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E21. ADHD and Motherhood

Welcome to ADHD Crash Course! I'm back from the holiday break. I would not call it a restful break because we got hit with "the COVID" (as my in laws call it) and all six of us went down in flames.

Now, fortunately, we didn't spread this to anyone else in our family, our extended family, and we did not need to go to the hospital or have any extra care, but we did have a bumpy couple of weeks at home.

So, I'm glad to be back in somewhat of a normal routine, even though my voice might be a little froggy today (you're going to have to bear with me). Today we're going to talk about ADHD and motherhood.

A while back, I made an Instagram post and it had a Venn diagram of three different circles of "people who are hard on themselves". One circle had women, one circle had people with ADHD, and the other circle had mothers.

The women I work with absolutely reside in two of these circles and many of them reside in all three, in the intersection of all three. This episode is for the women who want to talk more about that trifecta, whether it's that you are smack in the heart of parenting, or that you are considering that, and just some thoughts for those who find themselves in this intersection of people who are tough on themselves.

Of course, you know one of the first things that I'm going to say is to be gentle with yourself. This is a huge piece of all of the work that I do, personally and professionally. Be gentle with yourself.

It is not an easy place to be, to be parenting in modern day society with ADHD. Very often, we're also parenting kids who are neurodivergent kids (because of genetics), and that is even more complicated.

What I wanted to offer today is just some thoughts that I would have loved to have known in the beginning of this journey, but I have them now. And I thought I would share them.

1. Learn all you can about your brain.

Number one is that if you do have ADHD, if you suspect you have ADHD, learn all that you can about your brain. I didn't find out that I had ADHD until my second child was diagnosed. So, I kind of had to go about this backwards; I was scrambling to meet the needs of my kids before I was able to meet my own needs when it came to my brain.

It was a very sloppy process. I think as a parent that a lot of times we're the afterthought because we want to help our kids and meet their needs. We don't recognize that supporting ourselves might be the best way to help them meet their needs.

I certainly would have started that process earlier for myself, if I'd recognize how much easier it would be to help my children, even, with their issues if I had a better understanding of my brain and what I needed.

2, No one has all of your answers.

The next thing I would have told myself that is not specifically an "ADHD" piece of wisdom, but one that is just for mothers in general, parents in general, is that no one has your answers.

It's really easy in the beginning to just assume that everybody is the expert, everybody knows the answers that are going to work for you. And even when you discover your own answers, like when you have four children, they're not answers that always apply to everyone.

Why? Because every piece of parenting advice that you either create or receive read from a best selling book, or from your best friend or from your grandma, It is all based on a dynamic.

It's a parent, a child, and an environment. That could be a time, that could be a place, but there's an environment involved as well. So no matter who's giving you advice, it's based on a specific dynamic, and that may or may not be your dynamic.

You might find that a different parent or a different child or being in a different environment is going to greatly alter whether that advice is great advice for you, whether those answers fit for you.

Now, when I had my first child, I was on the brink of sanity with sleep deprivation, I was so exhausted; we were bad at sleep together.

She, in retrospect, had a lot of GI issues and and ear infections and things that were really impacting how she could soothe and how comfortable she was. But that's the thing about a lot of these global answers. They don't really consider our specifics.

So, I had a really dear friend, who's a lovely person, I hold no ill will towards her, but she told me that what I needed to do was to embrace sleep training. When I looked at her, it was working so well for her and her daughter. Her child rolled with the program in a few days and she was sleeping like a champ and my friend looked fresh, and sane, and amazing. It was the perfect solution for her and her child.

She was also a very structured person and she thrived that way. She had a child who didn't have some other physical things going on that my child had and she also was returning to work and really needed to have her sleep nailed down so she could function well.There were so many reasons why this was the right fit for her. I didn't recognize any of this and I just said, "Well, okay, she's got this nailed. I'm going to do what she's doing".

