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ADHD Mama Stories with Cheri Whitaker

ADHD Mamas are a special bunch. There’s no doubt about that.

We’re willing to give up following the norm and instead, find what works best for OUR kids. Our dreams are simple: We want to create a world for our kids where they are seen and heard and cherished and acknowledged for the amazing kiddos they are.

Connecting with other ADHD Mamas and sharing their stories is one of my very favorite parts of having a blog.

I was instantly drawn to Cherie’ Whitaker’s Instagram account – caring.mamabear – she is a mom to two boys and is warm, funny and oh, so relatable. And, I just knew I had to interview her for our ADHD Mama Series.

I know you will love our candid conversation and come away with many things to add to your ADHD Parenting toolbox.

Cheri, tell us a little bit about you and Your Family

We live near San Antonio, Texas and are from the area. I work outside the home as a surgical nurse educator getting patients ready for orthopedic surgery and my husband is police officer.

As a family, we love to go enjoy nature and go on hikes. Our favorite area to go star watching is in west Texas at Big Bend National Park. The dark skies are incredible and you’re going to see the milky way for sure! We also love to hike in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains.

We find with our stressful jobs that just getting back to nature and slowing life way down, helps to reconnect our family.

What Inspired you to start your Instagram account?

I started my account because for so many years I found myself feeling alone in my parenting journey.

I had my husband, but he wasn’t dealing with the hard days in the same way I was. I hid in my cave for a long time, pretending my family was okay and beating myself up inside because I wasn’t “parenting” enough.

I realized that there are many other moms out there, like me, who just need to know they aren’t alone in the journey. I wanted to share resources and tips that have worked for me along the way and build a community of women helping women.

When were your first inklings your kiddo Might be Neurodivergent?

I knew something wasn’t right when my oldest son was a little over a year old. He played differently from other kids and wouldn’t make eye contact. Our pediatrician had labeled him “Quirky”, because he would be behind in his milestones, but then slowly catch-up.

What did you try early on that helped?

Because this was such a new world for me, I knew nothing about raising a neurodivergent kiddo.

I researched a ton online and spoke to doctor friends to gather as much information as possible. (It helps that I’m a nurse in a hospital and have access to a lot of medical people and information) Finding the right people to partner with is what helped me in the beginning.

What kind of professionals did you find the most helpful?

The most helpful professional has been our developmental pediatrician, who only specializes in neurodivergent kids. She opened my eyes to more therapies that could help our son and got us moving in the right direction for help.

Second, our psychiatrist has become a trusted friend. Lastly, our CALT (certified academic language) therapist. She works with us twice a week via zoom which I love!!! She’s also certified in working with kids with autism. She has become my cheerleader because she has grown children who are autistic and have adhd. I ask her questions all the time. One of the things she has helped my son with is his writing. Its gone from from illegible to readable now. 

Do you remember any particularly good advice you received in those early years?

I had a trusted professional tell me to breathe and that parenting my son was going to be a bumpy ride, but that it will get better as he matures. He taught me the best thing I could do was to remain calm in the situations when my son was having a meltdown and to start modeling coping skills.

Would You Do Anything Differently In Your Early Parenting Journey?

I had been told that’s it’s best for parents to stay calm in the chaotic moments. But I didn’t know how to do that as a first time mom.

I was so triggered by my son’s tantrums because nothing I said or did stopped them. I had to get therapy for myself first, to learn some coping skills. I felt my world was crashing in and everything was out of my control. I wish I would have had those skills earlier so I could have stayed calm in those chaotic moments. Knowing more now, about how ADHD works, could have saved my family so much stress.

I feel professionals need to give first time moms so much more advice and help. We’re all clueless in the beginning because it isn’t easy if you don’t know where to start. (Sorry… but I don’t remember taking a class in school as a kid that covered how to manage your inner rage when your child with ADHD is in flight or fight response and tearing your house apart.)

How Did you help Your Son navigate school?

I feel strongly that you have to be a partner with your kids’ school and learn how to work with teachers and staff memebers, so they can do their best to help your child.

I am very active in staying in communication with my son’s teachers on a weekly basis and found they are very receptive to me being proactive in helping my son do his best.

I have worked before with a teacher that was not wanting to be apart of the “team” and I had to learn how to find my mamabear voice to advocate for my child. I also feel, too, that if a school is not a good fit for your child then you should be willing to try something new.

What have you done to advocate for your child that has brought you out of your comfort zone?

