The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Tag: kids

The elephant in your basement: let’s organize that trouble spot

Despite last night’s ice storm, spring is on the way. I promise I can feel it! Before we leap into spring and all its expectations of cleanliness and renewal, let’s talk about the basement. Specifically, how to start digging out of a bad situation.

Let’s face it: basements are too easy to fill with junk. Ours has filled with trash and miscellany three times in the seven years we’ve owned our house. I’ve dedicated a full weekend, and sometimes even longer, to cleaning it out each time.

Now that we have a kid, this isn’t practical (not that it ever was). The basement stays under control — though it’s teetered on the edge a few times — because we need to keep it clean for guest quarters, but there’s a huge closet we haven’t cleaned out in a while.

By which I mean, we haven’t cleaned it out since buying the house. All the stuff that traveled with us to our previous apartment and never got unpacked there went into this closet on move-in day.

In all my attempts to empty and organize it, I’ve never gotten past opening the door.

Recently, I realized this just cannot be allowed to continue. I’m reclaiming the closet. Now, with less time and energy than ever, I need to be smart about the how.

Do you have a spot like this in your home? I know it’s embarrassing, but don’t beat yourself up. Most of us have at least one. As inevitable as it may seem right now, you’re not stuck with it forever.

One bite at a time.

Here’s where that old cliche about eating the elephant comes in: you have to tackle these projects one bite at a time. It’s tempting for us ADHD’ers to take one of two paths:

  1. View a problem as one huge, overwhelming jumble of stuff. Our brains turn into a muddle and we run for the hills.
  2. View it as a challenge to be tackled once and for all over the course of a weekend, wherein we will play loud music, stay up all night, consume staggering quantities of caffeine, and…crash. Once exhausted, we leave behind a bigger mess than when we started thanks to distractions, side projects, and disorganization.

When I feel myself getting excited for a project in the same way a boxer might get excited for a big match, I know it’s time to put on the brakes. I’ve torn down walls, nearly recycled a bin full of my husband’s important papers, and probably done much worse in fits of can-do-it-itis. As soon as I get tired and realize I don’t have a plan, I give up. I once left a spare bedroom torn down to bare studs for a year and a half because I led with the crowbar instead of the brain. Ooops.

If you want to succeed, take small bites. Even if you only toss one thing from the junk drawer tomorrow, it’ll be one more than you cleaned out today.

I know. Slow progress is boring. ADHD’ers find it more painful than most. But for most of us, it’s the only way out of our mess.

Create contained mini-projects.

When I resurrected my dreams of cleaning out the basement, I bought two plastic bins: one for my husband and one for me. I filled them with everything we could digitize and eventually discard. This allowed me to keep moving with my primary project (cleaning out the basement) without letting a new side project (scanning old notes and papers) get in the way.

My bin now lives under my desk and I try to scan one item per day. Some days I forget, but some days I get on a roll and scan several things. There’s no instant gratification here, but it’s better than shoving the bin into my black hole closet for the elusive “one day” when I can scan the whole tub at once.

Don’t let between-bite setbacks derail you.

When I pulled a stack of negatives from the aforementioned bin, I discovered I’d misplaced the negative holder for my flatbed scanner. This was especially frustrating because it belongs in a hanging file drawer directly under the scanner. When I pulled the folder out, it was empty. I spent at least 10 minutes pacing through the house, slamming drawers, and berating myself for losing yet another important possession.

While I did this, no other documents in my bin got scanned.

When we tackle a big organizational challenge, we can guarantee at least one discovery that will make us feel like epic failures. Anticipate it and don’t let it halt your progress. Stopping progress to trash-talk yourself won’t lessen your feelings of failure and inadequacy. Move on and try to find something you can do instead of focusing on the roadblock.

What are your biggest organizing weaknesses? Have you conquered any clutter or unfinished projects recently? Please share in the comments below!


The power of split-second mindfulness

While writing my cool ADHD mom post last week, I found several pages of tips for us ADHD parents.

However, as I opened tab after tab in my browser, I noticed a gaping hole. Enough with the cleaning and organizing tips. What about those larger-than-life emotions?

Some people go so far as to claim ADHD helps us create a loving, nurturing, exciting home life for our children. No parent needs ADHD to do that. I worry about subjecting my kid to the less romantic side of my ADHD: inconsistency, unpredictability, impatience, and a tendency to lose my temper.

And let’s be honest: nobody knows how to push our buttons like our kids, even if they don’t mean to (most of the time). Even the most put-together, mild-mannered parents will confess to all kinds of temper tantrums in their moments of weakness.

Often we feel our self-control slipping moments before a meltdown, yet we feel powerless to stop it.

I won’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve had my share of emotional outbursts. Reigning them in has been a pet project since I started the sixth grade.

Today I want to share one quick, tiny, simple trick to help get yourself under control.

It’s called mindfulness.

