Balancing motherhood and ADHD one missed appointment at a time

By Dorothy R. Collin

Motherhood hit me like a crusty, unwashed frying pan in the face. I transitioned from a woman managing her attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) into a mom trying to pass off the sticky notes attached to her stained leggings and nursing bra hanging out of her diaper bag as fashion choices.

None of the coping mechanisms I’d developed to handle my ADHD helped. My daily routine disappeared; replaced with an ever-changing web of nap times, playdates, and doctor’s appointments. My once organized house became a cluttered mess of toys, half-eaten meals, and never-ending interruptions. I stopped exercising, gave up on getting a full night’s sleep, and started having meltdowns. I was a woman living in chaos.

This wasn’t the first time ADHD affected my life. My childhood was filled with forgotten homework assignments, desks jammed with crumpled papers, and science experiments brewing in my backpack. To say I was a strange kid is putting it mildly. I forgot my eyeglasses at home. I got lost in circular hallways. I struggled with itchy tags and irritating pant seams. Styrofoam cups, the crunch of teeth against raw vegetables, and the squeak of patent leather shoes rubbing together felt like daggers scraping against my eardrums. Despite this, no one suggested ADHD. I was merely a disorganized, lazy kid. 

As I got older, I realized many of my behaviors weren’t socially acceptable. My tendency to interrupt people with random thoughts was rude. Showing up late was inconsiderate. Relying on friends to stop me from wandering into the wrong classroom was flighty. To fit in, I started masking my symptoms. I spent hours writing emails, ensuring they weren’t incoherent or riddled with mistakes. I drank seven Diet Dr. Peppers a day to focus. I obsessively checked my wallet, convinced I’d misplaced it. I planned an extra hour of traveling time in case I got lost or distracted. I rehearsed comments before making them in conversations, so I’d appear normal. In short, I stopped being myself.

It wasn’t enough. My anxiety grew with each humiliating failure, until I stopped trying. I crafted a reputation of laziness and arrogance to hide my feelings of inadequacy, only seeking help after my professor locked me out of his classroom for repeated tardiness. A psychologist confirmed I had ADHD. According to her, medication wasn’t an option. My grades were decent. I was coping. Despite ADHD wreaking havoc on my life, I left thinking I didn’t need help.

College was a blur of forgotten appointments and broken obligations. Realizing I needed to change, I began researching ADHD to find help. I learned I wasn’t alone. According to the nonprofit organization Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), girls’ symptoms can appear different from boys, making ADHD difficult to diagnose. Inattentiveness can be more prominent than hyperactivity and impulsiveness, and when hyperactivity is displayed, it’s attributed to girls being naturally social or talkative. This results in girls living undiagnosed or undertreated.

I experienced this first-hand. Teachers didn’t suspect ADHD despite my numerous symptoms. A psychologist diagnosed me but minimized my struggles. I coped alone, devouring books on it and making life changes until my ADHD beast was tamed. I never imagined getting pregnant would upend all my work, but it did. 

Motherhood destroyed my tenuous hold on normalcy. Unable to cope, I turned to a therapist to manage my symptoms and the anxiety they caused. She helped me reassess my priorities; attending less birthday parties, saying no to volunteering events, and reducing my children’s activities.

I color-coded my family’s commitments to make sense of the scribbles in my planner and tossed art projects before they cluttered my house. I planned extra traveling time, knowing I might need to circle back to grab my phone or whatever else I forgot. I prioritized sleep and exercise, realizing they made me a better mom. I walked away before becoming overstimulated and asked for help when I needed it. Most importantly, I stopped feeling guilty about not being able to do it all. 

But even today, I sometimes fail my four children. I forget daily tasks like reminding them to do their homework, because I’m lost in an epic dance party. I forget to sign field trip forms. We’re constantly late, because I accidentally drove to the wrong location or forgot an activity. I forget to cook dinner, because I’m busy completing crucial tasks like cataloging our board games.

I’m not proud of the ways ADHD affects my family, but I’ve accepted it isn’t all bad. ADHD comes with superhero powers. I can hyperfocus, cleaning my house for 12 hours straight without complaint. During emergencies, I’m levelheaded because living in chaos has prepared me for the unexpected. When kids require trips to the emergency room, I stay calm. When my child hasn’t started a project due tomorrow, I’m sympathetic. I’ve done the same thing a million times before. 

ADHD is my kryptonite and superpower. It lets me see the world through a different lens. I notice the rhythmic buzz of air conditioners, the irresistible vibrancy of a blanket’s multicolored tones, and the scratch of tags against my neck. These distractions shape who I am.  I credit them with making me a more empathetic parent.

When my child hears a song and choreographs a dance routine instead of showering, I get it. When they’re playing with Pokémon cards instead of completing their homework, I understand. Distractions are hard to ignore. Sock seams can be uncomfortable. Smells, however faint, can be overpowering. But, distractions can also be mesmerizing. The faint tapping of woodpeckers or curious display of street art is sometimes worth getting lost in, even if it makes me late. The dank smell of damp clothes I forgot to switch to the dryer isn’t so bad, when I remember the Lego fortress I built with my son instead.

Slowly, I’m accepting my ADHD. It doesn’t make me a worse mom, just a different one. And maybe a different type of mom is exactly what my family needs.

Dorothy R. Collin is a former opera singer and speech-language pathologist who lives in Connecticut with her husband, four children, and adorable dog, Luna. She credits her ADHD diagnosis with giving her a unique perspective on life and writing.

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