ADHD Parents: Here’s How to Make It Work at Home

February 15, 2017

U.S. News
Russell Hyken

What is the difference between childhood and adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? Children generally have problems with concentration and difficulty following directions, and some will also be hyperactive and impulsive. Parents with ADHD not only have traditional symptoms but also struggle with additional issues, such as organizing the family schedule, avoiding impulsive frustrations and managing professional life.

Before jumping to the conclusion that your chaotic life means you have ADHD, check with a medical doctor or a qualified psychologist. Avoid internet research and self-diagnosis. ADHD symptoms can mirror other mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, and being a parent can be overwhelming. Occasional attention challenges do not mean one has a clinical issue.

Once properly diagnosed, the first step to controlling ADHD is to truly understand what causes attention challenges. From a scientific perspective, ADHD is a medical disorder that results from a neurological deficit in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. It’s a real condition that makes it difficult for one to engage in independent and purposeful behaviors, often referred to as executive functioning capabilities. More specifically, executive functioning relates to one’s ability to self-manage behaviors and emotions in order to achieve specific goals. It’s the ability to get the job done with minimal distractions.

Whether you’re a stay-at-home caregiver or trying to balance work, kids and everything else, being a parent is a challenging job. Family life, however, can be extra difficult when one parent has ADHD. It’s natural for mom and dad to always want to help and support their children. But ADHD, unfortunately, can make this a particularly complicated endeavor.

Many attention-challenged adults suffer from procrastination problems and organizational difficulties. Having children means remembering to pick up your daughter from hockey practice or take your son to the orthodontist. Because life with ADHD can feel so chaotic, everyday responsibilities become lessons in humility as you apologize for being late or for forgetting to turn in an important school form.

To stay organized, create a master schedule and place it in a highly visible location. Use a large whiteboard instead of a small paper calendar. Adults with ADHD are known to confuse daily tasks, and this is difficult to do when your schedule is mounted to the wall. Use different colors for different family members and make sure everyone communicates their daily needs. Cell phone alarms and apps can also provide personal reminders but are usually ineffective as a stand-alone strategy.

It’s also important to create a defined structure. Bedtimes, mealtimes and homework hours should be on your daily schedule. Say no to the things that are not a good use of your parental resources. You don’t have to make cookies for every school bake sale or overextend yourself driving your kids across town to various activities. Without limits, inertia can set in leading to chaos and disorganization. Managing your boundaries will help you stay energized.

ADHD should be addressed as a family issue when either parent has focus difficulties. Reassess daily duties and assign specific tasks to each family member. It can also make sense to hire some additional help. For an ADHD parent, a housekeeper, a driver or a babysitter may not be a luxury, but rather an accommodation that allows the family to manage their schedules without falling apart – which could really be expensive.

If you or your spouse struggles with ADHD, avoid setting the bar too high. Comparing yourselves to others will prove to be a frustrating endeavor. Your home doesn’t have to always look amazing and you don’t have to have a perfectly manicured lawn. It’s more important to create a happy environment.

Finally, ADHD is a hereditary condition. If you have focus struggles, one of your parents probably did and there is a higher probability that at least one of your children does. According to a 2012 study by the National Human Genome Research Institute, at least one-third of adults who have ADHD also have children with the same disorder. Modeling appropriate behaviors teaches your children to manage their challenges, even if they do not have executive functioning problems, and sharing a genetic trait builds a strong bond. With some effort, ADHD can be very manageable and actually enhance one’s life.

Having ADHD doesn’t make one a bad parent, either. On the contrary, having focus struggles gives parents the ability come up with creative solutions to everyday problems. Appreciate the gifts that ADHD offers and channel that energy to create a loving, nurturing and exciting home for you and your family.

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