Parenting is hard enough for neurotypical people! It is even more challenging for those who have ADHD. Impulsiveness, forgetfulness, disorganization, time perception issues and distractibility, among other symptoms of the condition, make the tasks involved in running a household and raising a family much tougher.
I was diagnosed in 2009, after seeing my doctor for a bout of depression that would not lift. My kids were 13, 11, 9 and 6. By the time I was diagnosed, my kids’ school knew me well. I was the mom who was always tardy. I was the mom who held up the bus on field trip day because my child was missing lunch, fees or their permission slip. I was the mom whose kids showed up with mismatched socks, or no socks at all. My kids had a set routine after school, but we rarely ate dinner before 7 and hardly ever got to bed before 10.
That same year, I was working as a correspondent for a local paper and promoting a book I had published on local attractions. I remember going to events and hearing people praise my “drive,” “juggling abilities” and “unbelievable balancing skills” every time I mentioned my big family. To them, I had it all, and all of it was together.
My friends knew the truth though. And when I told them about my diagnosis, they were not surprised. I heard a lot of, “Oh that makes perfect sense,” and “That explains a lot.” To them, the diagnosis fit me and the challenges they saw me struggling with over the years. My sister Tamara said, “Think of how many times you blamed yourself for things you just couldn’t help! It was the ADHD all along.”
That’s exactly how I felt in the months after my diagnosis. So much of the guilt and self-hatred, borne from years of inability to control certain behaviours, began to fade as I read the materials my doctor gave me and started seeing a psychologist who specialized in the condition. I still dealt with the depression, but the medication I take for ADHD works with an antidepressant to manage the symptoms.
I now lean on my friends for support too. They help by giving me reminders, and by taking my kids to events. However, the times I need a friend most are harder to articulate. Along with the ADHD comes mood swings, and together those things create moments when I am frustrated, overwhelmed, stressed out and in serious need of a break. My friends often want to help me get this break, or assist with cleaning or organizing, but they don’t always know how to broach the topic politely and offer aid.
Here are five things you can do to help parents with ADHD. Trust me, they will appreciate the quiet assistance more than you know.
Throw an old-fashioned folding party. The next time a friend tells you she needs to fold laundry (it’s clean, trust me — those of us with ADHD just can’t hack the folding part), head over there to help her. Bring wine and tell her you are the DDE (Designated Distraction Eliminator), then stay there to prevent her from getting sidetracked. When she wanders into another room and talks about straightening things up in there, crank the music and drag her back to the laundry. Keep at it until the last sock is matched and — this is the most important part — every piece of clothing is put away. You will have fun with your friend and she will have accomplished something that has been plaguing her for weeks … or even months.
Tell her dinner is on you. Most of us have trouble keeping track of time (also known as time blindness), so dinner is often late and quick. Treat her to a meal by sending over a casserole you’ve made, or a pot roast with all the fixings. You could even treat her whole family to a sit-down dinner together. One of my friends invited me over to her house where we cooked dinner together and had a large family-style meal. It was a lovely evening that I cherish to this day. The gift of a stress-free dinner is always appreciated.
Have an “I Hate People Day.” The symptoms of ADHD can periodically lead to sensory overload. For me, it usually happens about once a month. After three to four weeks of the racing thoughts, anxiety and depression, and the struggles with impulses, time and inattention, I’m spent. When that happens, I need a day of dim lights (because there’s usually a headache), thick comforters, books and movies — anything that does not require a lot of brain power. My kids call these my “I Hate People” Days, because I cannot tolerate human interaction beyond issuing grunts and groans that my husband and kids can easily comprehend by now. They look forward to these days, and pile in with me for family cuddle time and a movie day. The next day, I am rested and ready to take on the world. Plan an “I Hate People” day for your friend. She is probably overdue for some downtime.
Escape into an outdoor activity. Plan an outing, and drag her out of the house. First, be sure she is not feeling burned out, or stressed because of an overdue project. Surprise her and the kids with a day at the park, a trip to the local pool or another outdoor seasonal activity. At first, she may be cranky, but leave her alone and get the kids involved. She will soon join in and will be thanking you for the outing by the end of the day. She will enjoy the break from her regular life, and you will have a great day out with your friend.
Plan an errand day. Schedule a more utilitarian day out, so she can knock out some overdue errands and to-do list items. Have her keep a running list of any task that comes to mind, then use her list to plan a day completing them. From paying bills to finally hiring that plumber, you are there to make the day fun and to keep her on track. Be the DDE again. Remember to eliminate distractions and keep the day fun.