I tried to apply her parenting approach to my dynamic and it was a disaster. Now, I'm not naturally a regimented person. Now that I (know I) have ADHD, I can recognize that trying to follow something so exacting when I was already in this hormonal, exhausted mess was a recipe for failure.

At the time, I honestly trusted other people's authority, other people's experience so much more than mine, so I tried to follow her advice. I read all the books she told me to read on sleep, and it was a disaster. We were sleep failures and I was a tearful mess, because this was not the right fit for me.

Here's the temptation when this kind of thing happens. You're either going to blame yourself, "Oh, I just suck, I can't do the sleep thing. What's the matter with me?" or you're going to moralize this and decide the reason it failed is because you are the better person and that you are an attachment parent that is doing this better, and they are totally wrong.

Neither one of those is helpful. We want to have right and wrong in this stuff (and in lots of parenting stuff). Either she's asleep tyrant with a heart of stone and her kids are going to be emotionally stunted or I'm a weak-willed pushover and I'm going to be breastfeeding my college freshmen (who is going to fail to launch).

We want these extremes in order to feel more comfortable and more secure in our decisions. We feel confident in our decisions, sometimes, when we discredit (or even demonize) other decisions.

The "experts" do this, too. They couldn't sell books and programs if they didn't. If it wasn't "my way or the highway", they wouldn't really have the kind of authority to be a best seller. Would you go buy a book that said, "Hey, this worked for me, it might work for you, too, but realistically, like a 25% chance"? No, you're not going to go and put that in your Amazon cart, you want the slam dunk.

Of course, we want these big dramatic solutions when we're overwhelmed with a big problem. That was definitely me. You know, for me, my approach, especially when I feel out of my depth in something, is usually one of two things: I'm either going to totally shut down, I'm just not going to deal with a problem, or I'm going to go into hyper focused "warrior mode" and I'm going to figure out the solution, I'm going to battle out the solution.

My first year or two of parenting kind of vacillated between these two, but mostly warrior mode, which is an exhausting mode to be in. I'll never forget when I was deep into "warrior mode", Clint having a talk with me. He said, "You're going to have to stop with the books", and he held up, I don't remember which book, How to Breastfeed Your Child to the Ivy Leagues, or something, and he said "This, this has got to go. You're driving yourself insane...and I'm not so far behind you. Seriously, more".

I don't know why, maybe I'd gotten a couple hours more sleep that night, but something about that "pep talk" kind of clicked for me and I put away some of the books and some of the advice and I started to practice trusting myself.

Now, I'm not advocating that you just go Lone Ranger and you never tap into the wisdom and the resources that are around you, but I think for those of us who are really in the depths of trying to get the "right" answers, recognizing that no one really has your answers and that you are every bit as much an important part of the dynamic as your child, as the environment (is important). So, consider yourself, trust yourself in the process.

3. It's ok if you don't love every moment

Okay, another thing that I would have told "early parenting me" is that it's okay if you don't love every moment. You know, I mentioned this in a podcast, I think it was a CBT podcast, about what a mind trip it was to have people stop me in the grocery store and tell me to "enjoy every moment".

I believe people mean well; I don't think that anybody would mean for that to be isolating or overwhelming. People really do just want to encourage you to appreciate your moments with your kids because they can be fleeting moments and your kids are growing. But, sometimes I think we've ended up with this kind of glorified idea of parenthood, that we're supposed to love and cherish every moment.

That's not realistic, nor particularly helpful. We don't have that same pressure in other relationships, not that I see. Not in romantic relationships, most of us have more balance on what a realistic committed relationship is going to look like with a partner. But, somehow, with parenting (especially in motherhood), it's this expectation that this is going to be all rainbows.

For me, I did have a difficult time at first with that because I wasn't surrounded by a lot of people who were transparent and real (about the fact) that there was real difficulty in this, along with the beautiful stuff.

