Managing Thanksgiving with Your Family and ADHD

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Deena couldn't believe Thanksgiving was only two weeks away. She already had a growing sense of dread about the upcoming holiday. As usual, she had plans to visit her sister for the annual family dinner. It wasn't that she didn't love her family, she did. But most times she left feeling down about herself, somehow her sisters and brothers all made her feel small. They weren't ultra successful, more middle class, one brother was a teacher and her sister managed a retail store; it was more that they were settled.

    She, on the other hand, had just started a new job, the most recent in a long string of jobs, it seemed she was always starting "a new career." Boyfriends weren't much different, she tended to have a new one every time she saw her family. She just got bored so easily and was always looking for something new, something exciting to hold her interest.

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    It was inevitable that there were going to be comments about her lack of ability to stay committed to anything: comments that the medication she took to help her focus was a crutch. And of course, there would be the annual discussion on whether ADHD was even a legitimate diagnosis or if she simply bother to try. Why couldn't they understand? Why did they always disguise their criticism as "support?" Why, when her own father accepted that he probably had ADHD, (and she was pretty sure at least one of her brothers also has ADHD) did her siblings see her as lazy?

    Deena's story might be similar to yours. You might feel like the black sheep of the family, the one that doesn't fit in, the one that isn't understood. Your family may think you hide behind your diagnosis, using it as an excuse each time you lose a job, forget an appointment or blurt out an inappropriate remark. So what do you do?

    Guilt is an enormous motivator. If you decided not to show up for Thanksgiving dinner, you might feel guilty that you are not spending your day with family. You may think that putting up with a few hours of your family might be worth it to not feel the guilt. But is it? If you are able to let the comments slide off you, it may be, but if you feel bad for days after, then you might be sacrificing your own self-esteem to satisfy your family.

    Over the years, I have talked with many different adults with ADHD. Some choose to put up with their family, using gatherings as a way to try to educate siblings and family members about ADHD. Others choose to maintain distance. The following are different ways people handle this situation. Please note that the names in the following are not the correct names and responses have been paraphrased based on previous conversations:

    • Mary stopped attending family get-togethers. She can handle her family members one-on-one so throughout the year, she makes sure to stay in touch and meet siblings for lunch or dinner and she regularly visits with her parents. It is when they get-together in large groups she feels lost and alone. Instead, on holidays, she gets together with a group of friends who are much more supportive.
    • Greg's family lives out of town and he usually chooses one holiday a year to go home and be with his family. This is normally either Thanksgiving or Christmas. He doesn't stay at his parents' or siblings' homes, though. He stays in a nearby hotel, arriving shortly before dinner and when the event becomes overwhelming or negative he says goodbye and heads over to his hotel. Throughout the weekend, he spends a few hours a day with his family but can always retreat to the quiet of his hotel room when needed.
    • Tara has made it clear that the topic of ADHD is off limits during family events. If the conversation turns to ADHD or anything negative about her life, she gets up and leaves the room. She has let her family know that her life is her own, she doesn't judge them and doesn't accept them judging her.
    • Jennifer uses family holidays as a way to educate her family. If anyone brings up ADHD, she launches into a long explanation of ADHD. Most of the time her family doesn't want to hear the explanation so they have learned to avoid the subject.
    • Tom knows which of his family members are supportive of his ADHD and who have no desire to understand. He attends family holidays and events but tends to stay close to his brother and his cousin, both who also have ADHD and avoids spending much time with family members who consistently judge him. Together they laugh and joke and it often ends up that those who are unaccepting feel they are the ones who are left out.

    As you can see, there are many different methods to managing different reactions from your family. How about you? Is your family accepting and supportive? If not, what do you do to get through the day without letting comments get the best of you? Please share your thoughts.

    For more information on ADHD, Thanksgiving and family members:

    Book Excerpt: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD

    Top Ten Tips for De-stressing Your Thanksgiving

    Frequently Asked Questions: Family Members with ADHD

    Turkeys, Tempers and To-Do Lists

    Talking About Your ADHD to Your Friends

    Be Thankful for ADHD

    Thanksgiving, Family Gatherings and Children with ADHD

Published On: November 07, 2011