I’ve mentioned mindfulness meditation as a critical brain-training practice before, but don’t assume the benefits start and end with a a five-minute-a-day habit. Even if you never sit down to meditate, you can stop emotional outbursts in their tracks with mindfulness.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Pause. Use your five senses to identify one thing in the room to focus on. Examples: your computer’s fan sound, the feel of a cool glass of water in your hand, a nice whiff from a jar of coffee beans. I’m most sensitive to sound, so I find something to listen to.
  2. Focus on that sensory input for 15 seconds, or as long as you can manage depending on the crisis. I like to close my eyes.
  3. If you notice your mind wandering to anything else — how angry you are at your kid for using permanent marker on the wall, the laundry you forgot to put in the dryer, a funny text you received from a friend, etc. — don’t give up and don’t judge yourself. Just return your full attention to that sound, smell, or sensation. Try your best to keep your mind empty.
  4. Open your eyes. Lower your voice. Try to deal.

That’s it. Try it now, while you have a moment and the stakes are low. What do you notice? Does it feel a bit like you’re in the eye of a hurricane?

Sometimes, that’s exactly what we need.

Shifting from your brain’s narrative circuitry to a state of mindfulness — a heightened awareness of sensory input from the outside world — forces your brain to change gears. Different brain regions become active and your prefrontal cortex takes a rest. You become more aware of your own inner state, which in turn gives you more control over your thoughts and actions. If you want to learn more about this without getting bogged down in too much science talk, check out David Rock’s Your Brain at Work.

Don’t forget to practice mindfulness with your kids, too! While sitting with my son during a recent emotional meltdown — being two isn’t easy, you know — I started talking to him about the sounds in the room. I took advantage of a short break in his tears to ask him, “can you hear the clock ticking? Tock, tock, tock, tock…” He met my eye and whimpered, “yeah.” I brought his attention to the wind who-whooo-ing outside his window. We sat together in lovely silence, just listening.

Quelling tantrums helps you in the moment, but teaching your kids to be mindful gives them tools to observe and regulate their own emotions later in life.

Next time you feel your self-control checking out, try a few seconds of mindfulness to step away from your mental noise. Then, share your experience in the comments so we can learn from one another.


ADHD & rocking the parenting thing…or not


While ADHD might lead to me forgetting my diaper bag, ADHD helps me rock this parenting thing.

— Elizabeth Broadbent,

I stumbled across this post recently on ADDitude‘s Be Our Guest blog. I can’t relate.

I’ve heard it many ways: “let it go,” “say yes to the mess,” “just be you.” It’s tempting to  embrace that mentality. There’s even a little moral high ground, isn’t there? I’ve heard plenty of moms take pride in letting go of housework, keeping a messy home, enjoying more quality time with their children.

I receive all of this with envy and befuddlement. I’m an ADHD mom, too, but we’re not all the same.

And that’s okay.

Even if you’re the kind of ADHD mom who expends a Herculean effort to maintain your tenuous grasp on order, structure, and cleanliness, you can still be cool. You might not be the cool mom, but here are a few reasons to pat yourself on the back anyway.

Your family vacations are the best.

No dry museums here. You plan family trips that sound like fun to you — and your kids. You’re never too old to hike to the top of a mountain, take snowboarding lessons, or go rock climbing.

Sure, you’re easily overwhelmed by the logistics of a big vacation. You obsess over packing lists and driving routes. You explode at anyone who creates an unwanted distraction. But those checklists you use to compensate for your brain’s foibles really come in handy — even if no one else wants to admit it.

You’re young at heart.

You’ll still roll around in fresh snow with youthful joy, even though you’re a grown-up and you have to shovel it, too. You  swim in the ocean even if it’s cold, build epic train tracks and Lego structures, and occasionally let your kids have a turn with their own toys. Maybe you’re just playing with the train set because you’re avoiding the laundry, but the little ones don’t know (or care) about that.

You pick kid-friendly activities and reject unrealistic expectations.

Some parents force their kids to endure activities that aren’t fun or developmentally appropriate. Maybe they think attention span is learned (it is, but to a point), or maybe they’ve lost touch with what it’s like to be a kid.

ADHD parents have a built-in BS detector: if it’s not fun and engaging for you, you know just how your kid feels. You’ll probably find something better — where you’ll both be able to behave yourselves — rather than try to stick it out.

You empathize with all-or-nothing emotions.

A toddler’s world is intense. They live moment-to-moment and can’t see past their present emotional state. A minor setback can send their mood into a tailspin, and they fly off the handle at the most unexpected times.

Sound familiar? More than the average parent, you know just how exhausting this fast-cycling emotional landscape can be.

You understand kids’ need for order and routine.

Some ADHD adults roll with the punches if their routine gets screwed up. I say, good for them. The rest of us can empathize with our kids, who thrive on predictability and can turn into cranky jerks when something throws their routine out of alignment.

