Can’t Take Him Anywhere

Six ways to combat feelings of loneliness, exasperation and self-pity as the parents of a child with ADHD.

Parents of Children wtih ADHD Often Feel Alone and Isolated in Their Challenges
Parents of Children wtih ADHD Often Feel Alone and Isolated in Their Challenges

Have you ever felt that nobody understands what you go through, day to day, with your child (and his ADHD)? Are you sometimes envious of other moms whose children with attention deficit disorder don’t struggle with homework, social skills, life? Do you feel alone and isolated?

Like many moms, I had all these emotions when raising Jarryd, a challenging son with ADHD. Sometimes my loneliness was self-imposed. My husband and I found it easier to stay at home than risk having our son act up at the mall or at a friend’s house. Sometimes our friends were anything but friendly, preferring to spend Friday nights with families who didn’t have a special-needs kid.

If you think you’re alone in feeling alone, think again. Many moms go through the same thing. But there is light at the end of the tunnel if you take the initiative.

Jarryd is now 22 years old, living in his own apartment and finishing his junior year of college. These days, my husband and I enjoy time with friends and do activities that we had put off for years. Best of all, we enjoy Jarryd more than ever.

But it took a while to get to this sweet spot. Unlike parents who formed playgroups, we couldn’t find anyone who wanted to trade off child-care responsibilities with us. Organizing play dates was nearly impossible, and grandparents found Jarryd too difficult to handle. Babysitters turned us down, despite handsome offers of remuneration. We were trapped in our home, and our social life was nonexistent.

I remember the day I hit bottom. I had taken Jarryd to a hardware store to buy a roll of wallpaper. I knew what I wanted, but the clerks had moved the display since I was last in the store. As I looked for the missing roll, Jarryd messed with some of the displays and started to run out of the store. A clerk came over and shouted, “If you can’t control your child, you shouldn’t be out in public! Please leave the store.” Tears rolled down my cheeks. Running an errand wasn’t supposed to be this hard, and it wasn’t supposed to end this way.

Later that evening, I realized that our lives had to change. For months, I had hoped that our situation would get better tomorrow, or the day after. It didn’t. We loved our Jarryd, but we didn’t want to be confined to our home any longer.

The solution was to find outside support and help. I concluded that, if “it takes a village to raise a child,” then it takes a city to raise one with ADHD!

Here are some strategies that helped us:

1. Find babysitters.

Babysitters with a background in early-childhood education are typically available through education and psychology programs at colleges and universities.

Students in these fields often have the skills to manage special-needs children. Post a listing at a local college or on its website, and remember: Some students will babysit to earn credits toward their degrees, but most prefer to be paid.

2. Set a schedule.

Take turns trading off watching your child with your spouse or others in the home. Set time slots or full evenings for each of you to be “off duty.” This frees up one parent to get out of the house.

3. Locate like-minded parents.

Try to find parents of special-needs children through programs in your community, school, or mental health centers. You may be able to take turns watching each other’s children, and you’ll find a sympathetic ear to listen to your frustrations and triumphs.

4. Chat online.

If you can’t connect with parents in person, online communities offer opportunities to talk and socialize without leaving home. You’ll be surprised at the number of parents who will understand what you are going through.

5. Get fit, get help.

Check into local fitness centers or a YMCA for child-care services. I took an aerobics class while Jarryd and other kids were entertained in an on-site playroom. It turned out to be a lifesaver for me.

6. Look into community programs.

Family support services and wrap-around services, often run by community mental health centers at no charge, provide assistance to families who have children with special needs. These programs offer child-care, and respite care (to give parents a break), and sometimes include house calls to work on managing your child’s behavior.

As I found out, raising a child with ADHD is a marathon, not a sprint. Just as marathoners train differently than sprinters, you, too, need to develop a special regimen that meets your needs. Taking care of yourself and fulfilling your needs benefits both you and your child.