I spoke out against a school that was torturing my child emotionally because of his disability. It happened with out me noticing, at first, because my son couldn’t communicate in words what was happening.

I knew something was up because his demeanor at home and at school was changing over time. He finally spoke about a teacher and what was happening to him. The school kept ignoring messages and his teachers were not following through on actions discussed at meetings.

My final word to the school was when I got a call from them that my son almost lost his life that day due to the anxiety and overwhelm caused by them. I’ve never had to speak out against a school and was completely out of my comfort zone in doing so. I will never stop advocating for my son and my mamabear voice was roaring loud and clear. I won’t be bullied and naive again.

(It wasn’t kids being mean either… it was the teachers and administrators)

Do you have any tips for other parents navigating difficult teachers or school staff?

I have learned as I’ve gone through this school journey that teachers want proactive parents who are involved in their kid’s learning.

When I engage with the teachers and communicate our needs and ask questions, they become a partner with me. When teachers do not take an active interest in my child’s specific needs or want to partner with me then I become alarmed.

If a teacher is acting difficult I make sure that my correspondence with them is only in writing because the reality is that if it’s not in writing then it wasn’t said, even if they did tell you something. (Great advice, Cheri!!!)

I’m not afraid to get the principal involved or higher parties that can help solve the problem when a teacher continues to ignore my child’s needs. I’ve had to do that before and we had a meeting of all the parties involved and it did help solve the issue. I hate to have to go this route but in travelling this adhd parenting journey sometimes you have to “play the game” to get things done. 

Warning signs I look for at School… 

My son with ADHD is also autistic. He is considered high functioning but struggles with communicating stressful situations. Signs I’m in tune to are an increase in his irritability at home with anything, not just school stuff. Also an increase in crying and fighting and more of a resistance to get ready for school and not wanting to get out of the car to go.

I know these signs can be a part of ADHD, but I look for signs athat are above and beyond his normal. I listen for subtle comments about teachers and how he feels about them. I also look at how a teacher talks about my child to me. I can tell pretty quickly in a conversation if they are experienced with children like mine or are new and will need more guidance from me.

I want to work with a teacher that is willing to think outside of the box to help my child learn and to understand that my child does not learn like a neurotypical child does.

What I’ve learned to avoid in the future…

We tried a new STEM school, but I ignored some of those signs I mentioned above. I chalked them up to just being in a new environment. What I didn’t realize was that those signs were just the tip of the iceberg on what he was feeling inside from the chaos being thrown at him from a particular teacher.

The school administrators did not follow through on solutions from previous problem solving meetings. Looking back I would have been more “Mama Bear” like and roared louder.  The best thing was to pull my son from the school and find a better fit. I would encourage parents to not be afraid to change environments to one that fits your child best and to pay attention to the little details. Kids like ours have a hard time expressing their true thoughts and it can be hard to know what happens day to day.

Fuzzymama: Cheri, I so appreciate you’re hard won advice. It’s awful what our kids often have to endure and parents can feel helpless and can be unaware of what is really happening at schools. You’ve learned more than any mama should have to and I am so glad you are sharing your experiences with us. I know others will benefit from your candid story.

What’s your best tool in your ADHD Mama Toolbox?

I have found that when I really connect emotionally with my son that I can get him to calm down faster from his tantrums.

It started with me getting control of my feelings and frustration which isn’t easy when my son is in full force tantrum mode. We hug and talk deep thoughts about feelings once he recovers and I have found we both have grown so close because of that.

That’s Awesome! what Else do You Do to connect with your son?

I feel connection is sooooo important, especially with our neurodivergent kids.

I love my own parents but I was brought up with little connection to my parents as a child. Only as an adult have I been able to grow that connection with them. I knew I wanted something different with my kids and so connection is a priority in our family.

I wouldn’t say I have a special technique, but a lot of parents forget the simple act of just talking with your kids and really getting to know them. I feel as working parents it is easy to tell your kids “not now” or “I’ll do it later” because we want our own time for ourselves.

 In our house we ask intentional questions to our kids so they know we are interested in them. We listen when they tell us personal things (like who they have a crush on at school) without embarrassing them.

I really try to ask questions that require more than a “Yes” or “No” answer. For example, 2 things I commonly ask when picking them up from school, are, “What was something that made you happy today?” or “What was the funnest thing you did on the playground today?”

