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A Day in the Life of a Mom With ADHD

What it's like to raise a kid when your brain chemistry is working against you.

Parenthood already brings with it a certain level of chaos, but when you're a parent with ADHD, your ability to prioritize and create structure is compromised to begin with. In fact, brain scans of people with ADHD show less activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive function in other words, the thing that tells you when to do certain actions and in what order, or tells you which stimulus is more important than another. In the mind of a person with ADHD, all things exist on the same level it's like watching 10 TVs tuned in to different channels at the same volume. For some people, that lack of executive function turns into hyperactivity; in others, like me, it simply overwhelms us so much that we want to lie down in defeat.

As someone with ADHD and the mother of a 3-year-old, the chaos of parenthood is turned all the way up in my head. This chaos competes with everything else going on in the world, along with the pain of a lifetime of feeling like I'll never be able to catch up.

Here's a snippet of a typical morning for me, with the behind-the-scenes thoughts of what goes on in the brain of a mom with ADHD:

7:00 a.m.
On the Outside
My son is urging me to draw him his third pony of the morning. "First, Mommy needs coffee." I'm emptying yesterday's grounds into the overflowing compost bin I forgot to take out yesterday. Oh. We're out of coffee. I promise myself a latte at the morning sing-along and go to dress the kid.

On the Inside
I'm not just whining here; I actually need the coffee to function. Stimulants like caffeine and Adderall help increase metabolic activity in the areas of the brain where executive function takes place. Before my diagnosis at 23, I was called a "daydreamer" on a good day and a "space cadet" on a bad one. The somewhat less-insulting clinical term for this is "inattention." I've been on medication since my diagnosis, but went off of it when I got pregnant and stayed off of it throughout breastfeeding. It was like living in a fog; hours passed without my knowledge. Now, I'm back on a small dose of Adderall and a cup of coffee a day, which is enough to bring me down to earth so I can do simple tasks like coloring with my son.

7:15 a.m.
On the Outside

A five-minute argument about the Batman shirt at the bottom of the hamper ends in kid running off naked, crying to his dad. I take advantage of this moment to take a shower. Husband walks in to inform me that I almost burned the house down by leaving an empty kettle on the stove, hits his head on the medicine cabinet I left open, and nearly knocks over the potty I forgot to empty. "Why can't you ever close this cabinet?!"

On the Inside
Sorry, husband, I'm not really here. I'm thinking about all the fun ways we'll be spending our day sing-along, gym, gourmet meals, play dates and all the things I'll cross off my to-do list, and the great American novel I'm going to write during nap. I'm incredibly ambitious during my daydreams and I absolutely fail to pay attention to the simple tasks in front of me.

8:15 a.m.
On the Outside

An hour just went by and I've accomplished nothing. I think I put away some clothing? What time is the sing-along supposed to start? I'd check my phone, but the battery is dead.

On the Inside
Time warp. Perception of time takes place in you guessed it the prefrontal cortex, so inaccurate estimation of time is a common symptom of ADHD. My life is a montage of running into rooms 15 minutes after I was supposed to be there.

9:29 a.m.
On the Outside
The kid is naked again, protesting his lack of Batman attire. I can't find my keys or my sunglasses. We have now missed our sing-along class. The kid is unfazed, but I burst into tears and throw my purse on the floor. I trip over the dozen books the kid has taken off the shelves. OK, first, I'll clean the house. No, wait. There's an emergency stash of coffee I forgot about in the freezer that will solve all of my problems.

On the Inside
Every time I'm late or miss something due to my lack of time management, or lose something because I'm not paying attention when I put it down, I'm not just upset about that one instance; I'm feeling the defeat of everything I've ever lost in a lifetime of ADHD. When someone says, "Why don't you just set an alarm/put everything in the same place/make lists?" What I'm hearing is, "Why can't you be a different person?" Believe me, I've tried.

10:00 a.m.
On the Outside
"Mommy, play with me," the kid calls, breaking my heart, so I put down the vacuum and play with farm animals. We give each animal a silly name and invent a story about their day.

On the Inside
OK, so I'm really good at creative play, maybe even because of ADHD. I'm silly and spontaneous, always up for an adventure or a game of make-believe and flitting from concept to concept right along with my kid's curious brain. Here's where the joy returns to my day.

10:15 a.m.
On the Outside
Playing farm reminds me of the stack of overdue bills on the table. "Sorry, baby, Mommy's got to do one quick thing." I turn on the computer to pay them...after I read that one article my sister sent me.

On the Inside
Maybe every parent feels torn like this. The thing is, my inability to prioritize means that I pick up all these projects and then get freaked out by them before ever finishing a single one. As a kid, this meant I started and stopped more hobbies than I could count. As an adult, well, I pay a lot of late fees, but I also can tell you a lot of weird facts about things that I'll never be an expert on. This comes in handy as a writer.

10:45 a.m.
On the Outside
"Parent-Toddler Yoga" is in 15 minutes. We're (re)dressed and ready to go, but the dog begs to go out. We walk her, then waste five minutes looking for something to pick up her poop with because the bags are in my other jacket. Welp, missed yoga.

On the Inside
All of the above, all over again.

11:00 a.m.
On the Outside and Inside:
"Want to go to the park?"

So, the park trip is awesome and involves a lot of cloud-gazing and dirt exploration. Even though I only accomplish about 1/20th of my day's plan (I'm pretty sure we had lunch?), my kid has a blast and doesn't know the difference. He doesn't care if we have takeout for dinner and I collapse in a heap right after bedtime.

I hope I can keep turning my mishaps into quirky adventures, without frustrating my son as much as I do myself. As with everything else in parenting, every day is a learning experience for the both of us. Sometimes, when I watch him playing, a bit of fear creeps up on me: what if he inherits my ADHD? Will he beat himself up for it, the way I always have? Of course, every kid his age bounces from thought to thought, so it's far too early to tell. Whatever happens, it's my job to make sure he loves his own brain, no matter how different it may be from others.

Just try to distract me from that!

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