7. Advantages of Mothering with ADHD

[33] Given the bleak picture now constructed, of mothering with disability, why would a person expect to find advantages in being a mother with ADHD? To find such advantages requires, first, the belief that they are likely to exist. As mentioned at the outset of this essay, the work of feminist standpoint theorists and of María Lugones provides justification for this belief. These thinkers argue that persons occupying marginalized positions in society have access to unique experiences as a direct result of their marginalization. These experiences, when actively reflected upon, can generate new knowledges—new insights and ways of seeing, new methods and new research questions. Furthermore, Lugones argues, we are unable to know and understand ourselves when we are unable to know and understand other women.  We must ‘travel’ to the worlds of women on the margins, learn to see these worlds and these women as they see themselves in these worlds, and learn to see how we are constructed within these ‘other’ worlds. (n32)

[34] Advantages of disability are rarely the focus in work on mothering with disability. Nevertheless, there are at least some insights and alternative knowledges recognized in the literature. Marsha Saxton points out that “those who have lived with disability and indeed reframed the social issues … are formulating different [research] questions.” (n33) Susan Fitzmaurice writes about the life-enhancing nature of disability for both her and her son. (She has mobility impairments and her son has Down syndrome).  In everyday tasks such as doing laundry, asking for assistance, and setting goals, Fitzmaurice finds her son to be an essential aide and an inspiration. And in assisting his mother with these tasks, her son is given opportunities for independence and skill development often denied to persons with Down syndrome. Reflecting on these practices, she concludes:  “I am an unusually qualified mother to my son with disabilities because of my own disabilities.”(n34) Finally, in Moms with ADD, Christine Adamec explains how the symptoms of ADHD, while often a source of frustration, can also be a source of successful and novel parenting techniques. (n35)

[35] I end this essay with a call to seek out these missing voices and missing knowledges, by beginning new  work on mothers with disabilities, work  that operates under the assumption that such mothers are not only competent parents, they may also be, in important ways, better parents than mothers without disabilities.

    • Deb Waterhouse-Watson
    • April 16th, 2010

    Thanks for this enlightening and thought-provoking paper! I find it painfully ironic that while these women’s children have been taken away from them, many parents who regularly physically and sexually abuse their children get numerous chances to ‘do better’. I guess it goes to show how deep that mistrust of those who are ‘different’ – particularly those with cognitive disabilities – goes.

    I also found your discussion of the different responses to women and men with ADHD illuminating – it does fit with the stereotype of men being unable to multitask and needing someone to to organise them, while women are supposed to be able to keep track of twenty things at once.

    Just to clarify, is it mainly single mothers with disabilities who are targeted, or do mothers with partners face similar discrimination? I am also curious as to whether fathers with disabilities are discriminated against in any way – have there been cases of courts taking children away from disabled men?

      • Maeve O’Donovan
      • April 18th, 2010

      Thank you for your kind words. I am also grateful for your excellent questions. In my research the focus is on mothers, not couples, and information on fathers and/or partners is rarely provided. Thanks to you, I see now how important it is to get that information — as it will likely shed more light on the way gender intersects with understandings of disability and incompetency in ways that make mothers more vulnerable to charges of incompetent parenting. Work on sexuality and disability talks quite a bit about the way women with disabilities, both cognitive and physcial, are often treated as asexual and, therefore, as not invovled in romatic realtionships (or parenting). Perhaps this bias is at work in the literature I am using? I will be looking into this.

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