In my Facebook saved folder, Pinterest boards and saved on my computer, I have hundreds of articles, suggestions, posts, and videos saved about raising children with ADHD. I am passionate about making sure my children reach their full potential. Anything I can do to help them, I will do.
When I look through all these ‘saved’ items, here’s what I’m told I need to do to make sure that my kids grow up to be all they can be and to reduce their ADHD symptoms as much as possible:
- I have to make sure they eat only high protein, low fat, fibre rich foods.
- They have to participate in high-intensity exercise every day as well as having at least 30 mins of green time every day.
- They need at least 10 hours of sleep every night and read for at least 15 mins before they sleep.
- They shouldn’t have lots of screen time.
- I have to stay calm every moment of the day despite how I am treated.
- I have to provide emotion coaching for them.
- I have to enhance their self-awareness while ensuring they are building a growth mindset.
- I have to make sure I look after myself by sleeping eight hours every night and exercise every day.
- I have to be their executive function system until they can use their own and implement de-escalation strategies for their emotional dysregulation issues.
- Of course, I have to have the patience of a saint, never yell or lose my cool.
- Oh, and let’s not forget, practice yoga and meditation, make them practice a musical instrument and take them to lessons. Take them to psychology, speech pathology, occupational therapy, and tutoring if they need it.
- I should arrange play dates for my children, plan individual time with each of them and ensure we do enough fun whole family activities. As well, I have to work on my marriage to be a good role model for them when they are older and have romantic relationships of their own. But I also have to look after myself, make sure I do self-care every single day to avoid ADHD Mum burn out. Oh and of course, cook, clean, work inside and outside of the home and try and have friendships of my own.
And I could go on and on.
Don’t get me wrong. These things are all fantastic, evidence-based strategies to be my best, and to ensure that I am supporting my children with ADHD. But here is the thing: Just reading that list leaves me feeling like a complete and utter failure as a mother, particularly to my children with ADHD. I simply cannot implement all of these things and sustain it all. I would have ADHD mum burn out just trying to prevent ADHD mum burn out.
I have struggled with being a perfectionist. I used to struggle with thinking if something is going to be done, it needs to be done correctly. And I would almost kill myself to ensure it was. But you know what? I got stressed, overworked, cranky and then avoided everything because instead of trying something that I might not get perfect, I just didn’t start it at all.
Does this sound familiar? Do you feel overwhelmed by all the tips and tricks and strategies? Well, I’m here to say, give yourself a break. Do not feel you have to do everything at once! You are not a superhero!
Here are 4 simple tips to get you through the onslaught of advice that you might come across:
Throw out perfectionism
Get rid of the idea that you have to be the perfect parent and have the answer for everything. Perfectionism is black and white. Black and white thinking is when you look at the world through extremes. So, for example, I am either a perfect mother or a complete failure as a mother. Black and white thinking is destructive. The world is not black and white. It was created with colour: so many different shades, hues and tones. And the absolute truth is, we can OFTEN fail as a parent, and that doesn’t mean we aren’t a good parent. It just means we haven’t lived up to our own expectations.
The only real failure is not trying in the first place. Perfectionism tells us that if we aren’t perfect, we have failed. But that is not the truth. It just means we are not perfect. But you know what? We never were, and I am thankful I don’t have to be.
In my 11 years of experience parenting a child with ADHD, without failure, I wouldn’t have stumbled across things that actually work. Sometimes my most spectacular failures have adapted into amazing tools and strategies, and then others have just been complete and utter disasters.
Start with yourself
A significant number of parents with children with ADHD are stressed and overwhelmed. Several years ago, the mere thought of adding another thing into my already crazy life was just too much to even think about. I was barely getting by with everything I had going on in my life.
I remember my son’s psychologist asked me once at the beginning of a session, how I was feeling. Not sure if it was because I was in my tracksuit pants, with a top-knot hairdo and looked like I’d been hit by a bus, or if he was just nice, but I told him I was stressed, exhausted and just not feeling great. The session ended up with him, talking to me about what I can do for myself.
Like most mums trying to do it all, I was a bit annoyed. I remember thinking, I am paying you to teach me how to work with my son, not worry about me!
But the fact is that we are not able to show up for our kids, and implement changes if we are burnt out, depressed or exhausted.
Make an appointment to speak to your own psychologist and work on getting well yourself. Trust me! If you can show up and be ‘healthy,’ you will start to see a significant change in your world. Even if nothing changes with your children, mentally, you will be more positive, and you will be able to feel as though you can take on more things!
