Go in Peace; Confessions of a Mom with ADHD

I found a new series of videos on ADHD.  A woman named Jessica McCabe made them after struggling to reach her potential for many years.  She gave a TED talk where she explains her journey.  It sounds so much like mine!  You start out so hopeful and full of promise, and then ADHD just gets in the way and you end up lonely, ashamed, and frustrated.  The biggest thing that Jessica figured out was that speaking out was the key to overcoming shame and loneliness. 

I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, after my second child was found to have a severe case of it. Having ADHD is challenging, but then you are also likely to have children who also have it. Parenting ADHD children as an ADHD parent is extra challenging.

King Tantalus was punished by being eternally tormented with hunger and thirst while surrounded by food and water.

Being atypical is always hard.  Ask any left handed person.  Being neutrally atypical is maddening.  I’m always comparing my own perceptions with everyone else as a frame of reference.  As a result, I am getting conflicting and confusing messages about who I am and how I’m supposed to behave.  Jessica says it is like being both the smartest person and the dumbest person in the room; and being the most motivated and most lazy person in the room.  That really sums up how I feel about myself and my kids.  There is so much potential there; we are so close to success we can almost taste it.  But like King Tantalus, it is constantly and maddenly out of reach.

It’s brutal on my self esteem to feel like no matter how hard I try to be on-time, stay on-task, manage a schedule, or even pay attention to my husband when he wants to talk to me, I just can’t do it.  ADHD impacts every aspect of my life in ways that even I don’t totally understand.  I function fairly well when it really matters, but what a lot of people on the outside don’t see is the coping strategies I use to make it all work.  I’ll use one example.

When I was a new mom, I went to a store with my newborn in a carseat.  I got distracted with the shopping and forgot my baby sitting on the floor sleeping peacefully.  I left him as I completed my shopping, went through the checkout, and left the store.  At some point before I drove off, I was overcome with panic remembering that I was a mom and I didn’t have my baby.  I will never forget that wash of shame, the panicked dash back into the store, and the mumbled excuse I gave to the cashier without meeting her gaze.  Some people might just see this as the typical behavior of a sleep deprived new mother.  I knew it was more than that.  It was the beginning of eighteen long years of responsibility for another person that would acquire attention and focus that I knew I was incapable of.  I knew that this was only the first of what would be countless episodes of danger that my child would experience because of my brain problems.  How could I make myself pay attention?  How could I ensure that I would be a good mom and keep my baby safe? 

Me holding my newborn baby. Nothing is more important to me than my four boys, but I know that with ADHD I face unique challenges as a mother.

I would regularly subject myself to shaming sessions where I would rehearse the fear, panic, and devastating grief that would happen if I didn’t focus my attention with my child and something horrible happened.  I knew that forgetting my child that day at the store was not that big of a deal.  He was sleeping, and I remembered him within a few moments.  What if I forgot him in the car in the heat of a Texas summer day?  I would vividly imagine my baby screaming in pain as he slowly died of heat because I forgot about him.  That was the way I motivated myself.  It has worked.  I have a very ingrained process of opening the back door when I stop the car, even when my kids aren’t in the car.  I have coped, but at what cost to myself?  And whenever I slip up, I’m reminded of the truth; I will never be a good mom.  My children will never be safe with me taking care of them.

It’s no wonder that I’ve avoided social interactions as a mom.  I’m convinced there is no more judgmental and critical group of people in the universe than mothers of young children.  Except for maybe their grandmothers.  Being with a group of young moms at a playgroup is torture for me.  I’m sure that they will see the truth, that I am a mess and their children are not safe with me no matter how good of an image I try to project.

Emotional and psychological torment along with social isolation, are two coping strategies that have traded ADHD problems for problems with anxiety and depression.  I’m so afraid that I will leave my child in a hot car, I don’t want to go anywhere during the summers.  I’m so afraid of being judged by other moms, I avoid playgroups and close relationships with other moms.  I’m lonely and ashamed of myself.  My kids, who are also ADHD, learn from me that the way to handle their problems is avoidance and shame.

I still don’t have all the answers for how to deal with these issues.  All I know is that I can’t bare them alone anymore.  It makes the people around me feel better to think that I’m a great mom who has it all together, but the truth is, that’s just a projection.  The real me knows that I’m not the mom my boys deserve.  My medication helps in the morning, but by mid afternoon, it starts to wear off.  I have a mid afternoon slump just as my kids come home from school, which makes it difficult to keep track of everyone and keep everybody safe and on task.

Last week I was in one of my crashes.  I was in my room watching crime shows on Amazon Prime.  Wesley and his friend were at the school playground that is just down the street.  Austin was upstairs with Layne.  Until he wasn’t.  He walked out the front door in nothing but a pair of shorts and walked over to the school playground to play.  It isn’t the first time he’s done this.  I knew it was only a matter of time before someone called the police.  Wesley came to get me to tell me that Austin was at the school playground and that the afterschool care lady wouldn’t let him leave without a parent.  The officer was there to meet me.

I don’t need any pity.  I know I screwed up.  Yes, I’m grateful he’s okay and I understand why people are concerned.  It still hurts like hell because there are no easy answers.  And that’s what I felt as I considered all the ways I was incurably flawed and how I would never be able to be the mom my children need me to be.  Shame.  Burning hot and painful as hell.  Hell that never ends.

Except that I have a Redeemer.  He knows my heart.  He knows the effort I put in that no one sees.  He knows that even though I am flawed, that He is enough!  And He loves me; and my boys.  He has paid the price.  The police officers, the judges, and the critical mothers of this world fade in importance, their power dimming as I ponder on this truth.  He is all that matters.  I am not enough.  I was never expected to be.  That’s why I need Him.  That’s why I love Him.

I need Thee every hour,
Most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine,
Can peace afford.
I need Thee, O I need Thee,
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, Savior,
I come to Thee.

I need Thee every hour,
Stay Thou near by;
Temptations lose their power,
When Thou art nigh.
I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

I need Thee every hour,
In joy or pain;
Come quickly and abide,
Or life is vain.
I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

The Master taught the Pharisee that the person who is forgiven a few pennies worth of debt isn’t as grateful as the one forgiven a fortune.  I need Him.  Not a few pennies worth of Him, but a fortune.  I need Him like I need the air to breathe.  And so I love Him.  I come to him as she did, with oil in my hands and tears to wash his feet.  I beg for his mercy and plead for his forgiveness.  He says, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, because she loved much……Thy faith hath saved thee.  Go in peace.”

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