I Was Already A Mom When I Was Diagnosed With ADHD, Now I Help My Daughter Manage Hers

By Tamara Schroeder

PHOTO © chanelpluscat/Twenty20

May 18, 2022

“Hey, honey?” the voice of my partner calls from the kitchen.

“What’s up?” I ask.

“Is there a reason your phone charger is in the freezer?”

Without missing a beat, I respond, “That’s where I keep it now.”

This type of conversation is pretty normal for our home. It wasn't until I was diagnosed with ADHD five years ago that I understood why I spent so much time retracing steps to find something I’d just had in my hand. I spent most of my life feeling like a fiery train wreck, which only intensified when I became a parent.

When my therapist asked me in 2017 if I’d ever been screened, I was surprised. Not by the suggestion itself — I had suspected for years it might be the case — but because I didn't realize adult ADHD was something that was acknowledged, let alone treated. It was like the missing piece fell into place of a puzzle I never really understood. I wasn’t looking for an excuse for what appeared from the outside to be inconsiderate, sometimes irresponsible, behaviour — I was just desperate for an explanation. This one finally made sense.

When Glynis Radcliffe's daughter was diagnosed with ADHD in grade school, she learned that diagnosis is different for girls.

Learning About ADHD in Girls And Women

According to the Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada, ADHD affects five to nine per cent of children and three to five per cent of adults. It's roughly as hereditary as height (75 per cent), a statistic that proved accurate for our family when one of my children received the same diagnosis a short time later.

When my therapist showed me a checklist of common ADHD characteristics, it was like reading something written specifically about me and the traits that had long caused friction in many of my teenage and adult relationships: lateness, messiness, procrastination and starting projects that I never finished, just to name a few.

"While I would frequently get in trouble for talking in class, I lacked the hyperactivity and impulsivity that was usually a red flag in boys the same age."

It was the desire to understand myself better than led me to be more formally assessed, and in the years since, I’ve learned that it’s not uncommon for adults, often women, around my age to go through most of their lives undiagnosed. This is unsurprising, as the criteria used to assess ADHD when I was in grade school was based on traits commonly seen in boys. Girls, especially in an academic setting, often presented differently.

While I would frequently get in trouble for talking in class, I lacked the hyperactivity and impulsivity that was usually a red flag in boys the same age. Instead, I quietly tuned out of things that didn’t interest me.

Adding to the confusion for both myself and my parents, was the fact that my hyperfocus was reading. So when I began failing science and math classes in junior high, my lack of executive function was mistaken for laziness. “If you just applied yourself, you could be at the top of your class,” my parents urged.

Adulthood and Parenting While Undiagnosed

The failures followed me into adulthood, when I almost flunked out of college, and lost more than one job because I wasn’t wired to sit at a desk, isolated, for long days doing repetitive, mundane tasks.

It wasn’t until I had my first baby that my lack of self-esteem after years of struggling came to a head. I was convinced my usual level of chaos was going to ruin my child. I remember my friends joking that everyone is “a little ADHD.”

"I was convinced my usual level of chaos was going to ruin my child."

The side effects of navigating those early years of parenting seemed to mirror the neurodivergent brain: a lack of sleep while managing the chaos of little people manifesting as forgetfulness, lateness and lack of focus.

As my kids got a bit older, parenting with ADHD started to look like missing a pediatrician appointment or teacher meeting that you thought about the day before, but had somehow forgotten in the hours since. Or like staying up until 5 a.m. the day of your child’s birthday party because you decided you could totally be a Pinterest mom and whip up a handmade sign and Gonzo Jell-O cups (that ended up looking like a melting Muppet face, if you were wondering).

It looks like guilt from incomplete baby books, forgotten permission slips and shopping for Halloween costumes at the last possible minute. It feels like living in a constant state of questioning how I’ve looked after fully dependent creatures as long as I have.

The frustration of going undiagnosed for so long made me wonder why I couldn’t get my life together the way my neurotypical friends seemed to. I was obsessed with what I thought I should be able to do, not what I could reasonably do.

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Guiding my Daughter Through Her Diagnosis

Shortly after my own diagnosis, my partner and I were called into a meeting with my daughter’s teacher. “I think she should be assessed for ADHD,” she informed us.

While that part wasn’t surprising as the signs were there, my own diagnosis was recent. I felt like I could barely manage my own life in this relatively new territory, let alone guide a smaller, more dysregulated version of myself through it.

"I want her to appreciate that the tools for managing neurodivergence look different for everyone."

My journey in the years since has involved learning how to work with a brain like mine, and using that knowledge to help my daughter understand hers. I want her to have the ability to set expectations that align with her abilities so she feels empowered to succeed, especially in a world designed for neurotypical people. I’m committed to helping her develop confidence and self-esteem in these developmental years that my own early struggles and lack of understanding made almost impossible for me.

Mostly, I want her to appreciate that the tools for managing neurodivergence look different for everyone, and the process of finding strategies that work for her is ongoing. My own strategies include setting alarms for appointments or time-sensitive tasks (and then setting two more because I’ll inevitably end up hitting snooze and completely forgetting otherwise) and using medication without shame. Sometimes a pharmacist can provide what my brain can’t in the way of chemicals.

It has also allowed me to demonstrate that honouring those boundaries in both her personal and professional lives will make everyone — especially her — happier in the long run. Even when that looks like being fully rested and choosing a last-minute birthday cake at the grocery store bakery on the way to a trampoline party I didn’t organize myself.

Store-bought buttercream frosting, like store-bought neurotransmitters, are perfectly fine for me.

Tamara Schroeder

Tamara Schroeder is a freelance writer from Alberta who graduated from the journalism program at Mount Royal University so long ago, it was still a college at the time.

When she isn't listening to her nine- and 12-year old talk about Minecraft and Animal Crossing, you can usually find her running, enjoying the mountains or talking to her lively Twitter community about everything from ADHD and mental health to the time she got tipsy at a Fred Penner adult sing-along and spent $300 on a life-size concert poster.

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