When I was first diagnosed with ADHD, mere months ago, I could hardly find a single article or resource for parenting tips for those of us with ADHD.
I don’t have all the answers! But I have learned that with a little reframing for yourself and a lot of lemonade making, you can turn the lemons of ADHD into fun parenting. And since most parents will tell you parenting is an absolute slog, having any fun during the first 18 years means you win.
Here are the top ten ways I’ve made ADHD parenting not just tolerable but actually better than before my diagnosis.
1. Don’t try to copy systems used by others.
Before I knew I had ADHD, I was constantly thinking that I was just one productivity tip or hack from feeling on top of everything. Now I know that I have a wide breadth of knowledge on productivity systems, but most won’t work for me because my brain works differently than Jane Average. Even when I’ve tried in the last few months to read organizing books targeted at women with ADHD, those systems don’t work because they are for ADHD women with different distraction issues than mine.
2. Get to know your particular strengths and weaknesses when it comes to distractions.
My children are a source of fascination for me now, so I am great at being in the moment with them. Until…a thought comes into my head, often a specific worry about them, and then I Google it and before I know it, I’m looking up and my kids are lighting a fire*. (*Neither of my kids has the fine motor skills to light a fire, this is figurative.)
In order to pay attention in these situations, I need a system to capture that thought quickly and another system to review all such notes. I have ADHD so that is not a small thing to figure out, but it works better than continuing to be distracted. Luckily my kids are young so I can try out systems before they literally could start fires.
This idea of developing a process to avoid distraction works for me because one of my ADHD superpowers is figuring out less complicated systems for getting things done quickly.
3. Don’t aim for perfection.
I’m not going to ever be the person who can leave work early and not pick up the slack after my kids go to bed. I have to know who I am and what I can do.
Likewise, I can’t go to the doctor with my kid and expect I will remember every detail without copious notes. Other people can and great for them. But I have to be the person taking notes and that’s what’s best for me even when those notes are on the back of a flyer from my kid’s school. I’d rather be messy than forget the info from the appointment.
4. Don’t aim for quick.
Look, you’re going to have to find ways to make up for your inattentiveness somewhere and almost always, that means time.
Maybe you have to spend an extra hour planning every day, 30 minutes when you wake up and 30 minutes after the kids go to sleep. Maybe you have a bunch of post it notes that you have to add to a list somewhere at the end of the day. We all need a system and we aren’t going to be able to manage parenting without a good system that works for us. Systems may save you stress but they rarely save you time.
I don’t know anyone with ADHD who doesn’t have to put in extra time in order to match the baseline performance of people without the condition. But never forget you’re doing it all backward and in heels. ADHD doesn’t allow you to spend less time and energy on keeping it all together.
The good news is once you have a system, you aren’t as distracted by what you could be forgetting.
5. Figure out how long common tasks actually take you.
I thought for a long time that I could make my son food in ten minutes. Then I timed it. All told, it takes at least a half hour. Most of the time it takes an hour. Now my husband does it because he is faster.
6. Drop unnecessary nice-to-have’s.
Let’s say I could have a no fuss lunch prepared for my son 30 minutes from now, but if I doubled the recipe, it would take me 90 minutes for two servings. Is that worth it? Heck no.
The problem is I know if I wanted to store that second serving, I would go into the ADHD rabbit hole and it would make something that was supposed to save time actually waste time.
The problem would be the storage container. I would have to search out such a container, and wash the container, and between those two things, I know I would burn the first lunch. You can tell me to confirm I had a clean storage container before I started cooking, but we all know the first thing I would forget is the new instruction.
Already we are at an hour, if we are cooking lunch twice, which would be breaking even, but wait. I would have to clean up the burned pan. I would probably have to clean up the other things I used to cook like the cutting board or spatula. If I was using rice cooked by someone else, I might have to cook more. And before you know it, 90 minutes have elapsed and all for an unnecessary extra serving.
7. Embrace the advantages ADHD gives you. (Adult version)
You know when you have a conversation and you’re struggling to pay attention? Use it to your advantage.
Have a thorny issue to discuss with your relative or a kid’s teacher? Look at it from your own point of view and determine what information absolutely must be conveyed, and what information you can drop. Don’t make it overcomplicated. And figure out what will lose your audience and make your planned topic more interesting. Even boring topics like why your child stares out the window all day can be addressed with a bit more punch.
“My son Reggie thinks your class is incredibly boring.
Oh, sorry, you’re Mr. Jackson, that’s right. You’re his favorite teacher. He stares out the window because he has autism. Let’s talk about how you want to address this.”
8. Embrace the advantages ADHD gives you. (Kid version)
As an adult, I’m always shocked at how interesting current events are and how little of that I saw as a kid in school.
So, share it with your kid, as only an ADHD mind could.
Don’t ask your kid(s) what they learned at school. That’s boring. Tell them what you learned, as a story. You know you aren’t going to find just anything worth noting, so trust your own judgment on what is most interesting.
I started my son on this recently and though he can’t talk to me about his day, I tell him one story about my day many nights (definitely don’t feel like you have to do this each day if you have nothing fun to share). When I see something new, especially if it’s toddler-fun, like something owl or truck related, I tell him.
“We saw a trash truck today, Reggie. Wasn’t it neat how it picked up the trash cans on its own? Did you know when I was little, the garbage men used to get out of the truck and dump the trash into the truck on their own?”
“Wow Reggie, did you know the President made a deal with someone and then backed out of the deal on Twitter at 2 am? Would you ever do that?”
I can’t say he always knows what I’m talking about but at some point I have no doubt I will realize he has heard more than I knew.
And I can’t wait for him to start asking me questions and telling me the most interesting moments from his own day.
9. Make a schedule and stick to it.
This is just for your sanity. You may have one schedule for weekdays, one for Saturday, and one for Sunday. But you’ll drive yourself crazy if you don’t have a pattern for how you run your day.
And most child experts agree kids need structure so it will help your little one(s) too.
10. F$&k ten.
Let’s be honest, this is a list for moms with ADHD. If you have ten things on your list for today, no way they will all get done. Figure out what you need to do and don’t set yourself up to fail by trying to do too much in one day.
Bonus tip: Many of us with ADHD have flown under the radar for decades before a diagnosis. If that’s you, it’s possible you already have a lot of coping processes in place that make living with ADHD slightly more bearable. You don’t have to follow any of my tips, but I do recommend you examine what you’re currently doing if it’s causing you any stress or worry.