If you are a woman with ADHD, there are many things that you can do to reduce your ADHD challenges and to live a more satisfying life. While medication can be helpful as you work to make changes in your life, it won’t make those changes for you. It may be helpful to work with an ADHD specialist in solution-focused psychotherapy to get started on building a more ADHD-friendly life, but there are also many things that you can do with the help of friends, support groups and greater self-knowledge.
Form or join a women’s ADHD support group
Often the biggest struggle is an internal one. Societal expectations have been deeply ingrained in many women. Breaking out of a mold of impossible expectations is easier with the support of others. Many women find support groups for women with ADHD a powerful source of encouragement and understanding as they work to develop more realistic expectations of themselves, and to develop better strategies for dealing with impossible situations.
Educate significant others about ADHD and how it affects you
Husbands may feel anger and resentment toward an ill-kept house or misbehaving children, assuming that their wife “just doesn’t care.” Her parents may react judgmentally — questioning why their daughter’s home is messy and why she may need more emotional, physical or financial help than their non-ADHD children. Non-ADHD friends may, intentionally, or unintentionally, give negative messages. Work to education all of the “significant others” in your life about the impact of ADHD so that they can support you and help you to problem-solve instead of judging and blaming you. It’s hard enough to be a woman with ADHD without being surrounded by family and friends who blame you for your difficulties.
Invite your spouse to a local adult ADHD support group. It is often an eye-opener to listen to other people with ADHD describe their challenges and their marriages. Your spouse may be more open to change when he hears other husbands describe their marriages and the strategies they have learned to live a calmer, better managed life with their spouse.
It’s “All in the Family”
Work to create an “ADHD-Friendly” environment in your home. Chances are, if you have ADHD, one or more of your children do as well. If you can approach your ADHD, and that of other family members, with acceptance and good humor the frequency of emotional explosions will decrease, and you’ll be able to save more energy for the positive side of things. Building an ADD-friendly home environment involves:
Identifying causes of chronic stress (such as over-commitment and chronic lateness) and working to reduce them.
Developing household routines so that going to bed at night and getting up in the morning work more smoothly.
Create “calm down spaces” for family members that are prone to emotional explosions when feeling stressed. A calm down space can be any area that is quiet, that provides a comfortable place to lie down, and that contains calm-down objects — such as a device for playing soft music, a snuggly blanket, and, for children, perhaps a stuffed toy.
Become a family that problem-solves instead of blames.
Learn to assign tasks according to strengths and preferences.
De-clutter and organize your environment. Clutter and disorganization is not only a sign of stress, but also a cause of stress.
Consider working with an ADHD coach or professional organizer to get help in creating your ADHD-friendly home environment.
Simplify your life
Most women with ADHD are overbooked and overcommitted. Look for ways to reduce your own commitments and those of your children. So many families today are chronically over-scheduled. Don’t fear that you are depriving your child by not trying to keep up with the over-schedulers next door.
Get a half-hour of aerobic exercise every day
You may cry, “Who has time for exercise?”, but, as John Ratey, MD, and ADHD specialist writes, the single most important thing that you can do to improve brain functioning (and reduce ADHD struggles) is aerobic exercise. You don’t need to join a gym or spend money on expensive classes if you’re not able to. In fact, it may be easier to find a half-hour each day to exercise if you exercise at home. Create a routine. Exercise is most likely to happen if it occurs at a routine time and studies show that morning exercise is more likely to be consistent. As they day goes on, there are more and more events that may interfere with the time you set aside for exercise.
Try it for a week, consistently, for a half-hour every morning. You’ll find you are feeling better, focusing better and sleeping better.
Don’t hang on to friends that criticize and can’t understand your problems
Look for friends that appreciate the best in you and do not judge you for your shortcomings. Joining a women’s ADHD support group can be the beginning of finding this kind of friendship. Often, in a support group, women with ADHD report that it is the first time in their life that they have been in a group of women that truly understand and appreciate their struggles. Try to avoid putting yourself among women that will stir up feelings of inadequacy due to their perfectionist expectations and negative comparisons.
Build in “time-outs” daily
Time-outs are essential as stress reducers. Married women with ADHD should ask their husbands to commit to specific blocks of time on the week-end when they will take full responsibility for the children. If possible, single parent mothers with ADHD should, try to arrange for a regular baby-sitter several times a week — and reserve these times to do something restful! If you are a single woman with ADHD, make sure you don’t overbook yourself — leave time for doing nothing.
Don’t place yourself in burn-out
One mother of two ADHD children, who was doing a great job of parenting her children, was also able to recognize her limitations. With two such challenging children she arranged for summer sleep away camp for a month each summer. She also arranged for brief visits, one at a time, to grandparents. This allowed her to spend time with each son without his having to compete with his brother. Try to recognize feelings of overwhelm before you’re complete burnt-out and look for ways to give yourself a break.
Burnout isn’t only the province of mothers. If you are a single working women with ADHD you may need to guard against spending too many hours at the office and neglecting self-care. Many single career women with ADHD work hard to manage ADHD patterns at work, but completely neglect their home life. or overcommitment to outside activities. Single women need to consciously make time to “do nothing,” to relax and regenerate.
Eliminate and delegate
Women with ADHD need to learn to eliminate and/or delegate activities in their daily lives in order to create more balance. The organizational tasks of life are more challenging if you are a woman with ADHD. Spending more on household help may be one of the best investments you can make in developing a more ADD-friendly, lower stress lifestyle.
Specialized parenting classes
Women with ADHD who are the parent of a child with ADHD face a special challenge. And if they are single parents that challenge is even greater. Children with ADHD are more challenging, need more structure and support, and often have special educational and psychological needs. If you have a child with ADHD, it’s important to seek support and training in how to work with and help your child. CHADD, the national organization that advocates for families affected by ADHD, provides “Parent to Parent” training groups that are highly affordable and can be extremely valuable, not only giving you parenting tools, but also the support and encouragement of other parents who really understand the parenting challenges you face.
On the outside looking in it may be easy for other parents to judge a woman with ADHD when her children misbehave. But what any parent of an ADHD child knows is that kids with ADHD don’t respond way non-ADHD kids do. As the mother of a child with ADHD, you have a challenging job. So don’t blame yourself or allow others to judge you. Instead, focus on getting the training and support you need.
The importance of focusing on the things they love
It is so easy to become caught up in focusing on your ADHD challenges that you never allow yourself to focus on your talents, your strengths, and on the things you love. As a woman with ADHD, your goal should be to understand and accept yourself. Try not to measure your success by someone else’s yardstick. Instead, celebrate your ADHD gifts. So many women with ADHD are full of spontaneity, warmth, creativity, humor, sensitivity, and spirit. As a woman with ADHD, work to create opportunities to be your best self and look for people who can appreciate the best in you as well.