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How Do You Make Time for Your Kids Who Don’t Have ADHD?

During a respite weekend when my daughter, who has ADHD, was away, I focused on cleaning and organizing my neurotypical son Aaron’s long-neglected room. Not for the first time, I wondered how other parents of ADHD and non-ADHD kids manage.

I’ve often thought of my car as a metaphor for my life as the mom of a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It’s a mess, and much of the time, so am I! The fast-food wrappers, the blue crayon melted on the backseat, and the ripped fabric dangling from the ceiling all represent the chaos of living with my daughter, Natalie, and more importantly, my hour-by-hour struggle to manage and cope with it. The fact that the car is once again way overdue for an oil change echoes the way I neglect my self-care and my to-do list in order to keep Natalie safe and busy and to get her to school and to her many ADHD-related appointments.

Last weekend, another metaphor for life with Natalie presented itself in the form of my 15-year-old son Aaron’s long-neglected bedroom. It was such a mess that you couldn’t walk from the door to the bed without stepping on dirty clothes or piles of baseball cards or tripping over the half-dismantled shelving unit that we moved away from the wall a year ago when we had his window replaced — and then never moved back. The surfaces of his dressers and bookshelf were covered with candy wrappers, old school papers, and saved ticket stubs from football, basketball, and baseball games. Lots of kids have messy rooms, right? To some degree, yes. But not this bad. Besides, to me, the sad state of Aaron’s room was a sobering reflection of the lopsided division of my time and attention between my two kids.

It’s strange how I freak out about the messes Natalie makes in her own bedroom and in all the common areas of the house (and the garage, the front yard, the backyard, the neighbors’ yards…), yet I allowed Aaron to let his room deteriorate for well over a year without saying or doing squat. You see, Natalie is the squeaky wheel in our house, and as such, she gets all the grease. Her ADHD, sensory processing disorder (SPD), and anxiety throw wrenches into our household works, and the bangs and clangs demand frequent, immediate intervention. Aaron, on the other hand, moves through life smoothly. Aaron doesn’t have a disability. He knows how to stay organized. He’s perfectly capable of taking care of his room. He just chose not to do it.

I believe that Aaron, either consciously or subconsciously, knew what his room said about his world and wanted me to know he knew it. It screamed: Mom doesn’t care what I do! In fact, she doesn’t even notice because Natalie gets all of her attention!

Last weekend, Natalie was away for a respite weekend, and Aaron finally received my undivided attention. He and I spent one entire day (minus a break for some Battle’s Barbeque) cleaning and reorganizing his room. We filled garbage bags. We moved every piece of furniture and cleaned under and behind them. As we worked, my husband, Don, assembled new shelving units, perfect for displaying Aaron’s autographed basketballs and for storing his card collections. The finished product looked — and felt — great. Rather than grouching about wasting his Saturday, Aaron expressed his gratitude, and his love, to Don and me repeatedly. He’s such a good kid.

I hope I can commit to a regular maintenance schedule for Aaron’s room — and to Aaron in general. I need to keep the wheels of love and attention balanced and spinning freely, even — no, especially — those that rarely squeak.

[Can I Get a Little Respite?]