Guest Blogs

Crazy, Stupid “Love” at the Parent-Teacher Conference

My hyper-friendliness gives women the wrong idea, and my impulsive words make things worse.

Despite years of developing and using coping strategies to manage my ADHD, occasionally I slip up. As chance would have it, I usually make a fool of myself when this occurs. Obviously, I’ve dropped my guard down for a moment, so something painfully humiliating should happen. Isn’t that how things are supposed to work? I usually laugh off these glitches in my behavior, but recently something happened that still makes me flush with embarrassment when I recall it.

It was parent-teacher night, and I was there with my very excited middle-schooler. The gymnasium was filled with chatter from all the parents waiting in line to see their student’s teachers. There was so much commotion that I had a hard time staying focused. When it came time to talk with my daughter’s teacher, we sat in chairs and waited our turn. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure if the teacher was a Miss or a Mrs., but my daughter had run off to talk to a friend, so I got creative. I looked over the shoulder of the mother and child in front of me to spy whether there was a ring on the teacher’s hand or not. No ring! She’s a Miss. I was so pleased with myself.

Soon it was our turn, and we took our place. She had nice things to say about my child. I took down notes. Things were going well. I could focus on what she was saying. Then I referred to her as Miss So-and-So, and she corrected me. She was a missus. In fact, she was newly married. That’s when I noticed her hand. There was a ring on it. Wait. Where did that come from? I could have sworn there was no ring before. I specifically looked for it, and it wasn’t there! Was I looking at the wrong hand? Was it the hand of the teacher sitting next to her? I no longer could hear what she was telling me about my daughter. I was focused on that stupid ring. It was there. So shiny.

“Did you just put your wedding ring back on?” I wondered aloud. She stopped talking.

Now that I’m a single dad in his 40s, I encounter many women who assume that any interest I have in them must be romantic. That’s when they pull out the crosses and garlic. My natural ADHD curiosity and hyper-friendliness gets me in trouble over and over again. In this case, I couldn’t read the teacher’s mind, but I could tell she was uncomfortable. I smoothed things over as best as I could — though I can hardly remember what came out of my mouth — and the meeting continued. When things came to an end, and I was certain I had fixed things, I asked her for her e-mail address to send updates about my girl. She nervously said, “Yes, but only for school-related reasons.”

Gah. So embarrassing. The fact that she was in her 20s, and I had no interest in her romantically wouldn’t mean anything at that point. The damage was done.

Speaking without thinking is an impulse control issue that people with ADHD often struggle with. To borrow a phrase from Dr. Ned Hallowell, our brain is a Ferrari equipped with bicycle brakes. We are especially in danger when we are excited or upset. Emotions flare and impulsive words spring out of our mouths like bottle rockets.

My advice to myself in these situations is to not stress about control when I’m with friends and family, but to consciously slow my breathing down when in meetings or talking to co-workers. Slowing our breathing helps us maintain calm and gives our impulse control center a chance to catch up.

I usually keep calm during parent-teacher conferences, so that mishaps like the one I experienced wouldn’t happen. Sometimes, though, an errant thought gets by. When I noticed that the teacher was uncomfortable, I kept my cool, so I wouldn’t become flustered and make things worse. Not that it did any good. She’ll likely be neck-deep in crosses and garlic for our next conference.