Parenting is not for the weak of heart. Even before your baby comes home from the hospital, you've already earned a merit badge for getting through pregnancy and labor (or years of waiting, if you've adopted).
Early milestones are exciting times, as well. You've probably got piles of photos and DVDs documenting your child’s firsts. Like all parents, you've fretted over each stage of development: Will Johnny talk on schedule? Will he ever potty train? Will he do well in school, have friends, and be happy?
Worries for ADHD Parents
If you're the parent of a teen with ADHD, multiply your concerns by 10. You worry about driving, drugs, sex, alcohol, depression, peer influences, grades, and more. ADHD teens are more prone to these behaviors because they are more impulsive and immature. They don't recognize the consequences of their actions as do their non-ADHD counterparts.
At this stage, parents have to be proactive, more involved and vigilant, and must intervene quickly before their ADHD teen's behaviors spin out of control. Parents begin to get frustrated, exhausted, resentful, and ready to throw in the towel.
Other teens are winning school awards, being chosen for elite team sports, advancing to the next grade, enjoying social connections, being invited to the prom, and earning a driver's license. Such milestone moments often elude your ADHD teen, as you watch his self-confidence -- and your dreams for him -- dwindle. You had hoped your teen would make the swim or cheerleading team and have dozens of party invitations piled on her desk. Now you're hoping she gets a passing grade, a call from a friend, or a night out with a date.
When an ADHD teen is struggling, it's common for her parents to feel guilt, layered with sadness, disappointment, and depression. Yet few parents have the time or energy to reflect on the toll these challenging years have taken on them.
There were times when I, too, wanted to throw in the towel while raising my daughter, who has ADHD and other special needs. I felt suffocated, tied down by her social, emotional, and educational needs. My angst and exhaustion eventually turned into anger and resentment. I was emotionally and physically spent.
I found help by working with her therapist during counseling sessions. I was advised to set aside some time each day to informally connect with my daughter: We played cards, watched a TV show together, or headed out to the mall. The key was to not focus on her difficulties and to enjoy the person behind her ADHD. Surprisingly, she began to settle down more at home and our relationship soared. That's not to say my frustrations and anger disappeared.
It's important to acknowledge that you've been through years of trials and tribulations. Your efforts need to be recognized and applauded. No one -- and I mean no one -- can possibly know the difficulties you face raising such a challenging teen. More often than not, you've put your own needs and dreams on the back burner while addressing your child's. Perhaps you had visions of returning to school to get your master's degree or beginning the novel that's been kicking around in your head.
You start to wonder if parenting will get easier, and you become resentful and angry over all the years you've spent trying to help your child. Now that you've acknowledged the difficulties you've faced raising your child, it's a good idea to allow yourself to grieve over the "ideal" child you had hoped to raise, the child who would bring you endless joy, who would fit in with others. Instead, you are gripped with a sense of loss, that unspoken feeling that many parents with an ADHD teen don't recognize as the meaning behind the pain.
Further, a parent's grief can cause feelings of resentment toward their teen. How do you keep your grief from poisoning the relationship with your child? There are ways to do it.
Manage Your Grief
If sadness, grief, or depression lasts more than a few weeks, get help. Work with a therapist who understands the emotional needs of parents who have special-needs children, and keep these things in mind.
> Remind yourself that your teen is not defined by his ADHD. He's a human being who has strengths and challenges, just like any other child. Though your parenting duties may be more difficult than your peers', it's important to accept her ADHD, and then to look beyond her behaviors and see and celebrate her strengths.
> Work on improving your relationship with your teen; this will help in dealing with your grief and loss. Find activities you both enjoy, but put your teen in the lead. Ask her what she'd like to do, instead of suggesting things. Learn more about her interests, even if they seem unappealing to you.
> Strip away the guilt. Your child came into the world with her ADHD. You are not at fault.
> Acknowledge your feelings. It's entirely normal to feel disappointment, anger, even rage at times about the way things have turned out. But don't take your feelings out on your child.
> Find humor in the situations that arise. Sometimes life does feel like a three-ring circus. Allow yourself to sit back and observe as an outsider, so that you can see how silly certain situations can look when you're not wearing your "parent" hat.
> Do not give up on your dreams. It may take longer to earn that degree or learn how to paint or write, but start now. You need to begin focusing more on your own needs.
> Take time away from parenting and re-connect with other family members and friends.
> Connect with other parents of ADHD children. CHADD has support groups in most major cities across the U.S. They also offer annual conferences at different locations throughout the country.
> Relax! Take one day at a time. Things will get better, I promise. In the meantime, know that you aren't alone.
TERRY MATLEN, ACSW, is a psychotherapist, consultant, writer, and coach specializing in adult ADHD. She is the author of Survival Tips for Women with AD/HD, and is founder/director of addconsults.com.
This article appears in the Fall issue of ADDitude.
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