Adult ADHD can be challenging at the best of times. Issues with Executive Function, emotional processing and impulse control can all be difficult to overcome.
When parenting is added into the mix, then life can become even more stressful and difficult for those who suffer with ADHD.
Susan Krauss Whitbourne describes five main ways that adults with ADHD are commonly affected by their condition, and all of these can impact when added to the demands of parenting, especially younger children or teenagers.
Coping with ADHD as a Parent
Self-Management relating to time.
Difficulties with managing time, preparing for deadlines, and working towards goals are issue many people face when dealing with their ADHD.
These can impact parenting in several ways – by making it difficult to remember schedules for school or appointments to see healthcare practitioners for example, or by making it hard to plan a structure for the day when keeping bored kids happy during school holidays.
Self-Organization and Problem-Solving
Difficulty with organizing thoughts, expressing feelings or thought-processes, being unable to ‘think on your feet’ and deal with unexpected events. Finding solutions to problems or understanding a sequence of events.
These issues can be extremely hard to cope with for people who are parents, especially when it comes to communicating with younger children for example. Being able to accurately convey your meaning or deal with a toddler who is feeling fractious can be a major challenge for parents with ADHD.
Making impulsive comments, being unable to inhibit your reactions to things going on around you, making quick decision without considering the consequences, and acting without thinking about implications.
This can be an issue when it comes to parenting because boundaries and structure are important tools to put in place with children, and being unable to react calmly or behave consistently can cause major problems.
Feeling unmotivated, needing others to prod you to complete your tasks on time, not putting sufficient effort into a task to complete is successfully.
This can be very difficult to overcome, especially for those who struggle with executive function and feeling easily overwhelmed – which can often lead to paralysis and feeling unable to get started or sustain motivation.
This could take the form of feeling lacking in energy to spend quality time with children or to encourage them to do healthy activities.
Self-activation and concentration
Being easily distractible and frustrated, having trouble staying alert when the situation is boring. Being prone to daydreaming, being easily over excited.
This can manifest as problems for the ADHD parent when they struggle to assist their children with ‘mundane’ tasks such as learning chores or doing basic homework. It can also affect discipline and boundary setting.
It’s clear from the main issues that parenting can be significantly negatively impacted by the challenges associated with ADHD.
Additionally, as few as only one in ten adults in the US who have ADHD, actually receive a formal diagnosis. This means that many people are struggling to parent without being aware that they have ADHD or without being able to access the right sort of support. As a result both parents and children suffer.
Awareness is extremely important so that people with adult ADHD can access the right support.
Ways to Cope when Parenting with ADHD
Although it can feel like parenting with ADHD is an uphill battle, there are many aspects of having ADHD that can be a benefit when parenting.
Being able to think differently, access spontaneity, and muster up huge levels of energy and hyper-focus can make ADHD parents fun and wonderful to be around.
When it comes to the challenging aspects to ADHD these pieces of advice can be helpful:
Talk about your Condition
One of the things that children find the hardest when it comes to challenges is being left ‘in the dark,’ when it comes to issues that are happening in their families.
It’s tempting for some parents to try to cover up or minimise illness or processing conditions such as ADHD, for fear of upsetting or confusing their children.
However, not talking about issues can make them feel much more difficult and confusing than talking about them in an age-appropriate way. Explain to your children what ADHD is and how it affects you.
Let them know this may sometimes mean you struggle with certain things, but that you are doing your best to cope with those aspects. Be prepared to answer any questions they have.
Ditch the Guilt
Terry Matlen argues that ‘mom guilt is toxic’ when it comes to parenting with ADHD. She advises that the first thing to do is to focus on the skills you have and the positive abilities.
By focusing on the things that you feel don’t measure up when it comes to ‘normal’ parenting, you can often miss the positives of the unique way you parent your children.
Feeling guilty for not parenting in the same way as a person who doesn’t struggle with ADHD is mostly a waste of energy because it only focuses on things that you have little control over.
Comparing ourselves to others constantly is a recipe for guilt and self-recrimination. Try to practice self-compassion and stop beating yourself up so much.
Take Time for Yourself
Making sure you have time and space for yourself to unwind and recharge is essential when it comes to parenting with ADHD. Taking time when you get home from work to relax and spend a few minutes decompressing and letting yourself ‘reset’ before interacting with children can give you extra coping skills for the evening.
Make time to start your day slowly and find ways to get it off to a calm start.
Use a gentle alarm clock that will wake you up gradually to minimize early morning grouchiness, and try to get up before everyone else so you have some quiet time before beginning your day.
Use mindfulness and other meditation techniques to relax and give yourself some calming energy.
Stop Making Promises
Talk your condition over with your kids and try not to make promises you know you won’t be able to keep. It can be tempting when you feel in a great mood and are hyper-focusing to make grand promises or tell the kids you will definitely do something.
But if you are unable to follow through on these promises because of disorganization or loss of motivation its best to manage expectations by letting the children know that you will try your best, but may get distracted.
Learn New Skills Together
Rebecca Dean describes the sinking feeling when she realizes she has forgotten to organize an activity or struggles to keep on top of housework. Instead of ignoring those areas she asked her kids teachers and her kids to help her come up with ways they could all learn how to be more organized together.
Now she and her kids use charts, organizational tools and techniques and assist each other to learn how to manage time and remember to do tasks.
Making these kinds of processes into activities that can be learned and maintained together can be fun and educational for everyone involved. It can help kids to feel as though they are being supported and included, and parents to know that they are helping their children to learn a new skill and to understand their condition better.
Find a Common Interest
Nurturing positive time with children, especially when it comes to fun common interests, can be really helpful in helping everyone in the family cope with challenges. Finding something to talk about where both the adult and the child can share enthusiasm and conversation about it can help bonding and to lessen stress when times get tough.
For example Josh, and father Edward Jacobs, share a passion for baseball that helps them cope as both have ADHD
It’s tempting to want to do it all alone and cope by yourself with ADHD. This is counter-productive because it can lead to refusing to deal with the realities of having ADHD or learning coping mechanisms.
Taking time to get a proper diagnosis and ask for support with ADHD can make a huge difference. Ensuring you take medication if it has been prescribed as well as accessing any support services on offer is vitally important in helping to manage your condition and it’s impact on your parenting.
Joining parenting groups or groups for people to support each other with ADHD challenges can be a great help. It can also be helpful to access counseling or support for your children if they need it.
If your diagnosis is recent or you have been finding parenting very difficult then accessing support for your children as early as possible can make all the difference.
Parents with ADHD can face tough challenges, especially when it comes to preconceived notions of ADHD and what it means.
Mothers in particular may struggle because of myths surrounding ADHD, especially the common belief that girls and women rarely suffer from the condition.
Challenging these myths and stereotypes amongst caregivers, teachers, family members or others can help to feel empowered and to take control over the condition and tackle shame and stigma.