Start with one thing at a time
As I said before, all of the strategies above are fantastic. Implementing any of them will make an impact on you, your child or your family, but it is not possible to achieve everything you read.
Start small. Make one change and let it settle into your routine before adding another change.
Do you want your child to read more books? Can you start reading with them before bedtime a couple of times a week? That’s all. Do that, let that become part of your routine, then start on something else small. Soon you will have a dozen new strategies or routines that are part of your day.
Do you want to give green time a try? Set aside an hour every Saturday morning and go on a bushwalk with a picnic at the end. A few years ago, we looked up every park in our city and tried them all out. Every Friday afternoon after school we would go and see another park. It was so much fun, it gave us a fun family activity to do together, got our green time in and we took a soccer ball to get our exercise in as well.
You can’t change everything at once, so start small. Once you get a little success, you will be more likely to keep going!
Find your domino areas
Dominoing is something that I found out about a few years ago, and it really is a simple but powerful strategy. I first heard it from an amazing woman called Allie Casazza. She is an amazing Mum who teaches how to simplify your home, so you can simplify your life. You should check her out. I have bought some of her online courses and love them.
She speaks about your domino areas in the context of minimalism. Basically, dominoing is about finding the area that takes up the most of your time or energy and making that minimal. Mine was laundry and the dishes/kitchen. Once you make that minimal it frees you up to work on another area of your life. So for example, going through all the clothes in the house and getting rid of what you don’t need or want, and then reduces the amount of washing you need to do, which in turn allows you to focus on other essential things.
So how can we domino the life of being a Mum (or parent) of ADHD kids?
First, identify your most significant area of stress.
Right back at the beginning of our ADHD journey, our most significant issue, was violent and aggressive meltdowns. Most days, these would take up at least 2-3 hours of our day, sometimes several times per day. I would get home from work and there would be about 3 hours until bedtime. So, a 2-3-hour meltdown did not fit in well to our schedule. My husband, at that stage, was working long hours and travelling for work, and so that would give me less than an hour, if that, to do our nighttime routine alone. Less than one hour to make and have dinner, get three kids bathed and ready for bed, read a book with each of them, do some homework and piano practice, try to fit some fun family time in and then pack lunches and bags for the next day. Of course, this was impossible, so it would push our bedtime back further and further, leaving me a sobbing mess at the end of the night, because of course, most children with ADHD do not fall asleep easily.
Actually, even writing about that time in our life, I am getting teary. That was our reality for so long. But I knew that if I could reduce or eliminate the violent and aggressive meltdowns, that would actually buy back 2-3 hours of my day to get so many other jobs done and maybe even have time for some family fun too! This one area acts as the first domino to get all of the other dominos to fall in line.
As soon as you read this, you might feel as though you know the exact thing that you want to change to start the dominos. Maybe there are too many. Take some time here to brainstorm what changes need to be made. Then take some time identifying which one is going to have the most significant impact on you and your family. I knew that if I could reduce the number of meltdowns that were occurring, it would allow me to spend time doing other things from a place of calm.
For you, it might be the same as me, or it could be messy rooms, fights over screen time, or the bedtime routine.
What is taking up the most significant amount of your time and energy, that could potentially be used for other things? That is the place to start. That is your domino area. It doesn’t mean you aren’t going to work on those other areas of life. But we have a limited amount of energy and time. Try and knock over that first area first. Shelf the others for when you have the domino area under control.
What is going to give you the biggest bang for your buck and domino other areas as well?
Second, implement evidence-based strategies to start the domino.
Once you have identified your area of most significant stress or concern, do some research. Don’t waste your time implementing a strategy that great Aunt Gladys swore by in her day (unless it is really awesome – then go Aunt Gladys!) What is the current best evidence or program for reducing meltdowns? What is going to work to get my children to sleep at a decent hour, so they can get the right amount of sleep? What does the evidence say?
Does this sound overwhelming and you have no idea where to start to get strategies? Talk to your psychologist, your child’s psychologist or paediatrician or go to reputable sources for your information and strategy. Try not to be sucked in by the latest hype on a new food that will make your child sleepy or the latest $800 belt that helps keep your child off screens. Make a plan, set a goal and implement it. Then assess its effectiveness. Is it working? Does it just need some tweaks, or is it making things worse and you need to come up with another strategy? But remember you need to give a new strategy time to work.
Why not join the ADHD Done Differently Facebook group? You can ask all sorts of questions and brainstorm with other Mums walking a similar journey to you.
What are you going to work on first? What is going to give you the biggest bang for your buck? What is the domino in your life, that will start the amazing journey of other dominoes falling over, so you can get ADHD Done Differently?
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