Managing Summer Stressors: A Message to Moms with ADHD
Do you remember the joy you felt as a child on the last day of school before summer vacation? The excitement, relief, and sense of accomplishment? It would be nice to feel so carefree again, wouldn't it? But all parents, especially moms with ADHD, know that "summer vacation" isn't really a vacation for everyone, especially if you have ADHD! How do you manage summer stressors with ADHD?
For adults with ADHD, transitioning into a new season of the year or life can be complicated and often scary. Trouble planning, organizing, focusing, staying alert, and remembering events and details adds a layer of difficulty that others may not fully understand.
When Moms Have ADHD
Moms with ADHD face more obstacles than their neurotypical peers. For example, suppose a mom with ADHD relies on external structures to cue her weakened working memory and time management skills. In that case, even the smallest changes in routine can throw her off for an entire week.
Having kids at home more of the time can mean more clutter and disorganization, putting stress on the ADHD brain's already strained organizational system. It increases the sense of chaos that makes daily life feel like "too much."
And then there are the vacations – usually worth the pain of planning but a stressor in and of themselves.
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Simple Tasks Become Enormous Challenges
For example, the seemingly simple task of packing for a vacation can feel like a really overwhelming summer stressor for a mom with ADHD. No one likes to pack, and most people wait until the last minute to pull it together. But for a mom with ADHD, packing may be the most challenging part of a trip.
Packing for a vacation requires:
- Sequencing – "Make a list, find a suitcase, gather clothes, compile toiletries, and don't forget your underwear and meds!"
- Time management and awareness – "Hurry! We leave in an hour! Nothing's packed!"
- Staying on task – "How did I end up in the basement? What did I come down here for again? What was I just doing?"
- Remembering to Remember (Prospective Memory) – "Don't forget to add your toothbrush to the pile in the morning!"
- Organizational skills - "Do I roll the t-shirts or stack them?"
- Memory for details – "Did they say that event was business casual?" "What was it I wished I had brought along last time?"
- Consideration of special needs – "Did I cut the tags off of Joey's new shirts?" "Do I have the white noise machine ready to go?"
- Planning ahead – "Order your medication and pick it up, so you don't run out while on the trip, then make sure it's packed somewhere safe."
So you can see how something meant to be wonderful can also be stressful and taxing, especially for a brain that already struggles with attention, organization, focus, memory, getting going, following through, managing time, and putting on the brakes! (Whew! That feels overwhelming just writing it!)
Lack of Structure Can Lead to …. Guilt?
The lack of structure in the summertime – family get-togethers, travel, getting kids ready for camp – means less stability, making a woman with ADHD feel as if the ground beneath her is quaking. While she may consider asking for support or saying no to invitations to lighten the load, guilt and shame often get in the way. After all:
The neighbors have family and friends over for BBQs every week in their perfectly groomed garden and hedged grass. My colleagues at work always seem to return from their exotic vacations tanned and relaxed, showing off pictures taken at the most flattering angle – with just the right amount of light! Why can't I just get it together?!
Sound familiar? It's hard not to compare, to feel judged as "less than" or "not enough" or "too much." As the burdens pile up, so does the overwhelm.
How to Lighten the Load
Here are some tips to help make this summer less stressful and more fun:
- Challenge the old tape – Playing on repeat in your head, saying it's not okay to do things differently
- Face the fear and do it anyway – Ask for help, say no, assert your needs
- Take time and space – Cut back your list of tasks, projects, and expectations. Assume that everything will take twice as long as you are inclined to admit. Build time and space to transition.
- Clarify responsibilities – Who is responsible for what? Don't assume that everyone is on the same page with this. Have a real conversation with partners and children about household responsibilities.
- Say what you mean – If you aren't sure, say you'll think about it. If you want to say no, say no. If you want to say yes, say yes. Speak up when you need help or feel let down, and do so in a caring and gentle way.
- Expect ADHD challenges and obstacles – Be gentle with yourself when they do.
- Play – Make time to play! It is a fundamental human need. Dance, skip, play outside, take a walk, sing, watch a comedy show, read a book for fun, play games with friends or family, or take an improv or painting class. Just play. And laugh. And move.
- Focus on the essential things – (Hint: they are often small and intangible!)
Be Clear about What Really Matters
Above all, remember what really matters. Think about the images you want your children to have in their minds when they think back on their summers growing up with you.
Sari recalls "sitting on the back porch sipping lemonade with my mom on warm evenings, road trips playing twenty questions and singing together to our favorite songs, and the warmth of holding Mom's hand while playing Ring-Around-the-Rosie. The sticky sweetness of cotton candy at the fair mattered to me. It was messy and full of laughter."
Michelle reflects "what mattered most was the smell of fresh tomatoes picked from the vine we planted in our backyard, eating sweet, melting ice cream cones on our evening walks, and jumping off a well-worn pier into breathtakingly cold Lake Michigan waves. It's always been about laughter, comfort, warm nights, and little special moments that no one else could give me."
In the grand scheme, would you rather your children think back on an over-scheduled and perfectly organized summer regimen where nothing goes wrong? On vacations without rest and laughter and messy silliness?
Or do you want them to remember summers of playfulness and laughter?
Think about what brings your family joy, and do more of that. ADHD will be along for the ride, and summer stressors are bound to happen, but it's just one part of your story.
And don't forget about the strengths that moms with ADHD bring to the table! You can be warm, funny, sunny, gentle, changeable, creative, and messy in a way that teaches kids that it's okay to not be perfect…just like summer herself.
Embrace the missteps along the way while you get out there and dance in the sunshine or rain puddles. Soak it all in!