I Wasn't "Terrible" At Motherhood — I Had Undiagnosed ADHD

Missed appointments and annoyed receptionists were my norm. What could have been the cause?

distracted woman working at home Lazy_Bear / Shutterstock

The day I almost killed my dog was a mild August morning. We had plans for a get-together in the neighbor’s front yard that afternoon and I knew the dog desperately needed a run or she was going to eat my couch. I grabbed my headphones and her leash, loaded her into the back of the van, and went to a nearby running trail.

Afterward, I rushed home and jumped in the shower, got ready, and packed a cooler for my husband and me. Promptly at 4, I walked up the street and met our friends. We had been visiting for about an hour while our kids played in the street when I received a text from my Mother who lived in our suite: “Where’s the dog?” 


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Confusion was immediately replaced with terror as realization dawned on me. I called her phone terrified, and said:

“I forgot her in the van. Don’t open it if the kids are around, just tell me if she’s dead.”

My Mom gasped and kept me on the line as she went out and opened the trunk, finally: “She’s fine, she’s okay. It’s okay.”

I hung up and took a deep breath. Almost three hours in a car in August … windows up. I was lucky.

My neighbor kindly told me it was something that could happen to anyone, but these forgetful lapses were happening more frequently and growing in severity every week it seemed.


I was beginning to feel I was losing control of my life. What if I accidentally hurt my kids by forgetting something stupid like turning the stove off? Why was this happening in my mid-thirties?

I had felt constantly behind and unmoored for the last few years.

Missed appointments and annoyed receptionists were my norm; I misplaced my phone so much it was a running joke with my friends.

It was not uncommon for me to double and even triple book myself or my kids’ social calendar, then scramble to cancel or sheepishly reschedule at the last minute. I felt completely inadequate as a mom, woman, and human. My doctor prescribed an SSRI for depression.


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I was drowning in the minutia of everyday existence. I watched other women of similar age and circumstances packing lunches, paying bills on time, helping their kids with homework, cooking, cleaning, making (and keeping) appointments, working at jobs outside the home, and doing the laundry (including folding and putting away!).

I could not for the life of me understand why I was just so bad at this.

I was exhausted at the end of every day, short and irritable towards my kids, had a pile of laundry that had grown so large it threatened to become a conscious entity — we picked our clothes out of it as needed —and had an out of control Doordash habit from being too overwhelmed to plan dinner.


The guilt I felt at feeling constantly behind frequently turned to shame.

Sure, my friends would lament the business of life with me over a glass of wine, and complain about laundry mountains and dirty dishes, but no one was floundering as I was.

When I expressed my bewilderment at how I was supposed to do all this, I was met with well-meaning but ultimately useless platitudes: “It’s just Mom's brain!” “Have you tried exercising more?” “Everyone feels like that.” “It’s probably your B12.” “Almonds.”

The only explanation I had for my inadequacies was that I simply wasn’t up to the task of motherhood. There had to be something fundamentally wrong with me as a person to be struggling this much.


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Like most of us, I turned to my phone too often to give myself a mental break throughout the day. A peculiarly relatable meme led me to click “follow” on an Instagram account. The posts were so explicitly relatable that I spent an entire afternoon (much to my exhausted husband’s annoyance) going through every post with my mouth open.

It was as if someone had captured my every idiosyncrasy in meme form: from never using overhead lights (soft lamps only), to my aversion to noise and intense startle response, aversion to cold and frequently losing important documents/expensive items…even my laundry pile and over-use of food delivery services featured. The meme account was all about the struggles of having adult ADHD.

I immediately made an appointment with my doctor and asked for an ADHD assessment — there was no doubt in my mind about what the results would be.


I received my official diagnosis this past summer: Inattentive type ADHD.

Far from the stereotypical hyperactive, constantly in-motion young boy you may picture when talking about ADHD; like many girls and women, my ADHD was quieter.

It manifested as general absentmindedness and disorganization, extreme forgetfulness and overwhelm, sensory issues (such as sensitivity to lights and sounds), and apparent carelessness (I have injured myself quite badly more than once while attempting to chop an onion while taking, not to mention almost killing the family dog.).

Suddenly everything made sense. The reason life had always felt so much harder for me than others is that it actually is harder for me. 


