Guidance for Uncertain Times: Mothers and ADHD—Permit Yourself to Breathe
Podcast date: May 12, 2020
Susan Buningh intro:
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Hello, and welcome to the ADHD 365 podcast. I'm your host, Susan Buningh, and I'm here today with Terry Matlen to talk about women with ADHD. Hi Terry! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi Susan! First, I want to thank you for inviting me to this podcast. I'm thrilled to be here. I am a clinical social worker, a psychotherapist, and an author of two books. The latest one was The Queen of Distraction, and I run an online resource for women with ADHD called addconsults.com and queensofdistraction.com. I also coach. So I do a lot of different things, but my main interest is helping women with ADHD, and moms with ADHD.
Thank you. We're certainly in the middle of a very interesting time. What are the challenges—some of the challenges faced by women who have ADHD, and how can they cope with these challenges? And especially if you could talk about mothers with ADHD.
Well, we are in some very strange times, aren't we? And it is a challenge for women with ADHD, and more so, I think for moms with ADHD. So, you bring up a really good question. How do we cope? Well, even without the pandemic, without all the concerns that we have with just day-to-day functioning, we have this huge thing happening to all of us. And as I see it, it's a type of trauma. And I think that even in the best of circumstances, if you're a woman without ADHD, there are huge challenges just getting through the day in a number of ways. But when you add the ADHD component—so we think of ADHD as having issues with procrastination, feelings of being overwhelmed, being disorganized, being distracted—those are daily challenges for women. And I have ADHD myself, so, I really do understand a lot of these problems that women are facing right now. So, when you add all the symptoms of ADHD on a normal day, many of us are overwhelmed; you add this pandemic, you add all the challenges of getting through a day, and it can be extremely difficult for us.
So, how do we cope? Well, I think the very first thing we need to do is to acknowledge. Acknowledge that this is something different that's going on, that's never happened to any of us, for the most part, in our lifetime. So we need to first get to a sense of acknowledgment in a way of accepting that our lives have been turned upside down, and that it's normal. We have to normalize that we're feeling things in a very different way. We may have anxiety. A lot of us do. We may have depression. A lot of us do. There's this what we call comorbidities, or things that travel with our ADHD. So, our world has just turned upside down. We need to try to acknowledge all of the different changes that are happening, sometimes minute by minute. If you are watching or reading the news every day, there's something new for us to be worried about. And what often comes with ADHD is a tendency to worry, to obsess, to ruminate. And we internalize those feelings until we can become so overwhelmed that it feels like we can't function.
What would you recommend for moms with ADHD who are now working from home, but may also have to oversee their child's schooling?
That's very difficult. I'm so grateful that I'm an older mom now so I don't have to face that problem. And I look at my older daughter who has a toddler, so he's not really in school, but she's still working from home and taking care of a little one. Those moms out there with ADHD who are working from home, there's that, which is another whole new way of living for many of us who are used to getting out of the house, driving to work, and doing our work elsewhere. What's built in with working outside of the home is structure. So especially if you've had the same job for a while, you know you need to be at work at a certain time, you know how to access whatever it is you need to do to get through your workday. You probably have a supervisor or someone else who is giving you projects, and you have time limits. And so there's that built in structure that helps many, if not most people with ADHD.
If you're now working from home and that's a whole new ball game for you, you have lost that built-in structure, which again, is something that we as women and men often crave if we have ADHD. So, we have to figure out how do we, first, I'm going to just kind of focus on working from home, because that's a whole piece to itself. How do we build in structure when we're now at home, and we're being bombarded with a lot of distractions and no timeframe, perhaps, of when we need to start, when we need to end? We're thinking of all the things that we normally think of when we're home. For instance, "I need to do laundry. I need to grocery shop." How do we build in the structure?
One way is to simplify the best you can. A lot of us love the different kinds of gadgets out there and apps, and those are great for a lot of women. A lot of women really use those well, but a lot of us don't. So, think about what is your style? What helps you stay in a structured environment versus an unstructured environment, like at work? Do you use a planner? Do you use a computer program? Rely on other people to give you some kind of signal? "Okay, it's time to transition. We have a two o'clock meeting. We have a four o'clock meeting," and you write it down somewhere. So, what is your style at work? If you can try and replicate what happens at work, do it at home. That's great. Using visual cues is really helpful. I like simplicity. That's my style. I just can carry out a piece of paper and use numbers. One, two, three, four, five with a checkbox next to each one, and a time frame. Or a lot of people use planners, or whatever.
So figure out what is your style and what works best for you.
If mom is home trying to do her work, and then having to also support her children with schoolwork and attending school, how can people cope with that?
