Letting go of mom guilt when you have a child with ADHD or RAD isn’t easy. When I was a younger mom I carried a lot of mom guilt with me. I told myself if I just tried harder, if I’d recognized “x” sooner, if I just said the right things, read more books about my kids’ challenges, tried one more program, was more patient, was more involved at their schools, was less this, was more that, then maybe my child would be happier, be less angry, have more friends, would get along better with their siblings, would treat me better, and so on. The guilt weighed me down for so long, crushing me and pushing me to work harder, do more and be more, more, more.
Does any of this sound familiar?
My feelings of guilt grew, along with my herculean efforts to be the best mom I could for my kids—and for one kid in particular. With all I was doing, why wasn’t he doing what I expected, or what the experts promised he would do? What was I doing wrong? Could it be I really was the horrible mom he claimed I was?
I mean, I make my kids clean their rooms, do Saturday chores, weed the yard every Thursday. I even put limits on video game time every day. I also make them put their electronics in my bedroom every night so they’re not staying up all night playing on them, or texting on them. And to top it all off, I require them to eat fruits and vegetables at suppertime. Maybe I really am the worst mom ever, but then again, I let them eat white bread, whereas my mom only bought whole wheat bread. What a monster!
Each child with ADHD or RAD is unique, which despite what the experts may say, we’re all trying to figure out the answers of what methods will work and what won’t work with our kids. Not only are we taking on the regular tasks that come with parenthood, we’re also adding on the additional ones that come with ADHD and/or RAD that take us up to 505 Parenting. We don’t need to add guilt on top of our already heavy load. It doesn’t solve any of your child’s challenges, and it acts counter to the good mental and emotional health you need to care for yourself and your family. So let’s lose that guilt!
Easier said than done, right?
Shoulding Yourself to Death
A lot of guilt and emotional distress comes from unmet expectations, or from the shoulds we tell ourselves. I should be doing this, I should be doing that, or our child should be doing this or that. When we don’t meet up with those expectations, or our child doesn’t meet up with those expectations, we feel guilty, or feel like a bad parent.
Let’s take a couple of simple examples:
My child should be able to get along with his brother. At this age he should be able to play with his brother/sister and not fight so much. It’s all my fault, I should’ve noticed he was getting so upset and given him a quiet activity before he hit his brother.
My child should be doing better in school. I should’ve helped more with his homework or contacted his teacher sooner, maybe then he’d have better grades right now.
I used to should myself to death and take on the responsibility of hovering over my son, trying to anticipate every situation that might get him upset and micromanage what to do to keep him happy and calm. I came to realize that micromanaging wasn’t working. I couldn’t possibly anticipate every single situation that could get him upset or angry. I wasn’t Wonder Woman, defender and savior of his emotions.
One of our jobs as parents is to teach our children, and our children have the job to learn and apply that learning. Some children learn at a slower pace than others. That’s okay. While our children are little we have the responsibility, and indeed the accountability for watching over our kids and keeping them safe. But as they get older, we have to transfer that personal accountability over to them and not hold onto guilt when they aren’t applying the lessons we’ve been teaching them day in and day out.
If you have clear rules in your home about how to treat people with kindess and respect, for example, but a child is struggling with this concept because of impulsive behavior and other executive functioning deficits, is the fault yours for not having taught your child? No. So stop beating yourself up.
Keep in mind that children with ADHD have a harder time with understanding and applying lessons such as cause and effect. Their brains are literally wired differently. And many children with ADHD have co-morbid diagnoses that make it even more challenging for them to learn or do what we’re asking them to do, things like anxiety, depression, OCD, ODD, and more. As a result, these lessons don’t come quickly like they do for other kids. And that’s not your fault. It’s a part of the nature of ADHD or RAD.
You Are Not Alone
I’m constantly amazed at the parents and guardians I meet who are parenting ADHD and RAD kids. You are incredible! You have done so much for your kids and continue to do so much for your kids because you love them and want the best for them.
The struggle to parent is real. It’s hard. But know that you are not alone. You really are doing the best that you can. And there are other parents out there who feel as you do, worry as you do, and wishing they, too, had all the answers.
There are no easy fixes for our kids—at least, I haven’t found any. I just keep on keeping on, doing my best, and surviving one day at a time.
And mom guilt? Let me check my schedule for the week . . . no thanks! I just don’t have time for that.