Rescue or Responsibility

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    • #136427

      Hi there, first post for me…

      I am a stepdad for my 13 year old stepson who has ADHD and clinical anxiety. My wife has decided that it is not really my role to help in raising our son, even though he lives in our home 12 of every 14 days. I have tried to suggest that we work together in setting expectations for parenting per step-parenting books, but she refuses to grant me any say in any matters. I want to help my stepson prepare himself for life, but my hands are really tied by my wife’s expectations that I really dont have a say….

      That leads to my question. I would love to have a constructive conversation with my wife about what I see in her when dealing with my stepson (her son). I understand that repeated requests are the norm for ADHD kids/people. But what I see her do is, time and time again, tell her son to do something (i.e. repeatedly ask to find your sweatshirt/headphones/socks/shoes, take your dirty dishes to the kitchen, etc.). After 3-5 attempts asking him to do something, she will “rescue him” and just do it herself. I think she is doing him a dis-service by not making him responsible. She says (when I try to address this with her) “that I dont understand anything about ADHD kids”. From my vantage point, my stepson has learned “that mom will do what needs to be done for me, I dont have to do it, after all I have ADHD and cant be expected to be responsible”. And my wife will not let him experience any natural consequences of his irresponsibility, such as “if he does not find his ear buds, he wont have them for school today”….

      So my question is this… should ADHD kids like my stepson not be expected to do what a parent asks? Or are they to constantly be rescued by their parents, and thereby undermine their learning to become responsible? My thinking is that he will have to learn how to deal with his ADHD but yet still become a responsible person. When does learning responsibility start?

      Thanks in advance for any advice!


    • #136596

      She is doing him a disservice.

      • #138311

        She is doing him a disservice and it is going to affect him in adulthood when he can’t take on any responsibility or remember to do what his boss tells him to do.

        But let me say this. It is extremely difficult for those with ADHD/ADD to learn from mistakes. Throughout twenty-five years of marriage my ADD husband has not learned from a single mistake…EVER…no matter what it was or how serious it was! And I mean NEVER! Every time he places a dirty plastic dish into the dishwasher, which should go on the top shelf so heat is reduced) he places it on the bottom shelf and then it melts and there is a mess and very little plastic bowls left. It has been so bad that the dishwasher itself is starting to melt and the pegs inside that hold the glasses have caught fire so we are having to replace it. He very seldom does this task as he does virtually nothing around the house including help raise his children.

        When our last two children were babies he would want to take one with him to do errands so he could show them off at the bank and places like that. He would strap the baby securely in the car seat and place it in the car…WITHOUT securing it with the seat belts. We went over this hundreds of times and he still didn’t get it an would continue to place the children in danger. I don’t think they ever went with him anywhere that at least one of them didn’t come home bloody with a busted nose or deep cuts where stitches were needed. It was a chronic worry and I simply didn’t leave him alone with them anymore after I saw that nothing I said or did changed anything and he thought all the injuries including a broken nose, stitches, doctors visits, were no big deal. It put a lot, I mean a ton, of added stress and pressure on me but I did it to protect my children. There are five of us in our family, four with ADD with hyperactivity and one without…and a daughter-in-law with ADD/Hyperactive. After twenty-five years nothing has changed and I get grayer every day. I don’t nag! I don’t say anything anymore because I set my expectations to zero and the kids are old enough to care for themselves!!

        Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental disorder of the neurodevelopmental type. It is characterized by difficulty paying attention, excessive activity and acting without regards to consequences, which are otherwise not appropriate for a person’s age.

        What I did with my boys is a lot of practice. Real life practice. One does well. Another is so-so. They practice situations with me there with them, not to answer for them but to guide. Lots of what would you do if this or that happens? How do you plan to study for that test? Show me how well you manage your time? How do you respond when someone says this? How do you do so kindly and get your point across. And it goes on and on.

        Your wife should be on her knees thanking God that you are willing to be a team member. What I wouldn’t give for that. She is making a very serious error.

        You have to try to get into a mindset of an ADHD person. Imagine yourself messing up repeatedly and NEVER being able to learn from your mistakes because that isn’t how your brain is wired. Your wife’s behavior could be because she may very well be suffering from ADD/ADHD as well and isn’t seeing things as clearly as she could. Doctors used to say that someone in the family might be ADHD if one of the children are. Now they say…which one of you is ADHD? It is very hereditary.

        She needs counseling for all your sake. She is limiting a child loving involvement and experiences with a father figure and this could affect him the rest of his life.

        I hope only the best for you.

    • #136612

      I’ll start by congratulating you on trying to take an active role in your stepson’s life, and most importantly for seeking out advice on how to understand ADHD/ADD and its role in his development. Getting to your question, I can see just by the way your post was titled that it is coming from a standard neurotypical perspective. What’s critically important here is to understand that his mother is not always “rescuing” him just because she often takes care of little things like picking up clothes or setting out his things for school.