I was surrounded with people that it was all rainbows and confidence (for) and I didn't really fit. You know, there was this poem (it's actually a very beautiful poem, but it's also kind of panic inducing). It's this poetic take that every moment as your kid grows, could be the last time they're doing certain things. It could be the last time they want you to read them a story or hold your hand across the street, or crawl in bed with you. It's sweet and nostalgic,and it can kind of make you tear up.

But I also wanted to add some balance to that because although it's a precious time, when there is a last for something, it makes room for the first of other things. Yeah, there's a last time for all of that sweetness, but it makes room for the first time of some really cool things, like the first time your daughter asks if you're okay because you were quiet at dinner and actually listens to your response.

Or the first time your son delivers a truly funny, yet inappropriate joke,or the first time your daughter talks about how wonderfully developed her characters in her novel that she's reading are.

You know, when you leave one "land" of parenting, you enter another. Sometimes there's this glorification of "Oh, when the kids are tiny", and we're meant to expect this horrendous period of time when they're teenagers. I haven't found that to be true. For me, I've found that there are beautiful and difficult times in all phases of parenting. I don't think that you're leaving the best times behind at any one point.

(I've had some requests for a copy of the poem, so here you go!)

The Last Time Poem

From the moment you hold your baby in your arms, you will never be the same. You might long for the person you were before, When you have freedom and time, And nothing in particular to worry about.

You will know tiredness like you never knew it before, And days will run into days that are exactly the same, Full of feedings and burping, Nappy changes and crying, Whining and fighting, Naps or a lack of naps, It might seem like a never-ending cycle.

But don’t forget … There is a last time for everything. There will come a time when you will feed your baby for the very last time. They will fall asleep on you after a long day And it will be the last time you ever hold your sleeping child.

One day you will carry them on your hip then set them down, And never pick them up that way again. You will scrub their hair in the bath one night And from that day on they will want to bathe alone. They will hold your hand to cross the road, Then never reach for it again. They will creep into your room at midnight for cuddles, And it will be the last night you ever wake to this.

One afternoon you will sing “the wheels on the bus” and do all the actions, Then never sing them that song again. They will kiss you goodbye at the school gate, The next day they will ask to walk to the gate alone. You will read a final bedtime story and wipe your last dirty face. They will run to you with arms raised for the very last time.

The thing is, you won’t even know it’s the last time Until there are no more times. And even then, it will take you a while to realize.

So while you are living in these times, remember there are only so many of them and when they are gone, you will yearn for just one more day of them. For one last time.

-Author Unknown-

4. Embrace Imperfection

Okay, my next piece of advice for "pre kid me" is to embrace imperfection, because you're going to mess things up, and it probably won't be the things you think you're messing up... so, there's that. You're going to have things that you would like to "redo" and this is reasonable!

If you're parenting a child, they're going to be living with you, under your direct influence, for the better part of two decades. Hopefully, we learn something in the span of two decades that we would have wanted to bring to our parenting game.

The only people who won't want some kind of "re do" are the people who think they have it all figured out and have not been interested in growing. We're not going to be those people, we're going to be the people who learn something.

One of the things that I would have loved to have done differently is how I approached food with my kids. I went in with the knowledge that I had at that time, which is really all we can do. I was all about the "healthy foods" and really limiting sugar and managing food for my kids, not from a weight or body size standpoint, but because I really wanted them to be healthy and I thought that that was the best thing I could do for them.

But the effect, the overall effect of that approach wasn't great. It kind of undermined their intuition about food. That was more with my older two and by the time my youngest child rolled around, he was slamming Airheads and chasing it with Mountain Dew because I was really, really tired and he had older siblings.

But, what I did see with him, was that he has no energy around "good" and "bad" foods. He's really in sync, the most in sync, with his body. He stops eating foods that he loves because he's had enough. He often thinks something's too sweet, he's way more in sync with his body.

