What You'll Learn
- The Unique Challenges Moms with ADHD Face
- Factors that Impact Our Capacity
- The Internal Contradictions for Moms with ADHD
- What to Do If You Feel Understimulated
- How Moms with ADHD Can Practice Mindfulness and Self-care
- Self-care for Moms with ADHD
Moms with ADHD take on additional struggles and labor, along with the typical mental load of motherhood. Our mental health affects our capacity and impacts the way we deal with stress.
Today, I’m joined by psychiatrist Dr. Sasha Hamdani, founder of The Psych Doctor MD, to discuss how moms with ADHD can overcome their challenges and take care of themselves in the process.
Discovering My ADHD
I always knew that there was something different about the way my brain worked. I felt wound up. I had trouble getting places on time. And noises and mess triggered me more than they did others around me.
When I became a mom, those tendencies increased. But it wasn’t until my son was diagnosed with ADHD that I began to realize that I might have it as well.
My ADHD diagnosis answered a lot of questions I had about myself.
My ADHD diagnosis answered a lot of questions I had about myself. It showed me why I experienced certain challenges, why I just couldn’t ever seem to slow down and relax, and why it was so important for me to find my own ways to manage in motherhood.
I stumbled across Dr. Sasha’s page before I knew I had ADHD—back when the TikTok algorithm was trying to tell me I did! I found a great deal of comfort and answers in her content. So I was excited to talk with her about the unique challenges moms with ADHD face.
The Unique Challenges Moms with ADHD Face
Motherhood has a way of making symptoms of ADHD bigger and harder to deal with. Dr. Sasha pointed out that many people with ADHD learn early on in their lives how to mask or cope with their symptoms. But once you’re responsible for caring for children, it amplifies.
It became even more difficult in the pandemic. Moms were now overwhelmingly carrying the added invisible load in the home, dealing with virtual school, child-care, and all of the changes the pandemic brought. Dr. Sasha said that many moms began recognizing that they might have ADHD during the pandemic. Others who had already been diagnosed also struggled with increased symptoms during that time.
Even before the pandemic, however, moms with ADHD faced extra challenges. Dr. Sasha pointed out that the way ADHD presents itself is different for everyone. But one of the common struggles is difficulty with executive functioning—the functions required to get a goal completed. Moms with ADHD often find it hard to initiate or organize tasks.
It’s also common to experience mood shifting and emotional dysregulation. This becomes very difficult when trying to keep yourself balanced and navigate the noise, mess, and chaos of motherhood.
We want to model regulation and ideal behavior for our children. But it’s hard when we’re struggling with the same things ourselves.
I remember early in motherhood grappling with folding and putting away the laundry. It became so paralyzing to me. I had to get curious as to why it was so hard. Ultimately, I realized that it wasn’t just about the laundry itself—it was about the invisible labor that went with it. I needed to change clothes over for the season, sort through sizes, organize dressers, and shop for clothes.
This invisible load impacts all moms, but it becomes especially difficult when we’re also struggling with executive function.
Factors that Impact Our Capacity
We all have a limited capacity to cope with stress and the world around us. Think about how you feel at the end of a day at work or at home with the kids. By the end of the day, you likely feel exhausted and more short-tempered—your capacity has been used up.
Our capacity ebbs and flows depending on many things—including nutrition, sleep, and stress. But our mental health also plays a big role. Moms with ADHD often find themselves with a smaller capacity to stay in control of their emotions.
It’s important to recognize that and check in with ourselves. Dr. Sasha pointed out that she has days where her brain is just not cooperating. She has to accept that on those days, nothing is going to get done.
We need to be flexible with ourselves and understand that capacity shifts from day to day.
Sometimes we even make plans on a day when our capacity is good. We think we’ll be able to tackle the next day with ease. But then disrupted sleep might lead us to wake up feeling depleted. We need to be flexible with ourselves and understand that capacity shifts from day to day.
Dr. Sasha pointed out that many moms experience shame around not being able to complete tasks or regulate emotions. That shame just leads to even more paralysis.
Instead of slipping into the shame cycle, we have to give ourselves grace. Sometimes, our expectations are different from reality. Sometimes, we’re going to struggle.
The Internal Contradictions for Moms with ADHD
Dr. Sasha believes that moms with ADHD are often facing internal contradictions. For her, the biggest one is that she sometimes feels like a child, still learning and doing work on herself, and yet she has to show up and be the leader for another person. It can be hard to wrap her head around both of those things.
