I didn’t find out that I had ADHD until I was 31 years old.
I was a newly-minted mom of two and just trying to deal with everything that comes with that. In addition to managing my mental, emotional, and physical states postpartum, I was also navigating my return to work, figuring out our new family dynamic, desperately trying not to lose sight of my relationship and friendships, and if all of that wasn’t enough already, a little thing called COVID-19 was also just beginning to spin its way into the world.
It was like the perfect storm of life upheavals, and it pushed me past the point where I was able to cope. My life began rapidly unraveling—I started forgetting appointments, deadlines, and important conversations. My emotions were whiplashing between the highest highs and the lowest lows multiple times a day. And I frequently found myself in a shame spiral over feeling like completing even the simplest tasks was suddenly an impossible endeavor.
Thankfully, my therapist—having witnessed this rapid deterioration of my mental and emotional state as well as having had context about my personality, childhood, and simply, well, who I was—put the pieces together and suggested I get evaluated for possible ADHD. And you already know how that story ends.
It was ADHD all along
Turns out that being postpartum during a global pandemic was the key to unlocking the lifetime of masking and coping mechanisms that I’d built for myself. Said coping mechanisms were, of course, built completely subconsciously, as I’d had no prior knowledge or even suspicion that ADHD was what was behind so many of the things I struggled with.
My ADHD made remembering dates and keeping appointments difficult, but I had unknowingly masked this with pathological people-pleasing, resulting in high anxiety for myself but meticulous punctuality and dependability when it came to others. My ADHD made emotional regulation difficult, but I just chalked up my tendency to overreact and the fact that I cried over literally everything and anything to me being a “sensitive person.” My ADHD made impulse control incredibly tough, but I just thought that being loud and excitable was my personality—even if the reality was that I was frequently interrupting and steamrolling others without even realizing it.
ADHD in women and girls
Girls and women are underdiagnosed and undertreated when it comes to ADHD, as it’s still largely presumed to only be an issue for hyper, fidgety, unruly little boys—even though recent studies show that ADHD has a disproportionate impact on women. And even with diagnosis rates for women rising lately, the fact that girls are more likely than boys to exhibit perfectionistic behaviors means many are still reluctant to admit they may be struggling.
And that’s if they even realize that they’re struggling in the first place. After all, not everyone will experience a catalyst (in my case, the compounding series of events detailed above) that specifically unravels their coping mechanisms and forces them to confront their ADHD. This is why educating ourselves and others on the wide variety of ways that ADHD can manifest, particularly in women and girls, is particularly crucial in ensuring that everyone is able to get the help and support that they need (even if they don’t know they need it.)
Parenting when you have ADHD
Being a parent is an incredibly difficult commission. We’re all out here just trying to do our best to raise good humans and provide loving, full lives for our children. But we’re functioning on less sleep, and we’ve got more responsibility than ever before, so even without the added stressors and burdens of having an ADHD brain, it can already feel like it’s too much to handle.
Then toss in the executive dysfunction and emotional dysregulation that often accompanies ADHDers (and particularly women with ADHD) on top of all that, and things can so easily devolve even further into chaos at home.
As a parent with ADHD, you’re no longer only dealing with your own deadlines, schedule, and appointments. You’re also responsible for making sure your kids get to school on time, securing school supplies, keeping up with daycare payments, and remembering school picture day. You’re not only having to deal with your own vast and varied spectrum of emotions, but now also get a front-row seat to all of the big feelings that come with growing up, which can amplify your own reactions. Whew!
Making it work, your way
There’s no quick and easy fix for handling all the complexities, responsibilities, and nuances of parenting when you have ADHD, but there are resources that can help provide support, so it feels a little less impossible. The following tips are ones that I personally use to help me navigate my own life as a working parent with ADHD:
Banish task switching
Multitasking, or what’s better referred to as task switching, is like ADHD kryptonite. Jumping between tasks never works out. And when you’re a parent with ADHD and dealing with home-life tasks as well as work-life tasks, it can get even harder to stay on track.
