For some ADHDers, "delegate" has become a euphemism for "dump on your partner." Here's how delegation really works — without making others resent it.
by Beth Main
In my last blog post, I wrote about how I delegated a difficult task to my teenage son. I described how we broke the task down into manageable pieces, and how in the end, he discovered a talent neither of us would have known about if I hadn't assigned him the chore. It was a win for both of us.
I got some negative feedback from that post, and I’ve been pondering my response to the criticism. Should I defend myself and list the many things I successfully manage myself? Should I opine about the crucial parental and societal role of teaching our children responsibility? Should I point out that every reputable source of information on ADD, from Hallowell and Ratey to ADD Crusher, advocates delegation as a strategy?
What I noticed, and what continues to strike me, is that the objections to my post all came from non-ADD spouses who feel dumped on and taken advantage of. They see their ADD partners failing in their own everyday lives and leaning on them for support. I feel the anguish in their words. So I'm going to move past my injured pride and address their sincere concerns.
Successful delegation looks something like this:
1. Someone admits she needs help.
2. She figures out exactly what help she needs.
3. She clearly describes these needs to another person, and asks if he will help.
4. Both parties come to agreement on exactly what will be done and when it will be done.
5. He does the task.
6. She thanks him.
All of these steps are equally important. In life with ADD, a lot of times only #5 happens, and it happens over and over. Yeah, the tasks get done, but resentment builds up. This is not good delegation. It's not delegation at all, really. It's just not getting stuff done, with someone else picking up the slack. Relationships erode and crumble. That's not what anyone wants.
Let's keep this in mind and reconsider the situation from my last blog post. I needed help clearing a spot in my basement. I didn't know exactly what needed to be done, but my son and I broke the project down and figured it out together. I asked him if he would help me. He could have pushed back, but he didn't — he said yes. We agreed on a reasonable time limit. He did a stellar job, and I thanked him. Two reasons it worked for both of us are agreement and appreciation.
Back to you, the non-ADD spouse. You don't have to agree to accept all the work that goes along with running a household just because your partner has ADD. Nor should you. Work should be divided equitably. Equitably, by the way, is not the same as equally. It means fairly. I do a heck of a lot more work than my son, believe me. But we both agreed at the beginning of the summer that two hours a day, in return for an allowance, would be fair and equitable for a teenager. (My husband and I divide things a little differently.)
Sadly, for some people, "delegate" has become a euphemism for "dump on." It shouldn't be this way. ADDers do have problems getting started and following through, it's true. And sometimes — okay, a lot of times — stuff gets left undone. Wouldn't it be magical if the Work Fairy would come along in the middle of the night and take care of everything for us? If the non-ADD spouse just does everything in the end, he seems like the Work Fairy to the ADDer. There's no consequence. No motivation to do anything differently. No satisfaction of achievement, either. Just a lot of disappointment and resentment, which is not what either of you want.
So, non-ADD spouses, don't be the Work Fairy. Discuss things with your ADD spouse. Agree on what's fair and equitable. Figure out what both spouses will contribute, according to their respective strengths. Communicate! Decide together what will happen if things don’t go according to plan. An ADD diagnosis is not a "Get Out of Work Free" card. And I have yet to come across a single ADDer, out of the hundreds I've had the privilege to meet, who believes it is. Most of us desperately want to pull our weight and feel horrible when we drop things.
I'm sticking with my original premise: Delegating weaknesses is a good ADD strategy. And delegating doesn't have to be a one-way street — the flip side is doing more of what we're good at, in equal exchange for the help. What does your ADD partner excel at? How can she help in return?
I can't emphasize it enough: Delegating involves communication and agreement on both sides. You haven't delegated if the other person hasn't agreed to help you out. And non-ADD spouses, you're free to say no to any request that makes you feel resentful. When that happens, go back to the drawing board. Use some of your partner's ADD out-of-the-box lateral thinking to find a solution that works for both of you.