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  • Writer's pictureGemma Catherine Malak

The Hot Mess Behind the Smile: A Day in the Life of an ADHD Mum

I am a natural smiler—I smile when I talk to people, when I respond, when I greet someone. But the truth behind those smiles today is that I’m not okay.

To anyone from the outside looking in; It seems as though I have it all. I’m an independent woman running my own business from home, I have a handsome son and a cute daughter, I’m studying a degree in Nutritional Therapy and have recently completed my first novel. I have my fingers in all sort of creative pies and this is my life’s work.

But what does all this mean when I have been sitting at my kitchen counter, crying for the past ninety minutes watching my tea go cold in its red and blue patterned cup?

This is a continuation of last night’s sobbing because I felt like a momentous failure. I screamed in desperation, because at that point I couldn’t cope anymore. My handsome son has ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and he’d got into some minor trouble at school that day. The constant pressure of pick-up time when I’m half expecting to be approached by the teacher is like a little arrow piercing my heart. (I have been dealing with this sort of issue for the past four years of his school life—and it never gets any easier to be summoned!)

After the teacher explains the issue, my son denies all knowledge of it and decides to sit in the car when we get home for twenty five minutes—putting a barrier at the windows using his coat and his sister’s car seat.

So, I sit indoors with my youngest who’s almost three, and we watch TV while I’m churned up with guilt and failure. I’m watching the car through the living room window just in case he decides to get out and go AWOL (he’s only eight, and thinks he is invincible like spider man. If I don’t keep a close eye on him, I am likely to find him on a roof or on top of a fence).

I want to cry, but I don’t because I don’t want to upset my daughter.

If the mother of a child with ADHD manages to hold it together when said child is having a behavioural flare up, you can bet she is waiting until bed time to cry; outpouring all the shame, fear and guilt over the times she’s shouted/disciplined/punished the child. She chastises herself, all the while thinking ‘there must be a better way.’

After the discussion with my son about the problem at school and explaining to him that it is never okay to lie (and him point blank refusing that he did anything wrong), I feel like I have exhausted the topic. I suggest that he comes in to have something to eat, and after the third time, he does. He doesn’t want any of the healthy meals I’ve prepared of course, he wants toast and crisps. If anyone had told me I’d spend most of my time arguing with a smaller version of myself about eating a mouthful of cottage pie (which he claims is disgusting—even though he liked it last week) I wouldn’t have believed them! We’ve done the ‘if you don’t eat this then you can go to bed hungry’ thing…he would always rather go to bed hungry.

So, in the interests of actually feeding the boy, he has toast and crisps.

I’ve been running on empty with a side helping of stress for so long that I am frequently unwell. I feel like I’m swimming against the tide, and for every stroke I take forwards, I get carried back a mile.

I wonder whether I should stop trying, and let the tide carry me wherever it wants, and how tired I have to get before I hold my hands up to the universe, fall to my knees and say ‘I have tried my best, but now I’m done.’

I never anticipated motherhood would be one battle after another, one school meeting after another, one box of tear-soaked tissues after another.

Why didn’t anyone tell me?

I love the little f**kers, that’s why I work so hard. That’s why I haven’t given up yet. That’s why every time I’m on the floor, I pick myself up and vow to do better next time.

I thought I was going to enjoy taking them to museums, playing board games with them, comforting them when they were upset and instilling life-long lessons in to them of good principles and how to be a good human.

I am their mother, and that is my most important task, but I’m scared of failing. I wasn’t qualified—I blagged my way in and now I’m trying to learn on the job. I’m worried that they will experience a childhood that they will look back on and wish it had been better.

My parenting style right now equates to a trifle that has hit the floor with a smack, sending jelly and strawberries cascading all over the place in a magnificent modern art-esque display. I am there trying to salvage any edible parts and putting them back into a bowl while my ADHD son proceeds to jump right in the middle of the trifle and slide around in it while my daughter stands there and screams in her most high-pitched, ear drum-piercing tone.

Maybe some of my good principles will get through to them in among all the things I feel like I’m f**king up.

I’ll let you know in twenty years.

Maybe the messy trifle will teach them what they need to know, and perhaps I should stop trying to make it into what I think it should look like.

Maybe one day I’ll hear them telling their children that people matter more than things, that being kind is more important than being right, that it’s okay to feel sad or angry.

And then I will realise that I did a good job.

Copyright 2020 Gemma Malak

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