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Raising children with ADHD can be difficult. It’s a bit like anything: You don’t know how difficult it is until you have lived it. I’ve shared little bits of my story throughout my other posts, but I want to share some of the struggles I’ve had – and even continue to have – raising my children with ADHD. Most importantly, what I want you to get out of this post is that it’s okay not to be okay, and asking for help when you need it, is one of the bravest things you can do.
I started ADHD Done Differently for many reasons. In our world, children are often treated so poorly. Add an unseen, socially controversial diagnosis into the mix and these children are at serious risk of psychological harm. I want to educate parents, teachers and health professionals to better understand, live, love and work with children and adolescents with ADHD. I want to be a voice for children and adolescents who don’t yet have their own voice.
The truth is, that I’ve had a hard 11 years raising my children with ADHD. It’s taken a huge mental, emotional and physical toll on me and my relationships. I know now that I am not alone in this. Research tells us that parents, particularly mothers, of children with ADHD live with a significantly higher level of stress than parents of neurotypical children. A study published in 2019 outlined four common themes in parents’ experiences when raising children with ADHD:
- The child with ADHD’s behaviour seems like a wrecking ball
- Parents are coping with a war at home
- Families are divided: relationships don’t survive, and
- Parents are in dire need of support
Overall, parents of children with ADHD felt this stress came from children’s behavioural challenges, unmet needs for support and social stigma.
As I write this, I literally have tears in my eyes. Last weekend for me was horrific. I can honestly say that those four themes mentioned in that study, came through loud and strong. My children pushed me to my breaking point with their “wrecking ball” behaviour. I am usually calm and have worked super hard at ensuring I maintain an even emotional state when my children are off the wall, but last weekend, I snapped. I yelled and lost my crap. I felt as though I would explode and truly just wanted to run away.
I honestly felt like I was in a “war zone”. I was fighting battles one after another. I was finding it especially difficult because my husband was working, and nothing I seemed to do made any difference. Things were constantly escalating all day. When my husband finally came home, I was at the end of my rope and we had a fight. A big one. We don’t normally fight, but because of the unrelenting stress in our home, I snapped.
I want to be completely authentic with ADHD Done Differently. I don’t want people to think I have it all together. I don’t. I’m still learning, and sometimes I get it wrong. But I do feel like I’m quite a way along the ADHD journey and have attempted to take on this challenge to ensure that I am raising my children to be the best possible versions of themselves. And I’d like to share what I’ve learned with you.
Here are three of the most important things I’ve learned:
- You need support.
One of the most difficult things for me to do at the beginning of my journey was admit that I wasn’t ok and needed help.
My first child was conceived using IVF after a horrible 5-year infertility battle. Oh my goodness, how excited I was when I found out I was pregnant, but this little miracle was hard work from birth. He was always active and never slept. By the time his first birthday came around, I was exhausted. He was on the go every second of every single minute of every single day. Around the time I had a miscarriage, and it tipped me over the edge. I had significant depression and was trying to parent this active, noncompliant little treasure.
At this stage in my life, I couldn’t tell anyone I wasn’t coping. Not even my best friend or my husband. I felt as though saying I needed help would mean that people would think I wasn’t grateful for my son who we’d tried so hard to conceive. I wanted the world to think I was the best mum in the world, and that I had it all together. And I certainly made sure it looked like that on Facebook. However, the reality is that I had alienated myself from the majority of my friends because I couldn’t cope with this child of mine. We stopped going places because of his behaviour, and I felt like I couldn’t have anyone over to my place because he was a tornado that destroyed everything in his path and I couldn’t keep on top of the housework. I was screaming silently inside for help and for support.
In hindsight, I should have asked for help straight away, but it took me years. I am extremely lucky to have a best friend who has been a huge support for me. She doesn’t have children with ADHD, but she listened. She allowed me to cry on her shoulder, to wallow in my self-pity, but she was also able to tell me the hard truths and challenge me. She encouraged me to seek professional help, and I will be forever grateful to her for that. I saw a psychologist for years and worked through some huge issues and mindsets that I didn’t even know that I had. I know I couldn’t have got through the journey of early childhood with my son, his diagnosis, then my daughter’s early years and diagnosis without her. She was a huge support and still is.
The bottom line here is that we can not parent our children with ADHD well without a strong support network. Raising children with ADHD is a hard job. Some days it feels near impossible. I honestly feel as though, if I hadn’t sought help when I did, my family would look completely different to it does now. Yes, we have bad days, but we also have so many good ones. I have learned invaluable strategies through my psychologist, my children’s psychologists, research and reading that have made my family so much better. I wouldn’t change my children for all the money in the world… and I couldn’t have always said that.
Who is in your support team?
Not everyone’s support team is going to look the same, and that’s okay. I feel very grateful to have friends and family who can support me in my journey. I completely appreciate that not everyone has the resources I do, or you might not feel that you’re able to talk to people in your circle just yet.