I wish that I had been able to offer all of my kids that, but I didn't know that. I found that somewhat accidentally and then the more that I've pursued things like intuitive eating, and the more that I've grown in that area myself, well, now I have better things to offer my kids.

Hopefully, you will find yourself wanting some redos. That is a good thing. I think if you feel you've done it all perfectly well, then you are not likely grounded in reality, or you're not likely growing. I think that that's something that we just have to embrace in this whole road of parenthood, is that, you know, we're going to get some things wrong. And our kids are going to be okay, even though we've gotten some things wrong, they're going to make it.

5. Nurture Yourself

The next thing that I would tell myself is don't forget to nurture you. Now, this advice can come across as one more thing we "should" be doing and it can feel kind of heavy. When I say nurture yourself, I just mean that the care of you is a priority. That means different things to different people.

You know, when you're in parenting, especially young kids, oftentimes they have needs that are the priority. They're not things they can do for themselves. They have needs that push us from one mini emergency to the next and there's some element of that that cannot be avoided or controlled. But, what happens to some of us is that we get in that mode and we stay there out of habit.

There comes a time when we need to be added back into that priority list and it may not ever feel urgent enough. Even if it doesn't feel urgent, it actually is. You can't take care of people if you're constantly depleted, or last on the list. It just doesn't end well.

I know when my kids were really young, it was tough for me. I have a brain that really thrives with novelty and interest and change and challenge and in the beginning of motherhood, it was so overwhelming and I just wasn't able to get my needs met; not in the physical sense, in terms of sleep and nutrition, but especially in a mental or in a spiritual sense.

That was the reality for me. I stayed home with my kiddos when they were tiny and it was a huge transition to go from my career as a therapist where I had lots of external structure (that can make a big difference for those of us with ADHD) and lots of feedback about how I was doing and the impact I was making, and even some semblance of control over my days. I went from that to staying home with tiny people without structure or feedback and with very little sense of control of my days and it was tough for me.

I remember once being in tears and telling my husband, "I used to be so much more interesting", and he patted my back, and he just said, "No, you weren't." and I just looked at him like "Seriously?!"

He, of course, was quick to scramble and try to salvage the moment. Luckily, I have a decent sense of humor and I can roll with it. But, no matter how artful (or not artful) Clint was in that moment, the truth was that a lot of the things that did nurture me weren't really possible for me to pursue at that time.

At first, I didn't have the time, I didn't have the bandwidth. It took a while for me to be able to adjust and have the ability to add those things that I needed back into my life. Once I could, that made a huge difference.

So for me, nurturing myself wasn't necessarily the rest and the care that we often think when it comes to nurture for me, it was meeting what I now recognize where my brain needs like interest, challenge, novelty, fun, like that was the nurturing that I needed. And once I had space to provide that for myself, I was in a much healthier, happier place (even if my husband didn't think I was any more interesting).

No Matter What, You're Doing Better Than This...

So, to finish up this podcast, I wanted to give you a few mothers from the animal kingdom that you are totally beating at motherhood...

Okay, we have the harp seal. So,she basically feeds her baby for a little under two weeks, and then she bails... forever. Like, she never comes back.

We have the Black Eagle. When her chicks fight she does not get involved, even if the older sibling kills the other one, she's not getting involved in it.

Pandas. I love pandas. This is a tough one to swallow, but they often have twins, right? That's cute. Well, she picks a favorite and only takes care of that one. That's rough.

The house sparrow: it's a good mom to its own chicks. It causes a lot of scandalous drama, though. She is the embarrassing mom to have because she will attack the nests of other birds that have mated with her baby's daddy. She's a dedicated mom, but she's no one you want at the PTA.

The cuckoo lays its eggs in another birds nest and then totally bails and leaves the other bird to raise her baby.

And, the burying beetle will eat their young if they pester them too much.

So, no matter how you're doing it motherhood, I think it's safe to say you're doing better than that.

That brings us to the end of our podcast episode today: ADHD and Motherhood. Thank you so much for joining me!


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