Anger from Adult with ADD at Parent Over Late Diagnosis

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    • #58420

      I know this is a long post, but felt I should give the background to my question about how to handle anger from my adult daughter with ADD.
      My adult daughter was diagnosed with ADD a year ago at the age of twenty-four. Since that time I have received a number of outbursts of blame and anger from my daughter. I have apologized for not knowing or recognizing that her behavior was related to undiagnosed ADD, but she refuses to acknowledge my apology and every few weeks either calls or sends a text encompassing a long and angry outburst stating how I have never given her a ‘real’ apology and that I don’t show concern for her and how she is trying to cope with ADD.
      While growing up we never knew, recognized or were told that she might have ADD. We had frequent talks with her teachers from elementary and secondary school regarding talking in class and late assignments, but she was an A-B student, active in many extra-curricular activities and none of the teachers ever asked us about or suggested that she might have an Attention Deficient Disorder. As parents we had rules and consequences for not fulfilling school responsibilities. Most of the time this meant a loss of television or privileges. In high school she missed an important school trip because of incomplete work and for not meeting with the teacher to make up this work. And, yes, there were too many times, that I am not proud of, when I yelled unkind words out of anger and exasperation.
      During college she told us that she thought she might have ADD and wanted to see a specialist she had found. At the time we told her that the specialist was not covered under our medical insurance and that she would need to go to a specialist that our insurance covered. She was angry about this, but never went to see any of the specialists from the list I gave her from our insurance.
      Since then she moved out, graduated college, is working fulltime and gotten married. Under her own medical insurance she found a specialist and was diagnosed last year.
      But she is extremely angry, particularly at me not her Dad, about the struggles, discipline and punishments she received while growing up. I don’t know how to interact with her without upsetting her further or how to try to mend our relationship.
      By doing research I have found out a lot about ADD, but much of that information is directed at parents of children or the adults with ADD themselves. I am asking for advice and help in how I might best approach my daughter so she knows I am sorry for not knowing or recognizing her ADD and that I love her and want her to be happy.

    • #58429

      Hi SuRi, I am sorry you are going through this. As a parent, I can imagine how painful it must be. I see a lot of myself in your daughter. When I was diagnosed at 27, I had a lot of mixed feelings. As much as my diagnosis was a relief and a validation, it stirred up a lot of sadness for “little me,” who had always felt inferior and ashamed. And it made me wonder what else I might have been able to accomplish if I had had the support and self-confidence that I needed. .

      I think a lot of women with ADHD bear some scars that men might not necessarily have. Until recently, ADHD was considered to be a condition that affected white, middle-class, elementary-age boys. There was little recognition of how ADHD manifested differently in girls, especially girls who earned good grades and didn’t pose many discipline problems. Even in the most liberal of families, there is still a societal expectation that girls are to be neat, organized and conscientious. As women, especially if we are married and/or have kids, we are usually responsible for organizing not only our own lives, but the lives of everyone else in the household too – the “superwoman” who can juggle everything. For me, and for many of us I think, the person who was most active in teaching me about being neat, organized, etc. was my mom, and she was the one who was exasperated and disappointed when I couldn’t seem to learn these skills the way my sister could. In a way, I felt like I was flawed and deficient not only as a person, but as a female as well, because I couldn’t live up to my mom’s example of what (I felt) I was supposed to be and do. I also had the (not very reasonable) feeling that as long as I was doing well in school, going to university, etc., etc., and doing all the things that would seem to reflect well on my mother as a parent, that was all she cared about, and not whether I was struggling inside. When I got diagnosed, I suddenly remembered so many times that my mom had been angry with me or made me feel bad about things that we now know were ADHD-related, and I felt as angry as if it had all just happened yesterday.

      A year isn’t a long time for your daughter to re-evaluate and re-process a lifetime of experiences based on what she now knows. She is thinking back over her whole life and experiencing all those feelings again, and unfortunately you’re suffering the brunt of it. A lot of it probably isn’t even about you.

      My best advice: Don’t take it personally, and don’t blame yourself. You did the best you could with the information you had at the time, the same as my mom did. We all have things we would have done differently if we’d only had a crystal ball. With time comes perspective, and your daughter will come to realize this. In the meantime, I think you are doing something important by reading up on ADHD and learning as much as you can. Don’t grovel for forgiveness or tolerate abusive language – you aren’t to blame – but try to talk to her about her past experiences, if she is open to it; maybe she feels like you don’t really understand what it was like for her and thus you can’t make a real apology? After many years of feeling misunderstood, maybe she just needs to give voice to some of her feelings and to know that she’s being heard. I’m sorry you are experiencing this and that I don’t have any real solutions, but I really believe that having patience will pay off dividends. Big hugs to you!

    • #58430

      You say that she’s looking for a ‘real’ apology and that she thinks you ‘don’t show concern for her and how she is trying to cope with ADD.’ Have you asked her what exactly she means by this? What exactly is she looking for you to apologize for? What does she mean by ‘show concern’ for her? Do you know? There’s a quote I love: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” It seems to me that she is not feeling heard or understood (and probably you feel the same way!) So I think that the first step in healing your relationship is to ask her to sit down with you face to face (not via text) and have a conversation so you can talk about these things–in a calm quiet place where you can both say what you feel and you both get to be heard, and understood, by the other.

