ADHD, ADHD Parenting, emotional dysregulation

Why it’s ok to fail as a parent

I am failing as a mother. These words enter my head a lot.

According to research, I am not alone. Research has found that parents of children with ADHD have significantly higher stress levels and feel less competent than their neurotypical peers. This is certainly true for the parents I know. This is certainly true for me.

I am always pretty honest about the struggles we have in raising three neurodiverse children. I will never pretend I have everything figured out and that our life is never a struggle. We have daily behavioural battles. There are times I go to my wardrobe to cry. There are times I get so angry I feel my blood is going to boil. There are times I say things I shouldn’t.

There are times I really want to run away and live in the hills with no one around for miles – actually, probably not. I’m an extrovert all the way, so I need people around me, and I hate bugs! Maybe a mansion on a beach, but I digress. There are many times I don’t get it right as a mum to my babies.

This morning was one of those days— the days where I feel like a failure.

One of my daughters struggles with emotional regulation in the mornings before her meds kick in. She likes to run things her own way and will not listen to anyone. She can be angry and loud and often takes her big feelings out on her family. This is almost every single morning. It is hard. Mainly because she is not living in a bubble. She has a brother who is loud and active in the mornings and loves riling her up. She also has a mother that doesn’t always cope with big emotions.

It has taken me years to learn how to be a gentle parent, and most of the time, I am one. I can emotion coach till the cows come home, and I can cope with many challenging behaviours. But some days, I really struggle. Today was one of those days.  I found myself back to past Mum, threatening her with consequences constantly increasing in their “firmness.” I was engaging in the back and forward tennis match of the tournament of strong-willed arguments.

After our back and forth, my daughter screamed at me, “Stop Talking to me! I never want you to talk to me again.” So, I decided to honour her request. “ok”, I found myself saying.

About 10 mins later, she came and asked where her black pants were (for her Saturday activity). I said, “How can I help you where your pants are if I’m not allowed to speak to you.” How playground is that. Oh my goodness. My strong-willed daughter had settled down and was getting ready for her Saturday activity (which was the topic of the battle). She had even come to ask for my help. And how did I respond? Like a bitchy teenager. She went and found her pants, and I made myself a coffee.

My husband takes the girls to their morning activities most Saturdays (when he isn’t working) and then has one-on-one time with our son. This is the time I get to also work on the blogs and resources for ADHD Done Differently. I had another blog planned, but when they left, I sat down with my cup of coffee and reflected on the epic battle that took place.

I am such a crappy mother who is failing her children. This is the first thought I had after taking that first sip of coffee. Several years ago, I would have just accepted that as truth and struggled to pick myself back up from that thought.

But one of the most powerful and helpful strategies I have ever learned is to take these thoughts captive… to challenge my thoughts and beliefs. This is a cognitive behavioural strategy that can stop the rabbit hole of dark thoughts in their tracks.

I thought about failure. What is failure? According to the Cambridge Dictionary is “the fact of someone or something not succeeding.” And what is success?  It is achieving the results wanted or hoped for.

So, when my daughter came back to me to ask for my help, I HAD failed. I failed to parent the way I wanted to. The way I had hoped I would raise my children… at that moment, I failed.

But here is where an important distinction needs to take place.

Failing at that moment does not mean I am failing as a mother.

It means that in that one moment, where I should have been the adult and parented in a way that aligned with my values, I had failed. It is time that we normalise failure. Without failure, we can’t learn from our mistakes. Without failure, we can’t try again with experience behind us. Failure is not a permanent state; it is a launchpad.

I love the quote by Arianna Huffington – Failure is not the opposite of success; it’s part of success. How awesome is that. I can choose to turn my parenting failure into a successful model of appropriate behaviour to my daughter.

How did I do that? I apologised to her when she returned home after her activity. I am the adult in our relationship. I can be a model of forgiveness and grace for my daughter.

So I said,  “I am sorry for ignoring you when you needed my help. I felt extremely frustrated that you were yelling at me and refusing to go to your Saturday activity. Still, it was not ok for me to be rude to you. I’m sure you felt hurt and alone. Do you forgive me?”

We need to show our children that mistakes and failures are ok, as long as we can learn from them and move on. It is so powerful for our children to see parents taking responsibility for their mistakes and failures and use them as a launchpad for success.

We need to shift our mindset that to be a great mother, we can never fail. Failure is natural, normal and all part of the learning process. Don’t allow one failure make you feel as though you are failing as a mother or parent. You will only fail if you stop trying. You will only fail if you give up.

Embrace failure, learn from it and let it be your launchpad to get ADHD Done Differently.

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