Parenting and ADHD
By Ari Tuckman, PsyD, MBA, ADDA Board Member
Mother's Day recently passed, and Father's Day is right around the corner, so let's talk about parenting and ADHD. If you are an adult with ADHD, I can make three predictions:
- You were probably not diagnosed as a child if you were born before 1975.
- You have a decent chance of having a parent with ADHD.
- You have a decent chance of having a child with ADHD.
Let's talk about the implications of each of these predictions.
First, although ADHD has been known about, to at least some small degree, for a hundred years, it's really only in the last couple of decades that it has been commonly diagnosed. So what it means is that there are a lot of adults out there who were missed as kids. Those kids struggled a lot more than they should have had to. It also means that there were lots of perplexed parents out there who struggled a lot more too. Those parents might not have always handled their frustration in the best way, but they tried. They knew what they expected from their kids, they just didn't know how to make it happen. So, like any of us, they tried what they knew, even if it didn't work that well. As an adult now with ADHD, you may still hold some resentment about the job that your parents did and wish they could have understood better. This certainly makes sense. Hold that thought though, if you would.
My second prediction was that you probably have a parent who also has ADHD. Just going by the odds, you have about a 50% chance of having at least one parent with ADHD. Let's face it, raising kids is hard, and having ADHD doesn't make it any easier. Being a good parent requires that you give your best when your kids are giving their worst. This is hard enough when all the stars are aligned, but almost impossible when the chaos of normal life intrudes. So as much as your parents probably knew better, they couldn't always pull it off like they would have wanted, especially if they had a kid who just didn't do things the way that they were "supposed to".
Some parents with ADHD can be very understanding of an ADHD child's struggles, since they can relate so easily to the frustrations. Ironically though, some parents with ADHD are actually even harder on their ADHD kids, perhaps because those struggles bring back to life the painful struggles that they themselves faced. These parents learned, probably the hard way, to compensate for these difficulties and as a result evolved a real boot-strap mentality wherein most forms of weakness are not tolerated. So their ADHD child just needs to bite the bullet and find success anyway. These parents mean well, in that they want their kids to be successful and find ways to overcome their weaknesses, but their methods can come across as too harsh. This often creates a situation of winning the battle but losing the war, if the child resents the hard-line approach and is less motivated to try next time.
My third prediction is that you have a decent chance of having an ADHD child if you or your partner has ADHD. As your parents may have discovered, this critical mass can lead to frequent blow-ups. Whether your kids have ADHD or not, use this as a learning opportunity. Use it to understand the challenges your parents felt, trying to do their best raising a child who was different than most others. Cut them some slack for their failings when they blew it. Then use it to understand the challenges that you yourself face, even though you know a lot more about ADHD and have more treatment options than your folks did. Then cut yourself some slack for your failings when you blow it.