10 ways my undiagnosed ADHD showed up in motherhood, and how my diagnosis made me realize I wasn’t just a bad mom
I was recently diagnosed with ADHD as a 33 year- old mom and it has been both a validating and fascinating experience. To learn that all of my quirks and characteristics weren’t just flaws but neurological wirings has been so freeing. My brain is just different- always has been.
I always thought I was just not very good at adulting.
Being a mom just exasperated my issues. It was easy to blame motherhood, mental health, or my trauma for the ways in which I failed to focus, to follow through, to pay attention, to block out sensory input like loud noises, or to prioritise tasks. And while I have learned that there ARE many overlaps in the causes for being like this- once I learned I have ADHD the puzzle pieces seemed to really come together.
It never occurred to me that I might have ADHD until I joined Tiktok.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or psychiatrist. This post is a reflection of my personal journey and not meant to be a diagnostic tool to determine whether or not you have ADHD. If you have questions or are concerned about it, I highly recommend reaching out to your family doctor to get a formal and professional assessment. There is help out there.
Tiktok and the Good that Comes from Mental Health Struggles Going Viral
Video after video of adults sharing stories of how they too had learned they have ADHD filled my FYP. The app has a way of connecting you to others that are so similar to you. It has a way of educating you about things that you didn’t realize you needed educating about.
It has a way of bringing people together who may never have been brought together and making people feel like they are finally understood. The ADHD phenomenon is just one example of this.
I found myself saying “YES!”, “ME TOO”, and “IT’S NOT JUST ME?!”
- 14 ADHD Behaviours
- Things in an ADHD House
- Overwhelmed ADHD MOM
- Daily Living With ADHD
- Things to Help with ADHD before a Diagnosis
It turns out that I don’t just suck at adulting and need to try harder. It turns out that I have ADHD.
@diaryofanhonestmom Turns out it’s my brain #adhd #adultadhd #goodmom #momswithadhd #adhdmomlife #momlife #motherhoood ♬ Che La Luna – Louis Prima
I always thought that other people were just better at adulting than I was and other moms were better at momming than I was. I wanted to be clean and tidy but often left things around the house. I wanted to wash, fold and dry but I would forget I was doing a load of laundry. I wanted to remain calm but my emotions would skyrocket and plummet faster than anyone I knew. I wanted to focus on a conversation with a friend but I would drift off. I would either lay dormant, unable to get up and start a task or I would fixate and be unable to stop.
Am I a narcissist? Am I bipolar? Am I just lazy? What is wrong with me? Turns out I have ADHD.
So what is ADHD?
“According to the American Psychiatric Association, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a neurological disorder which causes those who have it to have symptoms such as inattention (not being able to keep focus), hyperactivity (excess movement that is not fitting to the setting) and impulsivity (hasty acts that occur in the moment without thought.)
Many adults with ADHD do not realize they have the disorder. A comprehensive evaluation typically includes a review of past and current symptoms, a medical exam and history, and use of adult rating scales or checklists.
Adults with ADHD are treated with medication, psychotherapy or a combination. Behaviour management strategies, such as ways to minimize distractions and increase structure and organization, and involving immediate family members can also be helpful.”
Why Don’t Women Get Diagnosed with ADHD Earlier?
For many women, including myself- it has been a lifelong struggle.
ADHD gets missed a lot, especially in girls, because we are good at developing coping mechanisms, we get misdiagnosed as having anxiety or depression, and our symptoms manifest differently- especially as children. When medical professionals focus mainly on the traditional hyperactive and disruptive symptoms, ADHD in girls can get missed.
Here is an article explaining some common reasons an ADHD diagnosis doesn’t happen until later in life.
I’ll give you a little snippet of my conversation with a psychiatrist when I was getting assessed for ADHD that really opened my eyes. (Psychiatrist- P) (Me-M)
P: “And what was your experience in school like? What kind of student were you?”
M: “I liked school, I was good at it, I got good grades and I didn’t get in trouble”
P: “Oh, did you interrupt a lot?”
P: “Did you talk to other classmates a lot?”
P: “Did you get bored easily and drift off?”
P: “Did you doodle, fidget, or pick things, or play with items in your desk a lot?”
P: “Did you struggle to hand things in on time or forget deadlines or procrastinate?”
P: “Did you find yourself asking or going for breaks more than other kids?”
I guess school didn’t go as smoothly as I thought. It just looked different.
I thought that these were traits that all kids and teens had, or at least that it was just my flawed personality. Talking non-stop and interrupting people? I thought I was just rude and had to try harder not to be the way I am. I thought I needed to try harder to remember deadlines.
I thought I just sucked as a human.
And the shame I placed on myself in the process was real. It never occured to me that my brain was to blame.
Boys more often than girls, will manifest the ADHD symptom of being hyperactive and their distractibility and inability to focus is much more obvious. They just stand out more.
Girls suffer in silence and their lack of treatment can cause a lot of self-blame and self-loathing. And you can see how this in turn can contribute to feelings of anxiousness or depressive thoughts about oneself.
It is a self-perpetuating cycle that causes many women to go years undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, untreated, and functioning at levels lower than what they might like. We develop ways to mask and function despite the internal daily struggle.
For me, my self-developed coping mechanisms worked until the pressures of motherhood became so much that they didn’t work anymore. I stopped being able to feel a sense of calm or control because, well, kids really take that away. I am so grateful to have gotten an ADHD diagnosis and look forward to how my treatment plan will help me be my best self for me and for my family.
