It’s a funny thing, when adults in the ADHD-club, become parents. In my case, I became a parent to three children, all at once, through acquisition. Actually giving birth to other human beings has always seemed very unsettling to me, so I never planned to participate in that activity (you can tell how unsettling I find it, in the detached language I used to describe “that activity”). However, I always had this notion in my head that I might adopt a child, or foster children, and as a last resort, perhaps I would welcome an accidental pregnancy.
In short: I’m a stepmother to three young children. But one of them is getting a little older now, and as a fifth-grader, she needs support for her own ADHD. (Isn’t that funny how you can choose not to replicate your quirky genes, and you STILL manage to have a child who has those same quirky genes…oh Life, you’re hilarious). So here I am working to manage my own ADHD idiosyncracies, and learning more about how my husband manages his…and we have a child whose ADHD really does require some parental involvement going forward.
It’s all just another layer to the challenge. It requires a type of spontaneous thinking that many of us ADHDers coincidentally seem to be rather good at. It also requires the parent to remember to care for themselves properly – in order to properly care for the child. It reinforces my own need for self-care, because she really needs us to be present, and to be able to cope with whatever her needs may mean.
At the moment, our child is having ongoing challenges relating to school. She started middle school this year, and as I blogged here, there were immediate issues of personal organization that needed to be addressed. We set her up with a new system for her homework and schoolwork that was a better fit for her ability to keep track of things. Even this is an ongoing issue. She has a hard time remembering to speak up when something isn’t working, because she hasn’t yet figured out a way to keep track of information for herself yet. Meaning: She doesn’t write herself notes, and is skeptical about how this might help her because as she says “right, but then I would have to actually read the note…and I don’t even know if I’m going to remember to see it”. (More on visual cues in a moment.)
Not only does she forget to speak up – but she’s still getting comfortable with the idea of advocating for herself. It’s been long enough since I was a kid that I forget how much they often don’t feel in control of their world. So we are working on that with her now, reminding her that if she doesn’t have a pencil and needs one – she needs to tell us. If her binder has a broken ring which has kept her from using it, which has cascaded into a giant lost homework problem – she needs to tell us. We can’t help her if we don’t know. We also told her that she needs to tell grown ups at both of her houses, because she just can’t reasonably expect that the grownups in her life are always going to be able to remember to tell the other grownups (we do try, but it’s not a perfect system). That way – she learns that she needs to be the one responsible for the information.
What she doesn’t know, of course, is that we are also working behind the scenes to see what her homework requirements are, so that we can track her progress and ask her the right questions to prompt action, while still allowing her to feel that she is responsible for it herself.
Meaning: Yes, we gave her a binder to organize herself, but she needs us to help her build other skills so that she is able to CONTINUE to use it effectively.
And then of course, the visual cues.
She’s only 10 so she hasn’t had the benefit of a lifetime of blowing it, to figure out how to trigger memory or action. I was in my late 20s before I started to figure this out on my own. So I’m trying to find ways to bridge that gap so she can start formulating those solutions now. I know that for me, the bigger and more ridiculous the cue, the more effective it is. I sometimes I have to create literal physical obstacles in order to “see” the reminder, so I can relate to what she says about notes being a not-always-effective solution.
Last night’s experiment: Getting her to put her dirty clothes in the dirty laundry basket in her room. I remind her about this all the time. It’s not just that I care about where the clothes are, it’s that we have a cat that will pee on anything left on a floor, so we absolutely have to put clothes in a basket. There has been some improvement with reminders…however, in 8 years she’s going to be on her own. If I know anything about the ADHD mind, it’s that habits like this must be cultivated and tended like ancient vines. With thought, with care, with continued practice, and frankly it sometimes takes us even longer than “normally” -brained people to learn the habit in the first place. 8 years might be what she needs…and its all we’ve got let, so let’s make the most of it!
I took the laundry basket and placed it in the doorway to her bedroom so that she would literally have to move it or trip over it in order to get into her bedroom. Then – because the goal was not to be passive-aggressive – I went and told her why it was there. She said “ok”. Then I left her alone for 20 minutes. The clothes ended up in the basket. All of the clothes, not just the clothes from that day. This gives me an important clue that there ARE visual cues that will work for her. They just have to be BIG AND CLEAR.
I don’t like to assume that what works for me always works for other people, but these are the same types of clues I have to set up for myself. Pretty amusing that my stepdaughter and I aren’t even biologically related, but are very similar in that way.
So there’s a few lessons here:
1) Visual cues can be amazing behavioral transformers for people with ADHD, when they are clear and undeniable.
2) Honing coping techniques is always an ongoing process. Always. I still have to remind myself to use them. There’s no point in getting angry about falling off the wagon, just suck it up and get back on it (you’ll set a good example for the kids).
3) Genetics are not the only determinants of similarity.
4) ADHD does not make you a bad parent. In fact, it can help you be a REALLY good one, because you can use your own experience to help you get creative, and stay open-minded about how to help your ADHD child.
5) ADHD sometimes adds a layer of frustration to the already taxing parenting process – but if you try to think about it in a solution-oriented way, it can be less frustrating.
6) You have to take care of yourself. You have to. When I’m feeling disorganized and out of control, it diminishes what I am able to give to the kids in terms of energy. Paradoxically, when I spend more energy taking care of myself, it seems to generate more energy that I can give to the kids. All of them. Not just the one with the diagnosis.
On that note, I need to go have a snack and get some work done so that my own week doesn’t spiral out of control.