By William Schroeder, LPC
ADHD is a gift and a challenge in life, and I want to give a snapshot of an area that’s less emphasized as a challenge and mothers with ADHD. Let’s first start with discussing “baby brain.” Mayo Clinic describes baby brain as “referring to memory problems, poor concentration and absent-mindedness reported by many women during pregnancy and early motherhood.” There are many reasons why this happens, but for people with ADHD, this is magnified after the baby arrives. Why? Lack of sleep, often a big surgical event and trauma to the body, MRI shows changes in the brain to adapt to motherhood and considerable changes in the body such as falling estrogen levels and dopamine levels which are in shorter supply for those with ADHD anyway. This can be overwhelming with or without ADHD, not to mention the little one that’s solely dependent on you for everything – oh, and everything else you were juggling before the baby came.
The challenge I wanted to focus on today presents itself not too far down the road for those with ADHD that are mothers. Juggling life with little ones and also working. Raising kids can be a little less overwhelming for the person who is a good planner and a systems thinker. This is precisely the part of the brain that inattentive ADHD challenges. What does this look like? Think about the mom that’s scrambling to get the kids ready for school, with breakfast, with lunch, going to work, picking up the kids, preparing dinner, helping with homework, doing laundry, helping with bath time, then trying to say hello to their partner before collapsing.
This is a lot for anyone to manage, and with inattentive ADHD, it can be a recipe for disaster in various ways. If anything goes wrong, they are hard on themselves and shame themselves for something they have likely experienced a lot of shame around previously in life. This can also easily lead to tensions in their marriage, which can become part of the blame game in their fights. Because this person is working so hard with juggling so much in their life, they often have a lot of things they can’t get to pile up: finances, laundry, mail, etc., and where is there time for anything to help their relationship?
All of the above sounds rough, and I should switch gears for a minute. The same person who might struggle with all of the above is often gifted in other areas. They can be incredibly nurturing, attuned, and creative parents to their children. I have seen some mothers juggle three children quite creatively with their partners. Even though it might look a little impromptu or messy to an outsider, they travel and have a variety of fun adventures with their family. Their home may feel more like a circus than a well-oiled machine, but it works, and the kids love it.
If both of these things are true, how do you work through it and keep a happy, healthy relationship (and your sanity)?
- For the partner of someone with inattentive ADHD, the first thing I will suggest that I would recommend to anyone in a marriage is to stop comparing your partner. Comparison never helps a relationship. You have to accept your partner for what they are and what they aren’t.
- Look at the whole system and determine what compensatory strategies you can put in place that will have the biggest bang for the buck. This could be hiring an organizational specialist to find things that improve how you already work. It could mean simplifying how you cook dinner with easy rotating meals that build off one another. This could also be having an accountability partner who helps you once a month with a particular challenge area (laundry, the garage, cooking, etc.).
- Get a babysitter so you can have regular date nights. So many couples forget about this. If we forget how to date each other, the relationship suffers, and then when the kids turn 18, we have to remember who we married. Invest in your relationship and go on dates. Maybe even get a hotel room. ;)
- Try and create a little space for yourself each day to look at YOUR needs. Is this a workout, a meal outside or somewhere special, a power nap, taking a moment to look at the day to look at what went well and what was a challenge?
- Work on the basics. Sadly this can be hard, but it’s essential. Find ways to improve your eating, get enough sleep, exercise, and be more mindful. This is VERY hard to do, but it’s a good goal.
- ADHD Counseling can help to have an outside expert come in and look at the areas of challenge and ways to improve coping mechanisms. Medication might also help, but I think it’s essential to evaluate the system instead of relying on medication alone.
- Lastly, don’t compare yourself to others and/or be so hard on yourself. You are unique, and that’s a good thing. Others have their weaknesses, too; they look different. Keep up the excellent work.