Say you’re hard at work on task A for your job, when you suddenly think of something super quick that needs to be done for task B, a home-related task that you had forgotten about until now. But then you start hyper-focusing on the rest of that task, instead of going back to task A like you intended. And then task C comes along… you get where I’m going with this.
It’s hard, but instead of letting yourself get off track by thinking you can juggle it all, try to embrace the concept of completing an entire task before tackling the next.
Power tip: Use Evernote widgets on your phone to quickly jot down the thoughts and ideas that pop up, so you don’t forget about them when you’ve moved on to the next task.
Embrace body doubling
Body doubling is an accountability practice in which a person works on and completes tasks alongside another person. The two people don’t have to be working together on the same tasks—in fact, it generally works better when you’re each focusing on your own independent work. Just having another person in the same space as you, either in person or virtually, can make a huge difference in your ability to focus on the tasks at hand.
I find myself able to accomplish large swaths of work in a single sitting when I have someone else nearby who is hard at work themselves. And when I’m able to stay on top of my work, I’m more able to be present in my time off work, when I’m with my family.
Power tip: Use calendar invites to set standing times where coworkers can body double with you, or set recurring tasks for yourself in Evernote to book time with a virtual service.
Keep a record of everything
I’m sure this will come as a shock to nobody who is reading this article on the Evernote blog, by an Evernote employee, but Evernote is legitimately my lifeline when it comes to staying at least somewhat on top of my life.
Whether I’m keeping a running list of the myriad of to-dos on my tasklist, maintaining a digital repository of important family information, or just keeping a digital scrapbook of my kids’ artwork, it’s become an essential part of keeping things from falling through the cracks as a parent with ADHD.
Schedule time to do nothing
With ADHD, a lot of the time it feels like you’re either going 100 miles a minute… or you’re completely standing still. Motivation can be hard to come by, so when you do feel inspiration hit, you want to take complete advantage while you can. But while this may mean you’re able to accomplish a lot in short periods of time, it’s also a quick way to burn yourself out. Throw in the unpredictability and uncertainty of life with kids—school closures, illness, playdates… oh my! And as a parent with ADHD you’re all but guaranteeing you’re on the road to overwhelm.
Build downtime into your post-work schedule to help circumvent this. It could be as simple as blocking off time for lunch on your calendar so that nobody can schedule meetings with you while you enjoy some grub and catch up on a quick show, or waiting an extra 15 minutes to pick up the kids so you can enjoy a quick walk outside before the post-school chaos resumes.
Stop making promises
My number one tip as a working parent with ADHD is to stop making promises—to your kids, and to yourself. Life is chaotic enough without tying yourself to promises to your kids that you might not be able to keep. Sure, we hope for the best, but plan for the worst. So instead of promising the kids that you’ll take them out for ice cream after school, only to have a work emergency come up that needs to be addressed, you aim to do that. And even if it doesn’t work out today, maybe you’ll be able to do it tomorrow.
As for the second recipient of oft-broken promises, be kinder to yourself. Promising yourself things like, “I will accomplish ten things on my to-do list today!” Or, “I swear I’m going to go drop off these return packages by 4 p.m.,” you’re just setting yourself up for a whole lot of extra guilt and shame should you not meet those self-imposed deadlines.
You already give yourself a hard enough time, you don’t need to add more fuel to the negative self-talk fire by making (and breaking) promises to yourself about exactly which tasks you’ll complete or how much you’ll get done.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
I went the first 31 years of my life not knowing about or understanding a core element of how my brain functions and why I am the way that I am. I’m continuing to navigate my feelings around looking back on my life through this new lens, as a parent with ADHD still coming to grips with the fact that I’ve always had ADHD, as well as what it means for the future—my own and that of my entire family.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, and I know that there will be times when I’m able to maintain a somewhat organized, efficient, and productive life… and plenty of times when I’m not. But at least in being armed with these tips to fall back on, I know I’ll always get back on track.