I’m a Parent, But I’m the One With ADHD: How to Cope

Hartgrove Hospital I'm a Parent But I'm the One with ADHD

By Pat Matuszak

Most new parents suffer from symptoms that could fall under the general guidelines for a diagnosis of ADHD: lack of focus on directions, forgetfulness, disorganization, losing important items and a general sense of foggy thinking. Simply adding a fully dependent human being to your busy schedule can do some of that. The lack of sleep due to the needs of this cute, but demanding, human is another likely cause. However, if the symptoms continue into your child’s growing-up years instead of fading as you get more rest, it may be that ADHD has gone undiagnosed.1

Your Creativity Has Served You Well, Until Now

A high level of creative intuition is another feature of ADHD, which means you may have become exceptionally adept at flying under the diagnostic radar for the first couple decades of your life. This personality trait thrives in challenging scenarios that would stump a less imaginative thinker. While this is a great quality in parenting, it may also mask ADHD symptoms because you are able to come up with workarounds on the fly to compensate for a lack of focus and organization.

The first hint of ADHD may not be exposed until life circumstances overwhelm you, such as a new job, marriage, taking on responsibilities for aging parents or becoming a parent yourself. Your former precocious ways of coping are not enough when the exhausting new challenge is added. It’s as if you have been sailing a leaky vessel, heroically staying on course and bailing water all these years, and then a huge storm comes up. Suddenly doubling your workload makes coping, hiding or denying symptoms impossible.2

Help Is Available

If you think you have crossed over from the normal chaos of family activity to something deeper, the first step is to talk to your doctor about symptoms. They can offer therapy techniques or medication that may help the symptoms and increase your focus. Lab tests for an ADHD gene don’t exist yet, but there are psychological and functional tests. You might have to insist to get them prescribed. A witness, such as a spouse or relative who has seen how you function, may help describe to the doctor that help is necessary and that it’s not just the usual stress of parenting.3

In either case, there are strategies that help both parenting stress and ADHD. These tips will not only help you stay in focus, but will bring precious minutes back into your schedule so you can enjoy the creative side of parenting that you love and excel in.

Make Lists

Few parents are so good at organizational thinking that they don’t need a written list. Most of us need all those details written out somewhere, not just while children are small. The activities schedule usually grows along with your children as play dates morph into sports events or club meetings. Once you have developed a list for your first child, you can tweak it with each new kid. Put it on your phone, in a planner or on a calendar on the fridge. Here’s how it works:

  • Daily tasks and micro-tasks — “Make breakfast” may be one task, but includes at least three smaller micro-tasks of waking the child up with enough time to eat, assembling the ingredients and putting them out or cooking them.
  • Weekly chores — “Buying breakfast ingredients” would be a micro-task of the grocery shopping chore, with sub-micro-tasks of making a shopping list, going to the store and putting ingredients away at home.
  • Monthly reminders — “Pay bills” would be one task and includes micro-tasks of checking your bank balance, keeping the bill notices in one place and getting stamps.

Pay Attention

Right, you have a low attention span and can’t focus because of ADHD. But here again, list-making comes to the rescue. When someone is giving you information, write it down or put it into your cell phone calendar with an alarm to remind you to do something about it at the appropriate time. People love this. Don’t hesitate to stop them and say, “Let me put your info in my calendar.” They will see you care about their needs enough to make a note of them and won’t mind waiting for you to do so.

Recruit Helpers

You don’t have to be the one to remember and do all those micro-tasks, especially as your children grow and can do more to help. Look at your list with the family and make some assignments. Your family might see some holes in your plan and help you add some micro-tasks to smooth the process. Put the name of the person who will be in charge next to each micro-task. Be realistic about how much time each activity will take the person in charge of it.

Set Up Rules to Tame the House

While you are recruiting help, get the family to agree to some Is the living room constantly cluttered? Maybe all the toys need to stay in the playroom or bedrooms? Could school items be kept in an area dedicated to studying, so they don’t need to be searched for when it’s time to leave for school? Should there be quiet hours when TV, music or video games are used with headphones so you can recharge and plan tomorrow without distraction? You are not being a buzzkill to suggest this. Children, including teens, benefit from structure as much as you do. ADHD tends to run in families, so you may be dealing with your child’s inherited symptoms as well as your own. Structure you can all count on is one of the best tools to help everyone.4

The Payoff Is Worth the Effort

You just freed up some time for yourself! Since you don’t have to double back to fix the tasks you forgot about or reschedule appointments you missed, you can schedule some time for yourself. Take a walk, a bubble bath, go out for coffee or golf with a friend. Build in some time doing something that helps you feel refreshed every day. It doesn’t have to be a long block of time, but put it in your calendar. Taking care of yourself is a start to having enough energy and presence of mind to take care of others.5


1 McCombs, Emily. “Being a Mom Is Hard. Being a Mom with ADHD Feels Impossible.” Cosmopolitan.com, Aug 31, 2016.

2 T., Dee. “An Experiment for People Who Don’t Understand ADHD.” TheMighty.com, June 23, 2016.

3 Attitude Editors. “What Inattentive ADHD Looks Like In the (Not So) Wild.” Attitudemag.com, 2017.

4 Taylor, John, “13 Survival Strategies for Moms with ADHD.” Attitudemag.com, November 2005.

5 Bailey, Eileen. “When Dad Has ADHD.” Healthcentral.com, June 22, 2010.

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