      I realize that it might look like she’s not letting him “take his lumps.” But that is not how the ADD brain works. We don’t just forget to bring our ear buds or sunglasses with us one time and then “learn from the mistake.” Inevitably, something will distract us and cause us to forget again in the future, or we will remember the ear buds and instead forget to pack our lunch. From an outside perspective this looks like – and we were often told by teachers and other adults – that we simply needed to be more responsible or that we were careless and lacking in common sense. Compound this with the fact that many if not most of us with ADD also have hypersensitivity (emotional, physical, or both) and you can see how quickly we develop a deep sense of shame and self-loathing that rears its head with every little mistake. My parents were able to identify my ADD and were very supportive, and I was able to mask a lot of issues with my high intelligence. Even with these advantages, at 38 years of age I still suffer with shame and self-loathing when I commit an ADD-related mistake (like going to the grocery store for eggs and coming home with 6 other items, none of which are the eggs that motivated the trip…).

      What’s most important is that you can be a source of encouragement and support for the things that DO go right and let go of the “little stuff.” Try to put it in a larger perspective:

      Did he start his homework without asked? Awesome! Great job, that would make any parent proud, and an ADD brain starved for dopamine needs and deserves big praise and a big hug for getting that task underway.

      His jacket is still in the hallway after being asked 3 times? Ok, well that’s a bit annoying. But would you prefer he learns that getting homework started is a big positive responsible thing to do, or that he learns he is “irresponsible” for his failure to complete a “basic task” like hanging up a jacket in the right place?

      For someone with ADD, just doing the menial everyday tasks is incredibly taxing, while what seems like an insurmountable feat of mental gymnastics to someone else might be a total breeze for the ADD person. I know for myself it was tremendously confusing to myself and my family that I could write a “6-month” research paper the week before it was due and get an A+, but I would forget to bring home my lunch containers.

      I’m glad you came here looking for how to help; I think a lot of the responses you will see here will end up with the same takeaway: a “responsible” person with ADD is not the neurotypical ideal of a “responsible” person who always keeps things in order and stays organized and neat. A responsible person with ADD is someone who manages their symptoms in a way that helps them become an effective person with a positive self-image, and who has learned to let go of the little things that slip by now and then as long as they get the big stuff done.

      To use myself as an example: Sometimes I have to go back to the store, but I try to laugh it off – I’m a big boy and I can drive myself back there if I need to. 🙂
      I pay my water bill as soon as it comes in, but the paid invoices from six months ago are still on my counter because I keep forgetting to put them in the file. Next to them are the receipts from a home improvement project, because I keep forgetting to CREATE that file.

      Hopefully he’s getting some sort of treatment and/or practical exercises from a qualified professional to help him manage the symptoms. In the meantime, I would say just be encouraging and praise the great things he does, and make a conscious effort to not sweat the small stuff. An ADD child is exposed to constant reminders that he is different, and he is a high risk of feeling “lesser than.” Imposing an impossible (for him) standard of what constitutes “responsibility” only exacerbates the problem.

      Your stepson will sometimes forget his shoes, he will forget his toys, he will forget those earbuds.

      But he will ALWAYS remember when you were kind.

      • #136669


        Thanks for the reply! In my conversations and learnings about ADD, I agree with everything you said above. I get how his brain works, and that he will forget, he will need continual reminders, etc. And I don’t even have issue with just taking care of things for him like getting things ready for him, picking up after him when I just want it done, etc.

        But my question was intended to be more about what we/she as his parents should do in response to a request that he fulfill (something that is specifically asked for). I don’t mind asking him 5 times to get his things, my question is if we do ask him to do something, should we expect him to do it eventually, on his own time, or do we step in and perform the task for him all the time? Your response above seems to sends the message to me that would should not expect him ever to do what is asked, that we will always have to perform things all things for him.

        What I am explaining here with his behavior in not performing what is asked really is the rule, not the exception. In my opinion, he has learned to manipulate his mom by not doing a vast majority of the things she asks him to do, he knows she will just take care of it for him.

        What I am asking here is: Is it feasible to have expectations that an ADHD child perform what is asked of him? If we ask him for something, do we keep on asking him until he does it, even if it takes 20 requests? Or, if we ask 5 times and it’s not done, do we take over and do it? Obviously, when it is done, we would reward him with praise in the same way we do with every good thing he does! I am not asking him to learn to organize himself for daily life, or learn what he needs to have to take to school for example, just if we should expect him to do what is specifically asked. He didn’t have to think of the request (i.e. I should pick that up), we thought of it for him, and just asked that he perform it. Should we wait for him to perform it?


