I thought I was failing as a mom because of ADHD. Turns out, I'm doing alright.
I approach parenting the same way I approach everything in life: enthusiasm, tons of research, grand plans, and a sprinkle of chaos. As a result, I belong to a number of parenting-oriented social media groups.
Almost daily, someone will post a cutesy “which mom are you?” meme — basically character descriptions of modern mothering archetypes — and members will self-identify:
The memes vary in theme and character, but a constant on every list?
That’s what I call her, anyway.
Katie is the “messy mom.”
She’s always late for soccer practice. She didn’t even know the school was having a book fair. She does school drop-off in her pajamas (not the matching set a Bridget would wear; Katie fell asleep on the couch watching Netflix in an old sweatshirt and sweatpants with mac & cheese stains.) Katie gets nervous when the other moms approach her car in the parking lot because the passenger seat is full of coffee cups and crushed granola bars. Katie has never remembered to sign and return field trip permission slips on time.
Katie is kind of a flop. All of the other parents in my social media groups don’t want to be a Katie.
I am a total Katie.
When I was a new parent, I lived with constant anxiety about my ability to measure up. I'd look at my chaotic home environment and my eyes were always drawn to the stressful messes:
And I'd think to myself, “why am I like this? Why can’t I be like other parents? Am I a bad mom? Why did I think I could do this? Does my kid deserve better?”
I spent the first few years of motherhood trying miserably to act like a “normal” mom, but it felt impossible. No matter how hard I tried, my home was never truly clean because chores have always felt exhausting. My car remained littered with crumbs and discarded socks.
And as hard as I tried, my attempts at hand-made Halloween costumes always ended with a cry-fest over my sewing machine at 11 P.M. on October 30th.
But as time went on and my child continued to survive (and even thrive), I realized that her growth wasn’t happening in spite of my limitations, but rather, because of my strengths.
Here are some things to consider when the negative self-talk gets the best of you on your hardest parenting days.
Many ADHDers have the gift of creativity. I was adamant from the time I was pregnant that I didn’t want my child’s grandparents buying noisy plastic toys at birthdays and holidays. Instead, I requested art supplies, books, crafts, and musical instruments. My daughter and I spend weekend mornings on the living room floor with good music and creativity flowing. We paint, do collages, make paper clothes for the stuffed animals that have been accumulating since her birth. We do daily scavenger hunts (no, I’m not talking about the frantic search for my keys — also a daily occurrence).
Sure, our home will never be Instagram-perfect, but the clutter and creative disorganization I used to shame myself for looks different now — like a warm and happy home where there’s always a project waiting to be done.
The golden rule of parenting is “expect the unexpected.” There are no instructions for when we become parents. Even the most prepared parent can’t predict every outcome. But with ADHD parenting, most of us just go with the flow. ADHD adults are experts at chaos.
It’s 10 pm and you just found out there’s a bake sale tomorrow nobody bothered to tell you about? That’s fine, because you have a stash of gummy worms and a box of broken graham crackers that'll make really fun “dirt cupcakes.” They'll be the kids' favorite and when you find out later that Bridget sent 3 emails to remind everyone about the bake sale, it'll barely even sting.
Young children are emotional creatures. So am I! And lucky for my kid, I have decades of experience actively, consciously learning to regulate my emotions. It takes practice, and fortunately there are resources for this sort of thing, like Inflow's Parenting with ADHD module on the Inflow app.
As children learn to navigate the highs and lows of the human experience, research shows that having a parent with heightened empathy can help them feel understood, supported, and connected. Those feelings of connection and understanding help kids feel safe to express themselves, be imperfect, and grow, which is exactly what you want when you’re trying to teach emotional governance. Recently, my daughter’s teacher told me that she’s been approaching struggling classmates with empathy and offering support. This was quite possibly the proudest moment of my life, and I credit my ADHD with her kindness.
ADHD tends to run in families. Some studies estimate a heritability rate of 75-91%, meaning that up to 91% of ADHD traits can be attributed to genetics inherited from one or both biological parents. For ADHD children, seeing our unique talents, perspectives, abilities, and yes, even our challenges — and how we’ve learned to cope with them — is an important model for improving your child's self-esteem, embracing neurodiversity and growing up with an attitude of self-acceptance and empowerment.
Before my daughter was born, I worried that she’d “get my ADHD.” I worried about her impulsivity, her behaviors, her focus, whether she’d be able to live the life she dreams of or if my crappy genes would hold her back. A few years into our journey together, it’s obvious to me — she’s one of us, part of the Chaos Crew. So, I don’t worry anymore. She’s creative and impulsive and brilliant and a daydreamer and she’s got this - and any time she doesn’t, she’s got a mom who has her back.
She’s got the perfect, imperfect mom for this very important job: a Katie.
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