10 Ways I Thought I Sucked at Motherhood, When it Really Was the ADHD
- The lists.
Moms write lists. We have so many things to remember. But I would write lists on my notepad, on the calendar, on my phone, on the back of mail, all over the place. And then I would forget about them and leave them all over the place and then forget what important things were on what list. It was a problem- honestly still is. This disorganization is a classic symptom of ADHD.
2. The noise.
Before kids, I didn’t think I was sensitive to noise. I realize now it is because I was never around that much noise, especially while trying to simultaneously focus on doing or hearing other things. Getting overstimulated and feeling sensory overload is a very common feeling among those with neurodivergent disorders such as ADHD.
3. The impulsivity.
I have always been impulsive but it wasn’t until becoming a mom that it became a bigger problem. I can tend to be inconsistent both in my discipline/consequences but also in general rules and expectations. My husband says, “the positive is that you can be up for fun things on short notice but the negative is sometimes you are okay with the kids doing something and the next day you aren’t”. My impulsivity could also get in the way of me completing more important tasks.
4. The half done care tasks.
Not following through on household and parenting tasks is one of the things I struggle with the most being a mom with ADHD. I start the laundry and forget about it, or I start cleaning the kitchen and get distracted by the messy cupboards and fixate on that, or I start booking appointments and get distracted by an email coming in. Carrying the everyday mental load of motherhood and the brunt of most domestic labour in the house is hard enough as it is, but feeling like you can never finish a task makes it even harder.
5. The inability to focus on listening or play.
Even when I want to listen I often find myself mentally drifting away and thinking about other things. Truly listening to our children and engaging with them is not only important for their development but for the building of a healthy parent-child relationship. Not being able to pay attention to my kids sucks, and now I know it is part of having ADHD.
6. The hyperfocus.
I have always fixated on things that have interested me or my ever changing hobbies. In motherhood, this tendency gets in the way because as a parent there are many important things that need to be done on a daily basis. During hyperfixation it is easy to lose track of time or the ability to prioritise other tasks. Snapping out of a hyperfixation is difficult and can not only cause irritability but can cause you to lose track of time and forget important events.
7. The always being late.
Before children I was sometimes late, even though I valued being on time and tried my best to be. After having kids it became significantly harder as it does for most people who become parents. I’ve learned that people with ADHD tend to be late more often because of our lack of attention, distractibility, impulsivity and difficulty prioritising tasks. When everything feels urgent, sometimes it’s hard to focus on getting out the door- especially with kids.
8. The emotional dysregulation.
Kids can drive you insane, we know this. But I always felt as though other moms and other parents had significantly more patience than I do. I WANT to feel more balanced but I often feel myself going from being perfectly content to angry or irritable even after a small inconvenience. Having a low frustration tolerance is typical of people with ADHD I have learned, and being a mom makes it harder because we are exposed to more stresses than we were before kids.
9. The messes.
Before being a mom, I was often able to keep things tidy but now I find it so hard. I love being in a clean house, but I can’t seem to keep it that way. No matter what my intentions are, it always seems to get to the point that I feel overwhelmed by it. Kids just have so much stuff and it gets out of control so fast. I’ve learned my ADHD makes it harder for me due to many things like my distractibility and poor executive function skills.
10. The constant rush.
Everything feels like chaos, and having kids exacerbates the problem. I often feel like I am in a state of panic despite trying to stay on top of things. Everything feels like it’s the most important thing. This means that I not only ineffectively try to multitask but when I hyperfocus on things, it leaves me with not enough time to do other important things.
So I Have ADHD, What Now?
It’s ADHD and that’s okay.
I have always carried an immense amount of shame and guilt for being the way I am, especially as a mother. Being a good mom has always been tied to so many of the things that I struggle to do.
But here’s the thing: I am doing my best with the brain I was born with. I love my kids. I have adopted mentalities and strategies that help me cope and that help me function better day-to-day. It is not the end of the world. Knowing that there is a reasonable explanation for why I struggle so much has made a huge difference for me in accepting my struggles
Personally, I hope to start medication soon. From what I hear it starts to work pretty quickly. It can also take trying a few different types before you find the right fit. There are also strategies, lifestyle habits, therapies and natural supplements that people with ADHD have found helpful.
If you are interested in learning more about treatment options for ADHD I recommend checking out this article by the NHS.
If you are concerned you might also have it, talk to your doctor. They are the first step in receiving a proper evaluation.
I plan to continue living my life, but with a new appreciation for my brain. While I have always seen the negative aspects of my ADHD I have also learned many great parts of “me” come from having this neurodivergent brain. Things like having high emotional intelligence, great problem-solving skills, a wild imagination and a knack for creativity, a fantastic sense of humour and an ability to laser-focus when needed like no other.
Having ADHD doesn’t make be broken or crazy or stupid or lazy. It makes me different.
I can learn to live with different. I can put things into place that make my difference more functional. And hey, if I have made it this far without a diagnosis or treatment, just think of the amazing things I will be able to do with treatment!
Here are a few Tiktok accounts I love to follow that either have great adult ADHD informative content or who are highly relatable and validating in having adult ADHD:
Parenting With ADHD is Hard, But You Can Do Hard Things
A little reminder that no matter what diagnosis you get or don’t get in life, it is not a reflection of your character or worth as a mom. Taking steps to get the help you need is the best thing you can do and you can still raise great humans. You are resilient and strong. We’ve got this.
It’s possible to have ADHD and still be a GREAT MOM.
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