I went to an ADHD workshop a couple of years ago. It was great. I sat in a room of mums and dads, who were all dealing with similar issues to me. The presenter was a mum like me, just further down the track. She spoke with great passion about her son with ADHD. I felt positive about some changes I could make at home that would hopefully make our lives a bit smoother.
During the workshop, I asked a question about early morning rising. My son wakes early – like before the birds! – and whether she was aware of any strategies I could use to get him to go back to sleep. Or if she didn’t have any such strategies, were there any ways I could help him to not wake the entire house, eat the whole weeks’ worth of food in sitting, or go for a pre-dawn wander outside.
The workshop facilitator and the group of mum and dads were at a loss for strategies to help me out that I hadn’t already tried. In the end, the facilitator said, “Sometimes ADHD is just s*#t” and then asked if anyone else had a question. I was not happy with her response. I don’t like to feel powerless. I’m someone who needs an answer, a solution, a strategy.
But you know what? She was right. Sometimes ADHD is just crap. It is hard, exhausting and never relenting. Some days I feel like I’m on top of the world and can handle it all. Other days I am left as a sobbing mess entirely shattered by the end of the day.
You truly can’t understand what ADHD is until you have lived with it, day after day, year after year. For those of you in the thick of it, I want you to know that you are not alone. You don’t have to be super mum or super dad. You are allowed to think ADHD is crap some days.
One of my children has been having a hard time going to be of late. Last night, they had a horrible meltdown over having to go to bed. Children with ADHD have poor emotional regulation. A child with ADHD-Hyperactive/Impulsive, or ADHD-Combined type, can find it extremely hard to control their first impulse of emotion. (Read this blog post on emotional dysregulation of children with ADHD). Things can get violent and escalate quickly to become out of control, particularly if they also have Oppositional Defiant Disorder and/or Anxiety Disorders.
So this child of mine was unhappy that I asked them to go to bed. They were tired, it was late, they had already had their sleeping aide to help them sleep, but they fought it with all their might. I managed to keep it together, which was extremely difficult as this was the end of a long line of hard nights. I emotion coached through it all while setting firm boundaries. I was saying things like, “I can see you are angry I’m asking you to go to bed, but you need to tell me, not hit me.”
Eventually, after about half an hour, I broke. I started to cry. I walked away, and they followed me into our lounge room. I burst into tears, you know like ugly crying, that your whole body heaves and you can’t breathe. That was me. Usually, I don’t lose it like that in front of the kids. Often I have a cry afterwards, but rarely in front of the kids. Immediately my child burst into tears as well. Interestingly, seeing me cry, and the impact that their behaviour had on me, was enough to move them from aggression to gentleness, from anger to kindness, from thinking only about themselves to showing empathy for me.
They apologised, and we had a big cuddle and chatted for a long while. We talked through everything that happened, using the 5-question technique we use frequently. I told my child, I will always love them, and I was very proud of them telling me they were sorry, and then they went off to bed.
Here are a few points, I want to share based on this experience:
Sometimes the stuff that comes with ADHD is just crap.
Having children with ADHD can be amazing! I love the tenacity of my children and the excitement they have for the seemingly small things in life. But raising a child with ADHD can be hard, overwhelming and exhausting. Sometimes it is genuinely crap.
Here me when I say this: feeling this way doesn’t make you a bad parent! It doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids. It is okay to feel like ADHD is crap. You are not a robot that can live with the impact of ADHD every single day and not be affected by it.
We, as parents sometimes need to be okay with grieving the fact that the image we had of what our family would look like, doesn’t match up with the reality of a family affected by ADHD. You are not terrible for thinking this way. The quotes we hear like “cherish every moment” are a lovely sentiment, but can leave us feeling as though we are failing.
The important thing however, is that we don’t stay in this place of thinking ADHD is crap. It is not healthy to keep that mindset. We do need to pick ourselves up, keep going and embrace the positives and challenges of ADHD.
The ONLY way we are going to be able to actually enjoy living with ADHD children is to know what ADHD is, how to work with it, how to love it and how to embrace it. I am not saying we won’t have bad days! But we can learn to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and try again.
Keep a neurodevelopment disorder mindset.
We have a saying in our house, “ADHD is NOT an excuse for behaving poorly, but it is a reason why behaving well can be difficult.”
The truth is, our kids have a disorder of self-control. It is unfair to hold children with ADHD to the same standard as children without ADHD. Their brains are not functioning the same way as someone without ADHD. They will have difficulty inhibiting or controlling their words and emotions.
I always try and remember this: As hard as it is for us to raise a child with ADHD, it is hard for them to have ADHD as well. How many times has your child said they are stupid, or that they don’t know why they do the things they do? One of my children with ADHD, always calls themselves stupid after a meltdown or a bad choice. It breaks my heart. They often say “I don’t know why I did that” or “why do I do things like that?” Imagine having to live with that feeling that you are out of control, or feeling like you let people down often.
Dr. Russell Barkley, an ADHD researcher, says that ADHD is a performance disorder, not a knowledge disorder. Our children KNOW what appropriate behaviour is, but they can’t always show it, or perform that behaviour. How frustrating must that be for them? To not understand why they can’t stop themselves from doing certain behaviours.
Our kids need grace and support, just as much, if not more than we do!
It’s okay for us as parents, to be human
For many years, I would try and hide my emotions from my children. I would try and put on a stoic expression and soldier on, no matter what names I was called, or how I was treated. But it is okay for our children to see us demonstrating our emotions; in fact, it can be healthy. Our children need to realise that it is not okay to treat anyone the way they sometimes treat us. Emotional health starts at home. Parents are the main role model of how to deal with emotions.
A recent study found that when we suppress our emotions in front of our children, both parents and children are less warm and engaged with each other. Interestingly, it also found that when mothers (interestingly not fathers) suppressed their emotions, their children showed more significant stress responses, than when they allowed their emotions to be viewed and explained.
Rather than suppressing our emotions, use them to teach our children that their parents experience normal human emotions. We don’t suppress our laughter when our kids are funny, or excitement when something amazing happens to them. So why do we feel as though we need to hide our feelings when they hurt our feelings or say mean things to us?
Parents who seize these opportunities to discuss emotions, give their children opportunities to learn emotional intelligence. This process teaches your child to think of others’ feelings and show empathy.
Of course, if we are feeling out of control with our own emotions at these times, it is always best to try and remove yourself from the situation. Once you feel in control again, you can come back and talk about your emotions.
I want to leave you with this. Parenting ADHD can be hard some days. Acknowledge that, be kind to yourself, then rise up and take the challenge on head-on. You are amazing. You are doing it.
Let’s get ADHD Done Differently.