      As far as what you’d say to her, I think it’s appropriate for you to own up to and apologize for your part of things, whatever those things may be (after you find out what she’s wanting you to apologize for–sometimes our memories and recall differ from our kids; she may remember things that you have forgotten). It’s also important to emphasize (if you haven’t already) that you did the best you could with the information you had at the time AND that you can see now that it wasn’t what she needed and that you wish you could go back and change things…but you can’t…So now you really want to focus on moving forward with her. Emphasize that you care about her and want her to be happy. Let her know that you have been learning a lot about ADHD now so you can understand it better. Ask her what she needs from you NOW.

      It’s also important that you put some boundaries in place about how you want to be treated. Even if you made mistakes back then, that does not mean you have to be her punching bag or her “scape goat” forevermore. It’s understandable that she’s feeling upset and having a serious case of the ‘shoulda/woulda/couldas’–lashing out at you periodically probably makes her feel better in the moment (like releasing a pressure valve to let off steam) but is not fun (or fair) for you as her target. Don’t be afraid to tell her in a loving way, after you get all this out in the open face to face, that if in the future she’s wanting to talk about things, you want to sit down face to face and discuss it in a mutually respectful way–that you will no longer engage with her about this via text.

      Hope this helps! Good luck!

      Joyce Mabe
      Parenting Coach, mom of adult son with ADHD, author

    • #58581

      She’s being a childish jerk.

      I wasn’t DX’d until I was 37. My mother is a special ed teacher! I was so much less messed up than my brother and so well able to compensate in various ways that it occurred to no one that I wasn’t just a smart airhead or an “absentminded professor.” I was the first person to recognize my husband’s ADHD–and I STILL didn’t see my own. Only when keeping track of work plus 3 kids nearly killed me–STUPID things were also incredibly hard for me–AND I was trying to help our ADHD son that I realized that I was a classic girl with ADHD.

      Not one person realized it before then. Not one. Including me!

      • This reply was modified 4 years, 3 months ago by gentlygenli.
      • #58948

        Only when keeping track of work plus 3 kids nearly killed me–STUPID things were also incredibly hard for me–AND I was trying to help our ADHD son that I realized that I was a classic girl with ADHD.

        This made me think of something- does the daughter have kids of her own yet? I developed compassion for my parents when I became a parent and even more so when my daughter changed from a crying potato into a person with her own thoughts, dreams, likes, and dislikes. I was a total mess as a young woman and would have felt similarly to the daughter in the original post. Now that I am older and a mother, I don’t know why I was so harsh. There are few better examples of hindsight bias than the ones many young adults exhibit when looking back on how they were raised.

    • #58583

      I might add…

      Don’t feel bad about the punishments. Seriously. Things are harder for people with ADHD but not impossible. Different people are differently motivated to work out solutions–and there ARE behavioral modification solutions for many ADHD behaviors. Punishment is a powerful motivator for many. For me, it was always that I sought to DO things. All the techniques of my first 37 years are just far easier to apply now that I’m on drugs. :).

      Too much punishment is a thousand times better than excusing bad behavior because “she can’t help it.” In the real world, no one cares WHY you are selfish and unreliable–much less if you’re violent!!! They just don’t. The reasons are really irrelevant–finding a motivation that works and ways of approaching the problem that make headway are what matters.

    • #58622

      I think gentlygenli is right – I think for many folks who are diagnosed as adults, it’s easy to romanticize early diagnosis and its positive aspects. But early diagnosis can be a double-edged sword – kids still have to be taught responsibility and held accountable for their actions, including being punished when they deserve it. Parents can fall into the trap of conflating “accommodation” with “low expectations” or “special treatment.” I have met many people who got diagnosed young and then grew up believing that the usual rules don’t apply to them, and it’s not pretty.

    • #58625

      I don’t know if asking specifically what she needs will give results. She probably would be upset because “you still don’t get it”. Tell her you love her and you did the best you could with the information you had, it is clear you didn’t do enough of the right thing, and you are very sad about it. Tell her about all the resources you are reading right now to try to understand (in detail), and that you hope in time you will be able to understand. And then wait and don’t put your emotional burden on her — there are some things she is only likely to understand when she has kids of her own.

      I also suggest that you and your husband get tested for ADHD as well, given the strong genetic component of ADHD. Because this may be a player in the relationship as well. If you are a neurotypical person and your husband has ADHD tendencies, you might have tried to single-handedly compensate for that by being responsible for all things that require consistency, such as discipline, and that’s how you get the brunt of anger now. In this case, your husband has to own up to being part of the problem. If you have ADHD tendencies yourself, you might have tried too hard to educate her to prevent the problems you have been facing (I can see that in myself). I would also recommend a reading of “Raising your Spirited Child” to see how your (inborn) temperamental traits might interact with hers; it may help narrow down the sources of friction.

    • #58635
      Penny Williams

      As Joyce said, I would sit down with her and have a very honest discussion. Point out that you thought you were doing the best thing for her with the information you had at the time. You didn’t know she had ADHD. Explain to her your feelings and how you wish you’d known earlier, that you wish you had done things differently in hindsight. Talk about how you cannot change the past now, but you can work to understand her and support her.

      Of course, she still has to work through her own feelings of regret and resentment, and come to terms with her past, in order to have a positive future.

      ADDitude Community Moderator, Author & Mentor on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

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