My goal is to connect with them and show them that I am interested in them and what they do. I have found in doing this that when times get tough, my kids are more willing to open up to me and share emotions that otherwise would be hard to share.

What lessons have your kids taught you?

Parenting is not perfect and that I had a lot of emotional baggage I was bringing to the table when I first became a mother.

I guess I had thought it would look like a perfect life, with the most behaved kids and my every word would be listened to. 🤣🤣🤣 I have learned more about myself and that I have to write the “learning manual” for parenting MY kids and what works for them.

I found, too, that my mood affected so much of my connection with my kids.

If I feel very stressed, then my mood reflects in their behavior. I started tracking my moods with a mood tracker to see if I could find a connection between my moods and my kids’ moods.I actually have a mood tracker linked in my profile on my Instagram that parents can use for free. It’s simple but does the job and can be eye opening if you’ve never used one.

I did have to see a therapist to help me personally be able to change some of my thought processes because I didn’t feel like I had the tools/skills needed to help my nervous system stay regulated when I was constantly being triggered by my kids.

It took time but I learned to recognize my dysregulation coming on and then change direction. If I hadn’t done that I do believe I would be teaching my adhd kids how to handle their emotions like I was taught as a child and I wanted to avoid that.

Parenting a child with ADHD has also taught me to be open to new ideas and that you need a strong support system to help in the hard times.

How do you deal with screens in your house? : )

I hate screens!! Can’t we go back to when I was a kid? Saturday morning was for cartoons and the rest of the time I was outside playing.

I do notice days that I allow my kids to have more screentime, that they are more irritable. I allow them an hour during the week days and longer on the weekend. I am not a fan of YouTube shorts and definitely limit that. If they do watch them they are not allowed to watch them alone because of too many sketchy videos.

Do you have any learning apps or sites that have been very helpful to your Family?

My kids love the reading app Raz Kids (it’s called Kids A-Z). They used it at school and we continue it at home, too.

I know I’ve spoken a lot about therapy for myself. With my busy schedule I did online therapy which meant I could do it on my lunch break at work and I have also used a calming app that helped called mamazen.

I find my subscription to ADDitude magazine very helpful. They send emails with so many free webinars to learn more about adhd in kids and adults. Their website is ADDitudemag.com

What are 3 things your kids can’t live without?

Both my boys love their airplane gliders, a music stereo they can play in the shower, and their smelly markers to draw with.

What do you do for self care?

I like to have a monthly date night with my husband to decompress and talk about our hopes and dreams.

I also like to build my mindset up with positivity. I read a lot of self-help books and listen to podcasts to fill my mind up with goodness. One of my favorites that I’m listening to now is the Mel Robbins podcast.

My faith is also important to me and I like to spend time in God’s word and understand his promises.

A splurge I like to have is I subscribe to a monthly beauty box by Allure. I love the products they send for me to try.

Do you have any favorite parenting books?

Two of my favorite books are the Whole Brain Child by Dr. Siegel and The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross Greene. I even bought the workbook for the Whole Brain Child because it gives scripts for parents to follow if they do not have the skills to handle certain situations. 

What is a meal that everyone eats without complaints?

My kids love when I make picadillo tacos. They are so easy to make, especially on busy days. They ask for them weekly at home. 

I don’t have a link to the recipe to share because I made it up. I live 2 hours from the border of Mexico so we have a strong Mexican food influence on where I live. ( not complaining… I love their cuisine and flavors!) I use this Picadillo seasoning and it really makes the recipe special!

To make Picadillo tacos simply brown 2 lbs ground beef with 1 1/2 cups frozen hashbrowns. If you are using a real potato just chop small enough so it cooks quickly. Add 1 can Rotel tomatoes (a diced tomato is fine too) and add the picadillo seasoning to your liking.

Stir together and serve. I use tortillas to serve it in but we’ve also used it as a dip for chips or just in a bowl. Garnish with shredded cheese if you like. My kids eat this in truck loads. 🤣

What is your advice for someone just starting on this parenting journey?

Take a deep breathe and be a sponge.

Read, read, read, and hear what different specialists have to say about your child’s condition. Be willing to learn and change your way of interacting with your child. A support system of other moms is also so important so you don’t feel alone in your journey. Your child’s ADHDis not something to be ashamed of.

Thanks so much Cheri!!

You are an amazing mama and your kids are lucky to have you!! Remember to follow Cheri on Instagram for daily musings and insight from a fellow ADHD mama.

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