Another contradiction is that we might want spontaneity and change, but our brains might need routine and structure to function. This can be difficult for moms with ADHD during maternity leave, a time that can feel boring.
We might want spontaneity and change, but our brains might need routine and structure to function.
Moms with ADHD might also find motherhood both understimulating and overstimulating at the same time. We have a lot of sensory inputs coming in, and yet there might not be a lot of opportunities to challenge ourselves in a healthy way.
Dr. Sasha said that it’s hard to find the right amount of stimulation and the balance of routine and peace.
What to Do If You Feel Understimulated
Feeling understimulated can be a very uncomfortable place for moms with ADHD. Dr. Sasha pointed out that ADHD is a low dopamine state. When we feel understimulated, our brains might not be using dopamine in the right way, at the right time. It doesn’t necessarily mean we aren’t making the right amount of dopamine—just that we aren’t using it efficiently.
But she said that those low dopamine moments aren’t necessarily a bad thing. The alarm chemicals in our brain might be telling us we need stimulation, but the lack of stimulation might actually be the best thing for the household at that moment.
Dr. Sasha recommended looking within during those moments to see what we can do to stimulate or challenge ourselves, whether that’s finding a creative outlet or exploring a new hobby.
She said that it’s important to find ways to entertain ourselves so that we can be more present and engaging with our kids. We sometimes pressure ourselves to be “on” all the time. But if we aren’t stimulating our own brains and fulfilling our own needs, it’s harder to stay in the moment.
How Moms with ADHD Can Practice Mindfulness
When we search for answers on how to be more present with our kids, many people talk about mindfulness. But Dr. Sasha pointed out that mindfulness doesn’t have to look one way. Moms with ADHD might find it difficult to practice meditation or do traditional mindfulness activities.
However, the ultimate goal of mindfulness is grounding. Dr. Sasha pointed out that mindfulness isn’t a destination—it’s a practice we can slowly work on.
Mindfulness isn’t a destination—it’s a practice we can slowly work on.
If you find yourself in an overstimulated state and your mind is racing, take a step back—not to try to solve problems, but just to observe. Pay attention to what you are thinking about. As you note your thoughts without emotion, you are reinforcing a feedback loop in your brain that your thoughts don’t have to raise alarms. This allows you to take a breath and remain calm.
Dr. Sasha also pointed out that it can be very difficult for moms with ADHD to remember to be mindful in triggering moments. If it’s a new skill, it likely isn’t in your arsenal of tools for those moments.
She recommends practicing in calmer moments, such as before bed. The more that you do it, the better you will become at it. This will make it easier to remember in stressful moments.
Mindfulness doesn’t have to look like “quieting” your brain. Dr. Sasha said she tried for years to force her brain to clear before she realized that would never work for her. Instead, mindfulness can happen in a variety of different ways, like looking at images, journaling, or neutrally monitoring your thoughts. You can find what works for you to become grounded.
(For more tips on coping with sensory overload, check out our workshop, Managing Overstimulation in Motherhood).
Self-care for Moms with ADHD
Just like mindfulness doesn’t have to look one specific way, self-care can come in a variety of forms. Moms face a lot of pressure to practice self-care. It sometimes becomes another to-do rather than a way to care for ourselves.
If you find relaxing difficult and stressful, it doesn’t serve you to try to force yourself to practice “self-care” in the traditional sense.
Sometimes, self-care is practicing non-judgemental curiosity about why we are responding in certain ways, or why our capacity is depleted. We might have to find practical workarounds for our lives based on what we discover.
For example, I have come to learn that evenings are a very difficult time for me. So I have carved out my one-on-one time to be engaged with my children for weekend mornings rather than trying to shame and punish myself for that.
The best self-care we can give ourselves is understanding how we work.
Dr. Sasha said that the best self-care we can give ourselves is understanding how we work and carving out usable hacks that help us survive motherhood with ADHD.
One of her self-care practices is having her favorite shirt in several different colors, so she knows she has a go-to outfit that will make her feel good and not trigger sensory struggles.
The more curious you get about yourself, the more ways you can find to relieve pressure and find solutions that work for you and your brain. The biggest thing I have learned as a mom with ADHD is that I have to carve out my own path in motherhood—not the ideals that society has determined.
If you’re struggling through motherhood, you don’t have to do it alone! Our mom therapists can help. Book a free 15 minute consult to assess your needs today!