    • #136707

      I didn’t mean to send the message that he shouldn’t have to listen. Yes, he certainly should be expected to do something that’s asked of him. The trick I’ve found with myself (I have Inattentive ADD) is that if it’s something small like putting dishes away or starting the laundry, as soon as I think of it I have to do it RIGHT THAT SECOND. Otherwise it won’t happen. Don’t go to him while he’s playing a game or doing homework or watching TV and say “remember, it’s your turn to put the dishes away tonight.” That will inevitably lead to YOU (or mom) putting the dishes away, and he will only remember once someone else puts them away and then feel guilty about it (“see? I always screw up and forget to do things. Next time I won’t bother. They already expect I won’t do it or I’ll forget, so why should I try? I don’t need to prove that I will screw it up again”). Instead, find a point where you can say “please put the dishes away” and it is something he can do RIGHT NOW and then provide that positive reinforcement as soon as he’s done. Yes, it means that you are the one identifying when to point out that it’s a good time to do that, but it also avoids a scenario where you say it five times before there’s an opportunity for him to actually do it at the same instant you make the request. The nagging is draining on you and degrading to him, as it feeds his internal narrative of “I can’t remember anything.” If you can ask him to do it at a moment when he can do it RIGHT THEN, you’ve astronomically increased his chances at succeeding in the task and getting that pat on the back for showing that he can be helpful (and by extension, showing himself that he really is capable of getting things done).

      One last thing, as you probably have seen already in your research: he needs constant reminders that it’s OK to forgive himself. He’s still a capable person even though he sometimes makes mistakes; that’s a hard thing for most teenagers to accept, and an ADD teen is starting on the back foot in that department.

      Keep reading, researching and applying. He’s got a great start with a mom who is sensitive to his neuro-processing differences and a loving stepdad who is trying to learn how to best support his development into a successful adult. I wish you all the best.

    • #136778

      Thanks for the further clarification! I appreciate the help! Great suggestions too!

    • #138174

      I have a really simple tool I use ALL the time.
      It is a when / then statement, which can be repeated without shaming and gives power back to the child.
      It is a clear statement that goes along the lines of this:
      WHEN you… (insert what it is you want done), THEN you can …do/have (insert what child wants).
      When you pick your jacket up, then you can play your game.

      I also have a list of routines expected of a morning before school and after school that my son can visually see and check off that he can refer to so I am not constantly repeating myself, and another for weekends.

      Hope this helps.

      • This reply was modified 2 years ago by mahala.
    • #138185

      So, there are a few layers of questions I’m seeing here.

      1- Should you be more involved in parenting this child? It sounds like you’re feeling very left out of all decision making, and your wife is refusing to discuss it, which is not a particularly healthy situation. You need to find a way to discuss this with her, whether it’s via self-help book (sounds like you’re reading!) or professional therapy; you can’t have major off-limits topics that affect your daily life like this.

      2- Is your stepson manipulating his mom? Maybe, but not maliciously. He’s trying to live his life, and he *does* need support. Kids manipulate constantly, to the point where calling it “manipulate” is a dark and ugly word for “getting what they need using the limited methods they have as a powerless child”.

      3- Should ADHD kids be expected to do things? Yeah, they should. BUT. What he needs to do isn’t getting communicated in a time/place/method that works for him. Your wife shouldn’t be asking five times then doing it herself; he should be able to do tasks. HOWEVER, the solution is not “He’s a bad, lazy kid that we should be punishing, even if it’s a ‘natural consequence’ that leaves him in the lurch” or ANYTHING in that realm. The solution is on the communication (the adult’s) end. She needs to find ways to get his attention, times that work better than others, schedules that make things more routine, methods that make tasks less odious, and pretty much every other tip on the ADDitude site. This is a lot more work than constant nagging, but I promise you the kid isn’t enjoying the current setup where he’s made to feel like a failure on a regular basis, especially as a teenager.

      Also, to caution against an idea further up on this thread that might be misinterpreted (I like it as written, but I can see NT people not getting it): Yes, ADHD people need to do things RIGHT THIS SECOND if they’re going to get done (hi, time blindness!) but making a 13-year-old drop what he’s doing do to an adult’s bidding RIGHT THE SECOND YOU SAY is not a recipe for home happiness.

      As a middle school teacher and a person with ADHD: what will probably work best is to sit down with a blank schedule once a week (Sunday?) and go through everything the kid will need/want to do, and see how that fits. Make sure the kid gets a solid amount of say in how this goes; will homework be early/late, when will downtime occur, etc. Then, your job is to enforce the schedule that everyone agreed on. That might involve reminders, helping the kid, setting a lockout timer on the internet/TV/Phone, etc. etc. Tell the kid in advance of ALL plans you have in this regard (don’t surprise them with an internet lockout! They should know it’s coming!) If you or the kid don’t like how things are going, you can adjust the next week, and you’re flexible within reason, but the #1 goal is to help them learn methods and skills that work for them to *make that schedule happen* on their own, and knowing that they’ll need support (“let’s clean your room together on Tuesday at 3:30 after the internet auto-shuts-off” might be how this starts, and maybe by age 17, you’ll just need to get eye contact and say “It’s 3:30! What is on your schedule for this time?” or even, in heaven, his phone will do that for him).

