Taking Care of YOU When Your Family Has ADHD

Terry Matlen, ACSW Health Guide
  • Years ago, I found myself in a conversation with a mom whose husband and two high schoolers had ADHD. This woman, a professional working part time in a highly competitive medical field, obviously had her hands full, keeping on top of things. Yet, when she spoke of her daily challenges, she had a smile on her face. I asked her how she was able to juggle all these things without having a nervous breakdown and she said simply, "I take a vacation ever couple of months to re-charge."


    Now, I don't know of many people who can afford the luxury of going on vacation that frequently, so I quizzed her about how she did this. Her response made a lasting impression on me.

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    She explained that in order to take care of her family, she had to first take care of herself. So...every couple of months, she booked a room at a local hotel, which happened to be connected to a large mall. Since she always "vacationed" on a weekend, her husband was able to take over the parenting duties in her absence. She spent the weekend relaxing and shopping, sleeping in, eating out and basically, re-charging. She said it was cheaper than going to a psychiatrist where she would only spew out her frustrations over and over again each week. This way, she saved money, and after a couple of days, felt renewed and able to face another few months of "ADD insanity." The added bonus was that her husband had the opportunity to not only connect more deeply with his children; he also got a taste of the difficulties his wife experienced in taking care of their daily needs. Their marriage strengthened in the process.


    When I lecture on the topic of parenting children with ADHD, particularly when the parents also have ADHD, I typically suggest that they think about the instructions travelers hear from flight attendants before take-off: "In case of an emergency, make sure you don your oxygen mask before placing one on your child."

    In other words, in order to care for your child, you need to take care of YOU, first.


    In that vein, this mother had figured out that in order to be an effective parent, she needed to take care of her own physical and emotional needs in order to be available to her children and husband.


    Here are some other ways to take care of YOU if your loved ones have ADHD:


    • Take time away from the family- with your spouse, a friend or alone.
    • Hire a sitter to help with the kids EVEN if you're at home.
    • Maintain a sense of humor. Easier said than done, I know. But if you can identify these times of distress as "ADD Moments", it's one way to re-frame things in a more positive light.
    • Don't take on all of the responsibility. Mothers in particular, feel society's pressure to take over and manage the majority of household and parenting responsibilities. Start a dialogue with your partner about helping out more.
    • Of course, there's the obvious: good health habits- exercise, good sleep hygiene, eating properly.
    • Remind yourself of your family's positive traits and get into the habit of praising them. We tend to over-focus on the negatives. This shift alone will change the tone and relieve stress within the entire family.
    • Let go of the guilt. If you're reading this, you are working on learning as much as you can about ADHD and how to get the help you need. Stop the self-blame; it only takes up needed energy.
    • Consider seeing a therapist or counselor to get support and to learn ways to manage your ADHD family.
    • Make sure all family members with ADHD are getting the proper treatment.
    • Work with your partner in presenting a united front. The children need consistency of expectations and discipline.
    • Take parenting classes specific to challenging children. Arm yourself with parenting tools.
    • As Dr. Ned Hallowell often says, "never worry alone". Reach out to others who are sharing your struggles. Join CHADD, ADDA and local support groups. Open up to family and friends about your difficulties. Find online forums and chats where you can find empathy and even share strategies.
    • If one of the family members with ADHD happens to be you, make sure you are receiving optimal treatment. Think back to the oxygen analogy. If you aren't living optimally and managing your own ADHD symptoms, it will be much harder to handle the needs of your family.


  • What can you do to take better care of yourself?

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Published On: December 27, 2007