parents these days, (especially mothers) are so ridiculously high that even “regular” people are striving. And if they can’t achieve it, then were does that leave us?
This isn’t really a post for advice. I’m not getting ready to write a paragraph containing the magic bullet that will solve this. I’m only bringing it up because I want this blog to be wholly legit. I don’t want to talk only about the “funny” parts of ADHD or give out tips. I’m also here to expose and identify with the very real struggles ADHD adults face. And the emotional repercussions of those struggles on us and those we love.
That said, I do combat my shortcomings. Not just by arming myself with knowledge and understanding of ADHD in general. Not just with practical strategies to help with the physical aspects. My main defense is being honest with my kids, apologizing to them, working with them, and asking them to work with me. That is the best I can do. That’s the best anyone can do.
The Blessing of Failure
The way I see it, as a family we’re in this ADHD thing together. How I react and adapt to my ADHD failures is just as important to my kids as my successes. They’re going to struggle with their ADHD as they grow (at least the ones that have it) and it’s my job to demonstrate to them that we can cope. And we can cope better together than we can alone.
It’s my job to show them how to come back from these missteps and say “I made a mistake. I’m sorry. My ADHD got the best of me and I shouldn’t have _____. I’d like to try _____ next time. Can you help me?” Because I’m not too proud to admit when I’ve done wrong and I’m not so insecure as to believe I’ll never get it right. I’ll try again. And my hope is that when they are older, they’ll be able to recognize their own ADHD behaviors and say to me, or to their friend, or to their boss “I made a mistake. I’m sorry. My ADHD got the best of me and I shouldn’t have _____. I’d like to try ______ next time. Can you help me?” And honestly, in doing that, they may develop the humility and security to truly be successful. (And do so much sooner than I’ve started to.)
In learning to salvage relationships, recognizing when our ADHD negatively affects others and owning that, we find that our ADHD struggles don’t define us. We aren’t just the sum of our shortcomings. We can ask for forgiveness and a pardon and help and we might actually GET it. We can move on from our mistakes. We can survive them and thrive despite them.
And for the kids that don’t have ADHD, maybe they’ll learn how to give grace to those that do.
It’s difficult. It’s really difficult. And I worry (especially during PMS when my mood and my ADHD is much worse) that my apologies are too numerous and I will eventually run out of pardons. But they’ll worry about that for themselves, too, some day. So I’ll keep trying to make less errors, asking for forgiveness, and accepting it, because I want my kids to be able to do the same; to believe they are unconditionally loved – at least by a worthy few – and that no matter how many blunders they make, they can rise again.
And so can you. So hang in there, mamas and dads! The bad days will come and go, and by grace, our efforts will make a positive impact on our kiddos. They’re gonna turn out okay. You’ve got this!
PS: If you’re feeling this post, give this song a listen. Love ya!