Being a Parent of a Child with ADHD
Being the parent of an ADHD child or children, in some ways, is no different than being the parent of a child without ADHD. We all want our children to be happy and healthy. We want them to become responsible adults who will be able to leave our homes one day and be successful in whatever their chosen endeavor may be. Like all other parents, we must be teachers, mentors, disciplinarians and a comforting shoulder. But perhaps, even more so than other parents, we need to be that source of unconditional love that is so necessary for all children, but especially so for ours.
Just like other parents, we hurt for our children when they don't succeed. Even though we understand better than anyone else how tiring, frustrating and annoying our children can be, we still become defensive when they are criticized. We may also be able to recognize how truly sensitive, imaginative, creative, caring, and exceptional our children can be. It can be extremely painful when others notice the negative aspects of our children but fail to recognize their positive traits.
When times are tough it can even become difficult for us to remember some of these positive traits ourselves. Our children's positive aspects can become completely buried under power struggles, worry, and guilt.
Every once in a while, take some time to reflect on your child's strengths, and make sure that your child is able to recognize his or her own strengths as well. Help your child to feel good about these strengths, and while you're at it, remember to recognize your own strengths as a parent. Too often, parenting a child with ADHD can leave us feeling inadequate, frustrated, and a failure. Remember, these children can be difficult to raise for even the best of parents.
Children and adolescents with ADHD can try your patience until you think you are going to lose your mind. It is possible for these children to blow up and call you every name under the sun and then ten minutes later, turn around and calmly ask “What's for dinner?”. As a parent, you are very likely still hurt that this child, for whom you do so much, is unable to understand that you only want the best for her.
A parent once told me that she needed to learn how to like her son again after his diagnosis. I found this a very profound statement. Once our children have the diagnosis, we must alter our understanding of their behaviours and learn to assess these behaviours through the filters of the deficits that they may have. We need to ask ourselves if a given behaviour is due to the child's deficit, is a defense mechanism the child is using to avoid the deficit, or is just a normal childhood behaviour that requires correcting.
While the dreams that we have for our children and many of our feelings may not be different from those of other parents, we learn quickly that parenting a child with ADHD can offer many challenges, frustrations, and sometimes even heartbreak. Again, these are not easy children to parent! When one member of a family has ADHD, the stress on the entire family increases. As parents, we need to accept this reality and structure our lives accordingly.
Learning everything that we can about ADHD and how it affects our child is the essential first step. The second step is altering our views on what we think the ‘perfect family' should be. Please don't waste your time and effort striving to structure your family in a way that your extended family and friends may view as 'ideal'. I spent years beating myself up, prior to my children being diagnosed, questioning why doing certain things that other families did so effortlessly was so difficult for us.
Spend your energy doing what works well, constructively yet with the least amount of stress for your unique situation. Remember to keep your eye on the long-term goal. Yes, you want your children to learn the skills they need to be successful in life, but you also want to end up an intact loving family, with parents and children who feel good about themselves.
Your next step will be to add those routines, strategies and solutions that will allow your family to function well. While structure is often needed for children with ADHD, finding that delicate balance between rules and flexibility is often a difficult challenge for parents. ADHD in a family will mean added effort from both parents and the entire extended family if they spend considerable time with your children. It does not mean that your family cannot function well, remain loving and close knit, with children who succeed in life.
A personal note from Heidi Bernhardt, the Author of these pages:
As a mom of three grown boys with ADHD and after speaking with thousands of parents over the past 16 years through the ADRN, CADDAC and CADDRA, I felt that I had some experience around the emotions that parents experience. Does this make me an expert? Of course not, but I felt that this was something that was important to talk about and often not dealt with. Parenting a child with ADHD can often be a lonely experience. As I look back on the years of my involvement with the various groups, I remember that most of the help I received was from the other members of those very groups. In times of extreme stress, realizing that there were others struggling with the same confusing emotions and unanswered questions seemed to ease the load enough to go on. It is my hope that this document will in some small way help some parents out there who are not able to link up with a support group in their area.