I'll say that it's not easy. You bring in kids that are at home who might need to be homeschooled or supervised to get their schoolwork done. So then we bring in part two of this pandemic. And in my mind, the pandemic is more than the virus. It's a pandemic of ourselves. It's learning to live with ourselves in a different way than we ever have before. My take on this is to make some shifts, some changes. Even though there are expectations that are being brought on to children to get work done, which then brings expectations of parents and partners, spouses, to keep our kids on track, I think at times it's truly unrealistic.
If mom has ADHD and a child has ADHD, it's time to start making your own rules. It may mean fighting with the school. It might mean some repercussions for you and for your child. But I believe number one, the most important thing for you and your child is your relationship with that child. If schoolwork is getting in the way and your child is falling apart, you're falling apart, you're going head to head, your child is acting out, you're getting depressed and anxious, and wanting to run out of the house, changes have to be made. So what I would suggest if that's the case—it may not be the case, some women are telling me they're having a really good time—that this is a great time to connect with their kids and to get more involved with their schooling, and to see what exactly are they learning.
So this isn't a black and white thing that we're talking about, but I am giving the scenario of those. And I think there are many who are struggling with working from home, and taking care of kids, and helping them with their schoolwork. One option, hopefully those of you listening who are moms, who have someone else living in the home with you—a partner, a spouse, another family member, maybe an older sibling of your child—who can help you out. We, again, I keep saying, we have this tendency to want to take so much on until we get to the point where we're falling apart. We don't want to do that. Our kids need us. They need us to be healthy and to be used as models for how we get through tough times. And that's another thing we can keep in mind. We are modeling behaviors, and our kids are watching us.
They pick up on how their parents are dealing with, whether it's this or anything, they have little radars. It's about first taking care of yourself. Knowing when you're about to lose it, or you're overwhelmed, and finding ways to get yourself calmed down. It could be handing off some responsibilities to whomever is in the house with you. If no one is in the house and it's just you taking all of this on, you must take care of yourself so that you can then take care of your kids.
So, getting back to the school piece, I would have conversations with teachers. If your child has ADHD or other special challenges, there's a good chance that he or she may have an IEP or a 504 plan, and is getting special help in school through federal laws that allow for kids with disabilities to get extra help and accommodations.
Well, you may have to be your child's IEP or 504 plan for a bit, and say to yourself, "Okay, I know that I can't deal with six hours of schoolwork, or three hours of schoolwork, or reading with my child, or overseeing math," whatever it is. "And it's overwhelming for my child, my child has lost social connections. My child has lost the structure too, just like I have lost the structure of my workplace." So put yourself in your child's shoes. Look at what he or she has lost during this time. Plus, the whole thing with the comorbidities again. Does your child have anxiety? Depression? Does your child have problems with self-regulation, which means being able to control his or her emotions? Does he need more downtime? Does he need more ways or she needs more ways to get excess energy out, if she happens to be hyperactive? We have kids who are inattentive and daydream. How do we pull kids out of their obsession with gadgets and screen time?
There's so much, and I know we don't have time to cover all of this, but I think it's a good time to at least think about it, and be aware of how this is affecting your child, too. What do we do? We talk to the child's teacher. If your child is struggling and you're struggling, it's okay to say to the teacher, "I can't put forth the effort and energy that you expect of me, because we have special challenges here at home." You as a mom or a parent, you do not have to tell anybody that you have ADHD. And I often tell and counsel people not to expose that in a way by saying, "I have ADHD." Instead, you can say, "Look, we're going through a tough time with this pandemic. I feel overwhelmed. I have a hard time concentrating. I'm not getting things done on time with my own work, so it's hard for me to be there for my child. Please help me make some accommodations so that we both can get something done, but maybe not to the timeline or through other expectations that you would normally have for kids who are being schooled at home."
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
I would say reach out more to others who care about you, and people that you care about. We can't do this alone. We really can't. And it's a great time to reconnect with maybe friends that you've lost touch with. It's a way to reconnect with relatives who are living across the country. It's a way to reconnect with yourself, finding ways to talk out your concerns with people who care about you. Learning to open up if you're the kind of person who is private and feels vulnerable, and doesn't like the feeling of vulnerability. Guess what? Everybody's feeling vulnerable right now, even if they don't appear to be acting or feeling that way, I can guarantee you at some level, we are all feeling the same thing, but in different ways. So it's okay to call someone and say, "You know, I'm feeling kind of lonely, and feeling kind of nervous. I don't know what's going to happen. Can we talk?" So I would say, reach out, get help. Talk to your professionals. If you're working with a therapist or a doctor, mental health professional, an ADHD coach, too. An ADHD coach can help you with some of the practical things that we talked about earlier. So don't go it alone.
Thank you so much for your time this afternoon.
Well, thank you for having me.
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