I’d like to offer for you to join our Facebook group – ADHD Done Differently Community. There are currently only a handful of members, but already it’s a great place to have access to like-minded individuals where you can be yourself, and share your challenges without judgement with people who are walking the same journey.
I’d also like to encourage you to seek professional support. There are so many amazing resources for people who are struggling with stress and mental health in Australia. (Sorry for my international readers – but I’m sure most countries have similar resources!) Before I was ready to actually go out and seek support and help for stress and depression, I sought out online resources. I ended up doing a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) online program through the Mindspot Clinic. This way, no one knew I was doing it, and I could do it from home with my kids running around me. No need for babysitters or travel!
Check out this YouTube clip for some amazing online resources, or if you are ready to take the big leap and see a psychologist face to face, go and chat to your GP. Seeking help is not weak. It is not cowardly. It is truly the most courageous thing you will ever do.
- Look after yourself!
In my mind when I think of the phrase “self-care”, I imagine a woman sitting in a spa, hair in a towel, feet soaking in a foot spa, sipping cocktails, and getting nails done. Seriously, who has the time for that when you are a mum of children with ADHD? Honestly, I’m lucky to take a shower some days, because my children need almost constant supervision, so they don’t hurt each other or themselves. And besides, I certainly don’t have the money for that. My children’s medication costs over $150 every month, and when you add together all the appointments with the psychologists, paediatricians, occupational therapists, speech pathologists… well, the list goes on.
But, here is something that I have learned: self care doesn’t have to mean a spa day. Self-care can honestly mean something as simple as buying yourself a new tea and sipping it while you supervise your kids in the backyard. It can be making sure you always have fruit in the house and reaching for that before you reach for the chocolate (ok… so maybe I haven’t got this one down yet!) It can mean buying a new pair of good shoes so you can get some exercise with the kids or inviting a girlfriend over for a chat and letting the kids run around you. It can mean getting a book from the library and choosing to read that before you go to sleep at night. Or, yes, it can even mean a spa day!
How can you add self-care into your day?
Think about some ways you can add self-care into your day. Do you work full time out of the home? Buy yourself a new mug with an uplifting saying on it. Go for a walk at lunch time. Are you a stay at home mum and have no one to look after the kids for you? Make an effort to eat out at a park once a week and let your kids run free! Brainstorm some ideas and write them down.
It is not selfish to add self-care into your day. You can not take care of children who demand the amount of attention and supervision as our kids with ADHD without looking after yourself as well.
- Take the time to work on your spiritual health.
Now before you stop reading, I am not trying to convert you to any religion here. The definition of spirit in the Collins Dictionary is “the part of you that is not physical and that consists of your character and feelings.”
Spirituality is suggested to have five characteristics: meaning, value, transcendence, connecting (with yourself, others, the environment and God or a supreme power), and becoming (the growth and progress of life). According to numerous studies conducted, spiritual health leads to improved mental health, physical health and may even assist people in pain relief.
This is going to be different for everyone. For me, as a Christian, I believe that there is a God who can give my life meaning and hope. I feel energised and refreshed when I talk to God, when I meditate on Scriptures from the Bible or sing a song to God. But I also feel fantastic when I can yell at God and tell him what I am feeling and thinking. I can tell him some days that I think he put too much trust in me to raise my amazing babies with ADHD. I believe he can take it. I know on the days where I spend time working on my spiritual health, it benefits me greatly. And it doesn’t have to be hour long prayers. For me, sometimes stepping outside onto my back deck and appreciating the lovely view and saying a 30 second prayer energises me enough to be able to step back in and parent well.
How can you improve your spiritual health?
Your journey of spiritual health might not look the same as mine. It might look like meditation, yoga, positive affirmations, or something completely different. No matter what your journey, I’d encourage you to ponder these questions to get yourself started:
- What gives your life meaning and purpose?
- What gives you hope?
- What do you do to comfort yourself when you are grieving or having tough times?
- When do you feel most at peace?
- How can you infuse your day with spiritual health? (Can you wake up and meditate? Listen to a mindfulness app before you go to bed? Go for a walk and connect with nature? Pray? Keep a gratitude journal? Focus on your breathing?)
I’d like to leave you with this: “A bad day does not mean a bad life.”
I love this quote! I don’t know who said it but, wow, I love their attitude. I had this quote printed at my desk at work several years back when I was in the throes of my first child being diagnosed with ADHD. It was so helpful for me to remember this. Things can always change. Things can always get better. There was a time in my life where I truly didn’t believe that, where I truly felt there was no way out but to end my life.
But I promise you… even from the depths of the deepest darkest pit, where you feel as though you are drowning, or maybe already drowned and only surviving minute to minute, life can get better. You CAN actually enjoy your life again.
There is hope.
Let’s get ADHD Done Differently. xx