When Mom and Dad are Distracted, Too: Parenting When Both Parent and Child Have ADHD - Part One
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Or, in more scientific terms, we can say that since ADHD is highly genetic: there’s a pretty good chance that a parent with ADHD will have a child with ADHD. In fact, there is approximately a 50% chance of that occurring. So what happens when mom and/or dad has ADHD? How does the family manage with multiple ADHD members?
Family life is complex enough when ADHD isn’t part of the mix. But add the common ADHD symptoms of inattention, distractibility, hyperactivity/impulsivity, disorganization, hypersensitivities and more, and one often sees chaos and distressing scenarios that can often become unmanageable. Consider the following:
How does hyperactive Johnny get his homework done if dad shuts down after a full day of work, completely depleted of all energy, and thus unable to give his distracted son the structure and support he needs?
How does inattentive mom remember to buy all the needed groceries for her family, stay on task and be organized enough to get dinner on for the kids, who, if not fed early enough, will have total emotional meltdowns, causing the whole family distress?
There are many challenges that ADHD families face and it’s important to address them by first becoming aware that they exist and understanding how they impact family life. Too often, families are in such turmoil that it’s difficult to wade through the mess and come to some sort of conclusion that not only is it the ADHD to blame, but that there are steps and strategies parents can utilize to prevent family meltdowns.
How Parents’ ADHD Impacts Family Life
Looking at the following scenarios, one can see the multitude of problems ADHD families face:
- If a parent procrastinates and is overloaded with last minute work deadlines, how can he help his child with homework so that the assignment is handed in on time?
- If a parent is disorganized, how can he help teach his own child organizational skills?
- If a parent is hyperactive, how can he slow down enough to enjoy one on one time with his child?
- If a parent is a daydreamer, how can she give her child her undivided attention? The child may misinterpret the inattention as the parent not caring.
- If a parent is emotionally over-reactive, how can he be patient with his child who also may have a short fuse?
- If a parent is annoyed by stimuli (noise, touch, etc.), how can she cope with the normal bustling activities of home life?
In addition to these and many other challenges, parents often are overwhelmed with their own perceived failures as parents. Often, depression, anxiety, guilt and anger set in. Marriages become conflicted and partners lose sight of each other’s - and their own- emotional needs. And what becomes of the children’s needs? Sadly, parents who have children with AD/HD are three times as likely to separate or divorce as parents of non-AD/HD children. But there are ways parents can avoid this.
Where to Start
It’s important to first understand what ADHD is and how it manifests itself in daily life. Parents need to be armed with this information so that they can not only help themselves, but also be available to their children so that the needs of all members of the family are being met.
This can be done by:
- Reading about ADHD in adults and in children.
- Attending conferences, workshops and meetings, such as CHADD and ADDA.
- Getting support from family and friends and attending support groups.
- Getting appropriate treatment for both child and parent.
- Letting go of the concept of the “ideal” family and embracing the idiosyncrasies of yours; ADHD and all.
- Learning to forgive yourself and acknowledging you are doing the best you possibly can.
There are many online resources as well:
In addition, it’s imperative that parents get professional help for all family members with ADHD. Counseling, therapy and medication are common treatment modalities. Studies show that the most successful treatment for ADHD is a combination of these, plus, in the case of children, behavioral treatment. Adults often find ADD coaching to be extremely helpful. In addition, your child may be eligible for special help at school. Discuss your concerns with the school social worker or psychologist.
All in all, maintain your sense of humor. Communicate clearly with your spouse and children. Realize that though your family may have specific ADHD related challenges, each member contributes something special to the mix. Acknowledge each person’s unique strengths and gifts and come together as a family, offering encouragement and support.
Terry wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for ADHD.