“Being a mother is learning about strengths you never knew you had”
– Linda Wooten
I am a single mother to a beautiful creative and intelligent 9 year old daughter, who was diagnosed 4 years ago with ADHD - full name ‘Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.’ For those that may not know, it is a behaviour difficulty that affects the neurodevelopment of the brain, causing in some children and even adults with ADHD - hyperactivity, impulsivity, difficulty paying attention, carrying out tasks and regulating emotions.
Being a single parent can be hard at the best of times but being a single parent to a child with a disability can be a thousand times harder even on the best days. Each day brings a new challenge and for me there isn’t anyone to take over when I need a little break from time to time.
Most days I look forward to spending quality time with my not so little girl, such as having movie nights with cuddles, going on adventures (as I like to call them) to museums, parks, music halls, theatres, historical palaces, boat rides etc. Thinking about it, there is never a dull moment in the life of a solo mum, not ever.
I was 20 years old when I gave birth to my daughter. I remember she was a very restless baby which I believe was understandable after a long and tiring 3 day labour with the finale being an uncomfortable Ventouse extraction at 4:40am! Ouch! With all that in mind, I can’t imagine what baby wouldn’t be restless for a few months after all of that.
But as time passed my daughter did not settle and when she turned 2 her behaviour became more demanding. She would have quite explosive tantrums where she would kick and scream for hours on end triggered mainly by not wanting to do something.
I can recall my daughter going through this phase of not wanting to go on the bus in the buggy, she would make such a loud noise screaming “Want to get out!” that even the London Transport’s bus driver told me that he couldn’t drive his bus and to sort it out. Not very helpful I know, but in a way I actually did understand.
Many times, no matter the weather, I was forced to get off buses. I never understood why my daughter hated being in the buggy and wanted to get out and run around the bus, or why she never was content with just sitting on my lap and looking out of the bus window like the ‘other’ children! She wasn’t even interested in her toys in the buggy.
It was also quite bad at bedtime as she refused to go in her cot or go to sleep. She also had fights with her cousins and didn’t want to share toys and would throw things around in anger. Everyone I spoke to would say “Oh it’s just the terrible twos, it will pass”.
When my daughter is not having a bad day I truly feel like the luckiest mummy alive to have such a gifted daughter and one who can be so loving and who comes out with the funniest things that have us both in fits of laughter. She is my world and I love her so much.
At the age of just 2 she could write her own name, and drew her first amazing painting in Nursery inspired by the painter Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ – "Mummy’s little Van Gogh" I used to call her.
Since her diagnosis, people often say “She looks normal to me” because on the outside my daughter is like any other a child. But on the inside my now 9 year old daughter struggles with the most simple tasks.
Like getting dressed, getting in and out of the bath. One of the most difficult is still going to bed due to her hyperactivity. Bedtime to my daughter means doing back flips and cartwheels around her room! Which more than not result in major tantrums and I’m usually left exhausted when I reach my bed at around midnight! Shopping can result in melt downs from poking food in the aisles, to fighting me for the basket or trolley.
On the calmer side of things, my daughter may request a treat like a toy or a small snack which means she leaves the store happily while skipping down the road, but even then and on the rarest occasions this doesn’t always work and her major melt downs still persists.
In these situations I am 9 times out of 10 left hovering awkwardly above the floor trying to calm my daughter down in front of what feels like ‘millions’ of people shopping while she lays on the floor screaming.
You can imagine how embarrassing this can be when you are trying to explain to the passers-by that your daughter is having a meltdown while holding several shopping bags around you. Not the most flattering look I must tell you.
Thankfully a lot of people come to me and understand and then walk away after I have spoken to them and explained my situation. While others have been known to ask me whether I am the mother of my own child while I try to calm my daughter by talking to her due to the fact I am mixed race and my daughter is a different complexion to me. All this drama because I told my daughter that she couldn’t have a sweet she wanted.
I always feel to say to the passer-by’s - "I am her mother and this is my weekly struggle. So please, make your approach a little less confrontational and a little bit more helpful – thanks."
To be honest, I never knew how much ADHD can affect family life or for the person who has it. I mean 5 years ago I didn’t know what ADHD was!
The precious moments with my daughter are what I look forward to, the times where we cuddle, read, laugh, paint, and go on our adventures to different places. These are what get me through on the days where I feel like the whole world is on my shoulders or where I have cried from feeling helpless to my situation. I look forward to the positives, the precious time when all is calm and peaceful.
Looking back, it is unbelievable how I even managed to study and gain a degree in drama and theatre studies after all I was going through but I did it even with my daughter screaming and kicking on most evenings that I attended class.
I remember once going into my rehearsals with bits of banana wiped down me from a tantrum my daughter had just had. 4 years after studying and with a lot of persistence I now have a degree. I even created my own solo performance based on a life of a single mother.
My daughter was 3 years old when I began studying and was 8 when I graduated and received a Harold and Jean Brook prize award. I did it, and persevered despite what life threw at me, through the good and bad days and as a single mum.
Jessica Phillips is a single mother and emerging writer/ performance artist. Jessica gained a BA HONS in theatre and Drama Studies at Birkbeck, University of London. She has taken part in two readathons events to raise money for the 'Rose Reveal project', in 2014 and played 'Prince Escalus' in William Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' adapted by the Rose Theatre. Jessica is currently working on her second play and also in the process of writing her first novel.