What ADHD Looks Like for Mom

When you think about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), you most likely envision a highly emotional or irritable young boy who is bouncing off the walls, unable to sit still, blurting things out, interrupting conversations, and easily distracted (‘squirrel!”). ADHD historically affects more boys than girls, because symptoms are more easily identified. In girls, ADHD can be overlooked because it may present differently than the hyperactive boy with its quintessential “screaming” symptoms. ADHD can be more subtle in girls, where it is exhibited by talking too much, excessive daydreaming, unable to start or finish an assignment, a messy backpack or bedroom, and frequent crying over small disappointments.

With much of the focus on diagnosing and treating ADHD in our children, and because characteristics of ADHD can be displayed differently in boys compared to girls, how do they present in adults? Are we neglecting symptoms in ourselves as parents? After all, ADHD does run in families. It is estimated that as high as 90 percent variation in the severity of ADHD traits is the result of a genetic component.

So, what do ADHD symptoms look like for Mom?
In adults, specifically moms, ADHD can easily be overlooked. With the current Supermom and “Lean In” culture, moms are doing more than it all. Whether they are working or staying at home, moms are encouraged — even expected — to manage work life, an orderly house with gourmet meals, volunteer time, and kids’ homework and after-school activities, all while managing herself perfectly with glossed lips and coiffed hair. Overwhelmed Mom Syndrome is REAL, and that’s exactly what it is — being overwhelmed by the never ending, ever growing “To-Do List.” But for some, the list isn’t just too long. The list, and life in general, is constantly overwhelming, ridden with anxiety. That mom has no idea how to even begin to check off a to-do item. It feels impossible, so she shuts down.

Is it Depression or ADHD?
Many times, a mom with undiagnosed ADHD may be treated for depression because the symptoms can be similar. Depression is legitimate for some ADHD moms, however it may be the secondary effect. Treating their depression may make a mom feel better, but it won’t take care of her ADHD symptoms. For this mom, the root cause is ADHD, which is what should be treated first. When ADHD is found to be the primary cause and is treated successfully, depression, if also present, can lift and life can become manageable again. Enjoyable. Zesty — as it should be.

What can symptoms look like?
ADHD can take on a variety of symptoms:

  • A constant state of being overwhelmed.
  • Spending most of your time catching up, coping, searching for lost things, covering up your struggles.
  • Feeling that it’s impossible to meet daily demands.
  • Shutting down in the middle of the day or having to nap to continue the day.
  • Seeing others of equal intelligence and education pass you by at work.
  • Feelings of despair because you have great ideas/plans and know you are not fulfilling your potential or meeting your goals.
  • Unable to understand why others lead consistent, productive, even regular lives so much more easily than you do.
  • Feeling like you are an imposter because you are hiding so much.
  • Feeling disorganized, whether it’s in your mind, house, car, closets, checking account.
  • Feelings of being at one end of the “busyness” spectrum or the other — a tornado or a couch potato.
  • Unable to remember what was told to you because as someone is talking, you are thinking about something else.

These are just a few examples of symptoms, and I’m sure so many of you are asking yourselves if you have ADHD now that you’ve read the list. But an ADHD mom feels this way every day — ALL THE TIME. Not occasionally because that month happens to be over-scheduled and busy. An ADHD mom struggles with her symptoms even when the calendar is clear.

Is ADHD just a trend?
Research shows that more people, children and adults, are being diagnosed with ADHD in recent years. It is suggested that this is due to the medical community becoming more adept at recognizing symptoms, more studies about the diagnosis, better evaluations developed and a general increase in awareness. There are also some environmental theories about the increase in diagnosis of ADHD. Those include the drastic increase in technology use — most two-parent homes are also two-income households with higher stress levels and expectations, and divorce rates are higher, resulting in more single-parent homes bearing a greater responsibility to manage everything by themselves.

There is hope.
Today, it isn’t uncommon for Mom to be diagnosed for the first time as an adult, partly because it wasn’t as identifiable decades ago when they were children. The good news is there are so many options for treatment should mom receive an ADHD diagnosis. From behavioral intervention and working with specialists to understand her behaviors and finding ways to modify them, to prescription medication that includes stimulants and non-stimulants. There are also support groups, sports and fitness classes, and family counseling. There may not be a cure for ADHD, but successful treatment options are aplenty.

ADHD challenges feel isolating if not treated. One of the best things moms can do for themselves while pursuing a diagnosis and/or treatment is to surround themselves with loved ones. Focus on those who love you. Focus on the present. Forgive yourself. Love your family. Love yourself. It may have been a long journey to get help, but you are worth it. Moms are always worth it.

As with any medical concern, always consult your physician.

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