You look for help.

Parenting is hard, especially when you struggle mightily with organization, impulse control, and communication.

If you’ve sought help or treatment for your ADHD in the past, you’re well-accustomed to asking the experts for advice — whether it’s a book or a professional coach. Chances are, parenting isn’t the first time  your life has felt upended, nor is it the first time you find yourself asking someone wiser for help. Far from a sign of weakness, this is the first step to being the best parent you can be.

 You’re trying to be your best self for your kids.

As a more anxious-leaning ADHD parent, you worry about the person your kids see in you every day. You fear they’ll remember you as overwhelmed, unpredictable, unreliable, short-tempered, impatient, or irresponsible.

Parenting may push you to seek professional support to manage your own ADHD symptoms. You might decide to have only one child. No matter what, you’re trying to find a balance and limit ADHD’s negative effects on your family.

You’re doing your best, and that’s what matters.

Whether you’ve said yes to the mess, as they say, or you work extra hard because you know an uncluttered home improves your mood and patience with your kids, don’t neglect your own needs. Often this means taking the more difficult route. You may not feel like the world’s greatest parent, but as long as your kids see you continuously striving to be the best you can be, you’ll be just fine.


Guest post: a calendar that works for our family

This guest post comes from Katy Rollins of 18 Channels: An ADHD Life.

Hi, I’m Katy

I’m a wife and a stepmother of three. I have an excellent relationship with my husband and stepchildren. Yes, there are challenges to raising kids between two households, but these days our family unit is pretty functional most of the time.

I’m in my 30s. I was diagnosed with ADHD five or six years ago, and so was my husband and one of our kids.

Why we needed a central calendar

It’s challenging enough trying to organize one household, never mind keeping everyone organized when your kids are living between two households. And they have activities. And so do you.

There are many ways for families to approach the task of “getting organized.” That’s part of the challenge for us ADHD’ers: that process requires too much executive functioning brainpower, something we aren’t well-stocked with.

Nonetheless, life became too stressful without a calendar for me to continue pretending we didn’t need one. This wasn’t completely out of the blue — I agonized over it for a long time. I hate using calendars. I get confused and I miss things and I forget the calendar exists. Yeah, I might have been avoiding this for a while…

Choosing a calendaring system

First, I had to figure out what kind of calendar we needed: paper? Dry erase? Electronic? Did my husband have any opinions on this?

We talked about electronic calendars — with hilarious, anxiety-provoking results. I ended up installing a dry erase calendar in the entryway to our house. Everyone has to walk past it when they go in and out of the house or up and down the stairs.

Our dry erase calendar is visual, easy to use, and accessible by everyone — of every age — in the household. Because everyone can use it, everyone can be expected to use it.

Getting information onto the family calendar

I needed access to all the necessary information for our calendar: Where could I find the kids’ soccer schedules? Could they be printed? How would we manage all the kids’ schedules, from acquisition to action? Could my husband access any of this information and help gather it?

As it turned out, he can print it all out for me. I write it into the dry erase calendar each week.

Katy Rollins family calendar

Katy’s calendaring solution in action.

I actually found a nice dry erase calendar at the dollar store near my house. I’ve set two of them up on an easel. The one on the bottom is a regular monthly calendar, and the one on the top is a weekly calendar, which is useful for us because we have the kids on different days each week. We need that weekly capsule of information.

Getting buy-in and making it happen

Now, how was I going to get my whole household on board? A good system requires buy-in from all (or at least most) participants.

I don’t know if this approach would work with every household, but I realized that this initiative could get really bogged down if I waited for everyone’s opinion. So I didn’t ask them. I decided we needed a system, I got some input from my husband, and I just did it.

I adore my husband and he’s smart at coming up with systems, but sometimes it’s hard to get him to sit down and engage in this type of thing. I decided I would just start thinking it through on my own and engage him at the points where I needed help.

Honestly, I had little confidence in my own ability to use a calendar, but we still needed one. My baggage didn’t matter. And I think the method I chose — the dry erase calendar in a central location — is probably the easiest option for everyone, at least to start. I can’t forget to look at it when it’s right there.

Challenges — and success!

My own confidence and willingness to assert myself ended up being my biggest obstacle. On top of my discomfort with calendars, I don’t like being ‘bossy.’ In a lot of ways I’m an assertive person, but I don’t always like telling others what to do.

The really important lesson I got from all of this is that I can’t let my ADHD issues or personality quirks keep me from doing what I need to do for my household to keep us all sane. I ultimately decided that it would be selfish to continue to let those anxieties get in the way.

We are a few weeks into using the new calendar system, and I hope we all stick with it. I still need to remind the kids to look at it when they ask, “do I have a soccer game tomorrow?” When my husband forgot to put a gig on the calendar — meaning a surprise for both of us — it was a good reminder of how important it is for us to use this tool.


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