You can tell by the title this is going to be a lengthy blog, and well it should be – parenting children with ADD/ADHD presents unique challenges, especially to parents who have ADD themselves. When I envisioned parenthood I saw idyllic walks through the park pushing a baby stroller, bright-eyed little ones enthralled by a bedtime story, joyful days for my children at school learning new things and angelic little faces peacefully asleep well before 9pm each night.
No one prepared me for mere infants who refuse to sleep until 3am, don’t nap and cannot seem to calm down once they “escalate” emotionally. There were no warnings about toddlers who desire to “break out” of the stroller, highchair or crib as if it were Alcatraz or who start to play manipulative control games before the age of two. I was never informed about children who think their teacher’s hate them because they’re always in trouble for things they can’t control.
When I was about 13 years old, I babysat a little boy named Billy and it took me less than 30 minutes to conclude that he was the devil. Billy left a whirlwind of destruction in his wake that I had never before witnessed in my life. When he got a bowl of cereal he left behind an open fridge door, open milk carton, spilled milk, open kitchen cabinet, open cereal box (and a significant amount of spilled cereal) on the counter and the half-eaten bowl of cereal sat abandoned on the living room floor where he’d forgotten all about it. Billy’s crowning moment came when I looked over just in time to see him spit on his parents’ carpet… and rub it in with his hand.
I was convinced his parents must not spank him. Certainly for him to act this reprehensibly they must indulge his repulsive behavior and fail to properly discipline him. I had sprained my ankle before arriving at Billy’s house and my willingness to babysit him ended that day with me having to chase him, crutches and all, through the front yard. I contemplated Billy’s behavior only long enough to assure myself that I would never, EVER have a child like Billy.
Imagine my utter horror when I received a note home in the first 2 weeks of my son’s Kindergarten career stating that “during circle time he spit on the carpet… and rubbed it in with his hand.” The unimaginable had happened… I had become Billy’s mom. Somewhere along the way my sweet, loving, adorable little boy had turned into “That Kid.” You know… the one all the mom’s whisper about on the field trips? Yeah, that one. My darling daughter? She turned into the girl who behaved like a demure princess in other people’s homes, but in private kicked her great-grandmother and stuffed her dirty underwear into her bookshelf.
Few people talk about the guilt, shame and self-blame that come along with parenting a child with ADD. With news media reporting new theories every day that ADD is related to TV, video games, the food we feed them or whether we dressed them in primary colors as babies (I made that up) it’s no wonder we often feel like failures as parents. The truth is, kids with ADD are more active, more creative and more independent than other kids. They challenge authority, find elaborate new ways to get into trouble and at least 2/3rds have at least one co-existing condition that further complicates the situation.
An estimated 54-67% of children with ADD also have ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) making them argumentative, deceitful and just plain difficult at times. Up to 90% have serious learning problems, with 25-50% having dyslexic-type learning difficulties. Around 56% suffer from sleep disturbances making for irritable kids and exasperating morning battles just to get them off to school (or anywhere for that matter.) Children with ADD typically have a 30% developmental delay in maturity and may also struggle with clinical Anxiety (34%), Depression (29%), Bipolar Disorder (12-20%) and more. There is also a higher instance of Sensory Integration Disorder, Aspberger’s Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Now consider that a minimum of 75% of the cases of ADD are inherited, meaning that if one child in the family has it the chances are good that at least one of the parents have it. The reverse is also true, if you are an adult with ADD there is a 50/50 chance each of your children will have it. If both parents have ADD, it’s pretty much a guarantee that ALL of your children with have the condition to some degree.
Adults with ADD can suffer from the same co-existing conditions as children, adding a layer of difficulty to the already daunting job of parenting children. Additionally, adult ADD can come with symptoms such as poor time management, difficulty organizing/prioritizing, absent-mindedness, low tolerance for frustration, a tendency to accumulate clutter, poor attention to detail and frequently feeling overwhelmed. That’s a handicap that would hamper any parent’s “game” but it is particularly crippling for moms. Mothers are expected to manage details, keep day-to-day life on track, organize the home and maintain the family schedule. Not to mention planning things such as meals, outings and finances.
My purpose in emphasizing all of this in the first volume of my survival guide is this: the first step to parenting when you and/or your child have ADD is to begin to understand that hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity are the tip of the iceberg. You have a tougher job than the average parent and you’re parenting tougher kids than the average kid. So cut yourself some slack, forgive yourself of your short comings, and remind yourself frequently to ease up on the long list of “should’s” in your mind. You know, “I should have a clean house, I should be able to take my kids out in public without it turning into a fiasco, I should be able to manage all these details, I should remember to start cooking dinner before 8pm.” Sometimes, just getting through the days with no major injuries is an accomplishment to be celebrated!
I had to learn that it doesn’t make me a bad mom if my kids don’t get a bath every single day of their lives, or if I occasionally feed them cereal for dinner. I also had to learn that it’s ok if my son goes to preschool in pajamas sometimes, even if I get funny looks from other parents… well, mainly because I’m still in my pajamas as well. It’s also okay to admit that you need help, even if it means budgeting for a housekeeper or for regular babysitting (I’m sure Billy’s parents badly needed the break I gave them.) Adults and children with ADD often have a bad habit of holding themselves to impossibly high standards, so learn to let yourself off the hook a little more and ignore your mother-in-law when she wrinkles her nose at your dirty dishes and dust bunnies.
Okay, so enough with the negative side of things – there is a silver lining to the ADD dynamic in families. People with ADD are frequently smarter, funnier and more spontaneous than “ordinary” folks. We are highly creative, extremely visual and love to think outside the box. In fact… I can’t even remember where I left the box. Also, comfort yourself with the fact that many of the greatest minds in history had ADD. Consider what a young Albert Einstein’s mother must have felt like when he reported that his teacher said to him: “It would be nice if you would leave, Albert. Your behavior at school, so distracted and absentminded, and your poor interest in all I teach set a bad example for the whole class.” I wonder if she felt at all like Billy’s mom? I’d like to think so.