When Raising a Child with ADHD and Your Marriage Collide

Health Writer

There is a song by John Lennon that goes, "No one told me there would be days like this." And while he wasn't talking about having a child with ADHD, it certainly is true about raisinga child with ADHD. When you and your partner first decided to have children, you might have envisioned holding your baby, taking your toddler to the playground, the first day of school when your child looks wistfully back at you and then disappears into the classroom, first dates and graduation. You probably didn't envision a child who has a hard time paying attention, seems to misbehave constantly, discussing medication to improve behavior and endless meetings with teachers.

If you were diagnosed with ADHD as a child (although many parents are first diagnosed  after  their child is diagnosed), you might understand the difficulties your child experiences, their problems making friends and their struggle to get good grades. But, if neither you or your partner have been diagnosed with ADHD (that doesn't mean one of you doesn't have ADHD), you probably aren't prepared for all that comes with parenting a child with ADHD. By the end of your day, you might be singing, "No one told me there would be days like this."

Raising a child with ADHD is hard on your marriage. One study, completed in 2009, showed that parents of children with ADHD are twice as likely to get divorced as parents of children without ADHD. The good news is that another study showed that the divorce rate evens out with older children. If you and your partner can make it through the difficult, early years of raising a child with ADHD with your marriage intact, then you have a better chance of staying together. Some experts, however, don't agree with this study. According toTerry Matlen, a study completed in Canada did not show any differences in divorce rates, possibly because parents from the initial study "sought out treatment, meaning those children might have had more severe symptoms."

If you find you are your partner are spending more time disagreeing with the best way to raise your child with ADHD, the following suggestions might help:

**Learn about ADHD together.  **Read everything you can so you fully understand ADHD and how symptoms affect everyday life. Make sure you are both available to go to doctor's appointments in order to get all questions answered and concerns addressed.

Develop a  treatment plan**  you can both live with and follow.**  If one parent is adamantly opposed to medication, find out why and talk to the doctor about what other treatment methods are available. When you are knowledgeable and well-informed, you make better decisions.

Write down common misbehaviors and determine consequences at a time when you and your partner are relaxed and calm.  By having a reference, you won't have one parent reacting in one way and the other parent reacting a different way. Your child will have consistency.

**Provide structure to your home life.  **Children with ADHD thrive with structure and consistency.

Focus on one or two behaviors at a time.  Sometimes one parent wants to change all of the poor behaviors at once but this rarely works. Instead, agree on one or two behaviors you would like to see improved and set up apositive reinforcement plan. Once these behaviors have improved, you can work on a one or two more.

Keep in mind that when a child has ADHD, there is a good chance that at least one parent also has ADHD. If neither of you has been diagnosed, you may be living with undiagnosedadult ADHD, which can cause problems in your life and marriage. If you or your spouse might have ADHD, seeking a diagnosis might help.

For more information:

10 Tips for Parents of ADHD Kids: How to Keep Your Marriage Healthy and Alive

Children with ADHD and Marital Stress

Creating a Treatment Plan


University at Buffalo. News Release.  Couples with Children with ADHD at Risk of Higher Divorce Rates, Shorter Marriages. October 21, 2008.

Wymbs, B., Pelham W.E., Molina, B.S.G., Gnagy, E.M., Wilson, T.K., & Greenhouse, J.B.  Rate and Predictors of Divorce Among Parents of Youth with ADHD.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Vol 76(5), Oct 2008, 735-744.