If you’re a parent with ADHD, it’s easy — maybe even automatic — to put yourself last.

I’m not always flush with well-focused energy. Sometimes I think I owe it all to my family. Because I’m always behind on something, I never feel like I’ve earned time for myself.

The problem is, time for ourselves isn’t an earned privilege, it’s a necessity. When you put yourself last, you’re making your ADHD symptoms worse. Taking time out for yourself will make you a better parent and open the door to a deeper, more satisfying relationship with your kids.

stop putting yourself last

Stress is the enemy of willpower

Perhaps the biggest reason to (literally) give yourself a break: it increases your self-control. Parents with ADHD aren’t born with a vast reserve of composure, and many of us have a low tolerance for frustration. Stress — sometimes viewed as an unavoidable byproduct of parenting — reduces self-control even more.

“Stress is the enemy of willpower,” writes Dr. Kelly McGonigal in The Willpower Instinct. “So often we believe that stress is the only way to get things done, and we even look for ways to increase stress — criticizing ourselves for being lazy or out of control — to motivate ourselves. Or we use stress to try to motivate others, turning up the heat at work or coming down hard at home. This may seem to work in the short term, but in the long term, nothing drains willpower faster than stress.”

Sound familiar? ADHD adults are especially guilty of the stress game thanks to our brains’ increased need for stimulation. As Gina Pera explains in her book, Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD?, conflict and stress can become a subconscious form of self-medication.

Relax and step back

One of the best ways to recover from stress is simple relaxation. The human brain wasn’t built for marathons. We need short breaks — real breaks, not hiding in the bathroom while you check Facebook — to disengage our brains from whatever we’re doing. Shoot for something that lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, like meditation or yoga.

You might also want to try stepping back more often and doing a little less for your kids. It will help them learn important skills, not to mention excessive hovering can be detrimental to family relationships.

It’s easy to feel guilty about this, like you’re choosing yourself over your family. Don’t forget you’re part of that family, too. Despite abundant social pressures, attachment parenting, at least in its purest form, isn’t for everyone. Your kids need a stable, sane, well-rested parent. If you’re not giving that to them now, figure out how to get yourself recharged back to your best self.

Strive for a healthy relationship with your kids

Not only will a healthy break help you maintain your sanity, it’ll improve your relationship with your kids. After all, how would you feel if you were in a relationship with someone who:

  • Was always run-down and exhausted because of you?
  • Had no life of their own because of you?
  • Lived in constant fear of messing you up, as though you were too fragile for a real, honest relationship with them?
  • Needed you to feel dependent on them?

If you’re going at full intensity from the time you wake up to the time you collapse into bed, ask yourself: can you spare a few minutes of down time if it means you’re less likely to forget something important or yell at your kids?

Fellow parents: how do you recharge when you feel overextended? Do you struggle to create down time for yourself?

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