    • #138207

      I agree that you should be involved in parenting but it would be important to agree on an approach. I don’t agree that punishing kids with ADHD will be effective in teaching them a lesson though. I am a licensed clinician and a parent of 2 middle school kids with ADHD. Kids with ADHD develop more slowly than neurotypical kids and punishing them for something they can’t control can worsen things for the family. Kids with ADHD are capable of learning but it’s important to your approach matches their developmental level and ability. Just letting them fail will not yield the best results and can negatively impact them in school. What has worked for us is to support them by creating routines, checklists, planners, giving reminders, talking to them about a problem and what they think would help them succeed, and they have increased skills over time. I will step in and do things for them sometimes especially if the consequence would result in school punishment or not being able to participate in school or other activities. Growing up is hard enough and kids with ADHD already have a lot going against them that neurotypical kids don’t have to deal with. It’s been important for us as parents to praise their efforts even when efforts don’t translate into success.

      • #138383

        This is great advice!

        I have ADHD, and so does my son. My husband has to deal with our quirks on a daily basis. I know it wears him out. It wears me out, too. We argue often about how to parent our oldest son. He is stern and strict, while I am more lenient and sympathetic.

        It may be helpful to watch some parenting videos or read articles on the ADDitude website together to get ideas. Let your wife know that you care about her son, and you want to be understanding of how to best help him while getting him to be a responsible teenager. I think setting out a plan for the week is a great idea, letting him know what he will be responsible for. TBRI is a great parenting strategy if you can get your hands on some of the training videos. Regardless of how you do it, you and your wife have to open up lines of communication about parenting together. Being a step-parent is no easy feat, but you seem like a smart man who has been reading up on how to interject yourself appropriately. I think it’s amazing that you care as much as you do! Your wife should be grateful to have a husband who cares about her son and that you would take the time to reach out on here. Overall, you’re thinking on the right lines. He needs to be responsible and held accountable. He CAN DO IT. My son and I both go to therapy in addition to taking medication. It’s a balance. I hope that your wife can see that you care and love them, and that you only want the best for your stepson. Good luck!

    • #138239

      Hi, I hope you’ve found support and help for your question. My reply has to do with being step parent … my husband of 6 yrs is inattentive Adhd, my 20 yr old stepson who lives at home still (attending college) is autistic with clinical anxiety, and my 15 yr old step daughter is inattentive adhd. It wasn’t until reading more about Adhd that I realized I have some qualities of the hyperactivity/hyperfocused version. I jump on tasks I don’t procrastinate. I expect problems to get resolved ASAP, quickly, like now without delay. And I can over focus on trivial things to the point they drive me bonkers — like my husbands forgetfulness or our daughter making a sandwich in the kitchen and always distractedly leaving a mess.i now see my family members are just living their lives, the way their brains naturally function and I see that I too am doing the same – but I am their opposite in my thought/behavior patterns. I believe that (and have read research in this) that an inattentive + hyperfocused are a usual marital combination – opposites attract. This has led me to see that the family dilemma to be solved is that we ALL, myself included need support and need to better understand and work with each other. My goal is in learning to shift my focus OFF what they are doing or not doing. I shift it back to me and what I need/want to be doing at the moment. Everyone is working on themselves, including me. It used to be that I just wanted them to change or “function better.” I’m much more peaceful now that I have released some of my controlling tendency. Best of luck to you.

      • This reply was modified 2 years ago by scrispin99.
      • This reply was modified 2 years ago by scrispin99.
    • #138301

      Hi Step dad,
      well done for caring enough and wanting to be part of your step sons life. I am a mum of two children with ADHD/ASD and have been a step mum to children on the asd/spectrum. (I am undiagnosed). Asking five times is excessive. It can almost start to become like nagging which would probably fall on deaf ears. Definitely I think your wife should involve you in decision making regarding your step son, often when people marry they say ‘it’s the whole package’. Together you could find ways that work better than asking five times and getting something achieved that needs achieving. Life skills are important. Kids with or without ADHD/ASD need different approaches. Key is communication and how it is communicated and finding what works for you and your family. It will be hard for your wife to step back and intervene when she has been the person to navigate and direct her son. I would find it hard. But I would also consider if married that my husband was part of the team, and we were all working towards being a family together that communicates. Good luck and keep up the good work.

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