I had made it to my mid-thirties through a combination of “masking” my symptoms from others out of shame, and by unknowingly partaking in activities that helped mitigate my symptoms like yoga, long baths, jogging, eating a nutrient-dense diet, and having a routine.

When my second born came along in 2017 and did not sleep for four years, all those protective behaviors I had accumulated fell by the wayside.

My Ddpression diagnosis was another very common “co-morbid” (co-occurring) affliction with ADHD, particularly in women who are diagnosed later in life.

The “masking” behaviors we employ to appear “normal” and fit in with our peer groups takes a huge toll.


I spent a good deal of time carefully crafting the persona I wish I had: competent, likable, and engaging — all the while being ashamed of my deficits.

Anxiety and depression are common companions of ADHD for a reason.

As I learned more about my ADHD diagnosis, I found myself auditing my life for clues; in the process, an unexpected rage frothed up: why wasn’t this caught when I was younger?

ADHD was and is primarily studied in boys with hyperactive type ADHD which presents as the can’t-stay-in-their-seat, constantly moving disruptive kid we typically associate it with.

This means that girls fall through the cracks when their more often inattentive or combination type ADHD doesn’t present in a similar way as hyperactive boys.


Instead of receiving a medical diagnosis and support, they are given labels such as I was in school: “lazy”, “unmotivated”, “head in the clouds” or “difficult” and simply told to pay more attention. As they are actually unable to do this, feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth are common.

The long-term effects can be grim, as one of the first studies ever published on ADHD in girls says, “Girls with ADHD are more likely to present with inattentive symptoms that are easily missed by teachers, frequently misunderstood and stigmatized, given incongruent societal expectations for female behavior.”

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It goes on to say: “Internalizing problems such as depression and anxiety are prominent, often masking the presence of ADHD in girls and women. Despite these frequent comorbidities, ADHD symptoms in girls are uniquely associated with virtually every domain of impairment — from academic engagement/learning to friendships with peers, strained family relationships, self-concept, vocational achievement, and ultimately, suicidal thoughts and behaviors.”



The study then talks about the many women who find themselves struggling suddenly with their undiagnosed ADHD shortly after becoming a parent, exactly as in my case.

The increase of caregiving tasks and interrupted sleep, along with societal expectations of motherhood and how women should “be” can be unbearable for a new ,other who is unaware of her ADHD, particularly in the context of “infant difficult temperament” (a nicer way of saying “miserable baby who refuses to sleep”, as with my second baby.)

It’s no wonder moms with ADHD are more likely to suffer from postpartum depression and suicidal ideation.


Many people with ADHD struggle with “task initiation.” Activities that involve multiple steps like laundry, filling out forms, cooking meals (hello Doordash addiction), packing school lunches, and even showering can be overwhelming.

As the mental load of child-rearing, maintaining a home, meal prep, and scheduling all things is still borne primarily by women, it’s no wonder as our families grow, so do the disproportionately distributed responsibilities, leaving no room for neurodivergent mothers to take a breath, let alone thrive.

Judgment is severe.

I have faced open criticism for not doing more, been chastised by more than one receptionist for forgetting one of my child’s appointments (this has never happened to my husband when he has forgotten an appointment), mocked for needing verbal instructions repeated, or needing a break when I am overstimulated and even challenged as to why I had not joined the PAC at my Daughter’s elementary school— “incongruent societal expectations for female behavior” indeed.


Meanwhile, my husband’s lapses are almost a punchline. Culturally, men are expected not to know when the Valentine’s Day assembly is and it’s okay if they’re late because just showing up is good enough.

They can forget their kids’ doctor’s names, have no idea what size clothing they wear, how to call the school to report an absence, and forget appointments. No problem, at least they’re trying! We just expect more — expect everything of women.

Our culture has ridiculous expectations of women and mothers at the best of times, gaining recognition and compassion for neurodivergent mothers feels a long way off.

I hope we will soon see a widening of the parameters used to define “mother”, “woman” and “girl” to include those of us who are unable to fit them and struggle profoundly and needlessly as a result.


We can do better for the next generation.

As I watch my daughter struggle to find her headphones, planner, jacket, clarinet, homework, and shoes (how does she lose her shoes?) almost every morning, I am comforted with the knowledge that if she ends up being a neurodivergent person like me, we can navigate this sometimes hostile world together — once we both find our phones, of course.

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Melissa Green is a writer on living with ADHD.