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Multitasking with ADHD: Parenting My ADHD Children & Aging Parents, While Managing My Symptoms

After my dad’s stroke and brain injury, I need to be in two places at once. How can I support my aging parents when my family back home needs me too?

“Danny Boy threw up in my room and it stinks like hell.”

Its 11 p.m. and my 14-year-old daughter, Coco, who has ADHD, is calling me from our home in Georgia. I’m in the guest room at my parents’ house in Delaware on one of my trips to help my mom and dad deal with my 86-year-old dad’s recent debilitating brain injury and stroke.

“Danny Boy’s a dog,” I tell Coco. “Sometimes you have to clean up after him.”

“I did,” she says, “but it still stinks like hell. I can’t sleep. But what stinks like hell even worse is that Mom says when Aunt Maureen, Mark, and the baby visit, I have to give up my room and sleep on the floor in your room. When are you coming home?”

“As soon as you stop swearing,” I say.

“Uh-huh,” she says. “But then again, if you don’t get home in time for Aunt Maureen’s visit, then I could sleep in bed with Mom, and that’d be better. So why don’t you go ahead and stay with Grandma and Grandpa for a couple more weeks?”

“Uh-huh,” I say. “I’ll see you in a couple of days, Coco. Does your mom know you’re up?”

“Dunno. She’s asleep,” she says.

“You should be too,” I say. “It’s late.”

“Don’t you think McGee on NCIS is getting too skinny?” she asks. “He looks weird to me now.”

“You just don’t like change.”

“You should talk,” she says, “so shut up.”

“You first. I love you. Go to sleep, Coco.”

“I refuse. I love you too, Dad, but you can’t make me. You’re not here.”

Our quick-tempered, subject-changing ADD/ADHD patter goes on a little longer until I hear her winding down, and after phone kisses back and forth, I hang up. I get up from the foldout couch and look around. My wife Margaret and I slept here the weekend I introduced her to my parents. What was that, 26 years ago? Then our kids stayed in here, too, on our visits to Grandma and Grandpa’s. Is this the same foldout couch that’s always been here? I sit back down and bounce a little. It could be — it’s definitely old. But it’s still sturdy.

I go back into the living room where my 88-year-old mom and I were talking before Coco’s call.

“How’s my beautiful granddaughter?” she asks.

“Good,” I say. “She’s good.”

“Did you tell her you’re coming home Saturday?”

“I said I’d be home soon. I didn’t say exactly when.”

“Your father and I have kept you away from your wife and kids too long,” my mother says. “You belong with your family in Georgia. They need you.”

I nod. She’s more right than she knows. Margaret is overwhelmed with a supertight budget, new town, new house, our two ADHD kids, and her 81-year-old mother moving into the downstairs bedroom. We talk on the phone every night and she’s been totally supportive and hasn’t complained once. Okay, maybe once. Last week she moaned about discovering how our son had taken half of the three grand his late great aunt left him for a car and spent it on Internet porn, rap videos, and junk food. Then we bickered back and forth about what to do and decided to take away his laptop until hegets a job and pays it all back.

I can feel the pressure building back home, but I’m terrified of leaving my mom alone with my father and his untethered mind. Lately Dad’s been calling Mom at all hours demanding to be “set free” and going off on jagged, time-traveling, paranoid rants filled with old enemies and dead relatives. Mom sees my hesitation and leans forward in her chair and points at me.

“You’re worrying about me,” she says. “Now stop it. Thanks to you, I’ve been feeling much more rested and less stressed in the last few days. I’m sure I can handle things myself now.”

She points out that despite the phone calls, Dad seems to be slowly improving at the rehab center, and over the last few days we’ve talked to insurance agents, bank people, and doctors. We’ve rearranged some furniture and routines around the house to make her more comfortable living by herself. Over dinners that I make sure she eats, we’ve talked about the shock and sense of loss she’s going through since Dad’s fall. The big, strong, take-charge man she married went down hard, but there’s no reason to give up hope. He’ll get better. He’ll be able to come home soon.

“Now you have to go home too,” she says.

“I guess so,” I say. “Are you sure you’ll be all right?

“Of course I will,” she says. “You’ve taken care of everything for me. What could go wrong now?”

Right on cue, the phone rings. I glance at the clock as I get up to answer it. “11:30. I bet it’s Margaret,” I say. “Coco probably woke her up instead of going to bed.” My mom thinks that Dad talked an aide into dialing for him again. “Tell your father I spoke to him an hour ago. We’ll see him tomorrow.”

I pick up and the call is from the rehab center. But it’s not Dad on the phone. It’s James, the charge nurse on Dad’s floor. “I need you to get down here as soon as you can be here, Mr. South,” James says. “Your father’s become violent. He’s injured people.”

I hop in the car, leaving my mother at home in her robe and slippers doing her best to stay calm. I promise to call from the center as soon as I know what’s going on. Cutting through town by the university where my dad had been the head of life and health sciences, I try to keep myself calm and try to imagine what could possibly have happened. My dad, violent? It can’t be true. But James had always been one of the most compassionate and unflappable nurses I’d ever met and he sounded pretty damn flustered on the phone tonight. I’ve seen Dad angry a few times and he could scare me silly as a kid — but violent? No. He spanked me only once growing up. I was 8 and when it was over, he cried more than I did.

Then again, Dad had been a soldier, a WWII Ranger, even. But there aren’t any Nazis at the rehab center. But maybe he thinks there are. He’s just lost hold of the only mind he’s ever known. Oh come on, he’s 86-years-old. He couldn’t relive D-Day on Rehab Floor 2E if he wanted to. He can’t even walk. But those Rangers crawled under bullets and bombs all the way across Europe. Okay, he’s tough and and out of his normal state of mind. What if he got his hands on something sharp?

I push the night button of the rehab center and rush in through the double doors. When I round the corner of his floor, I see Dad parked in his wheelchair in front of the nurse’s station. He seems alert, but his head is down and he’s looking at the floor. He looks up as I approach and shoots me a sly smile. He doesn’t look so much like a soldier as an 8-year-old waiting for a spanking.

Updated on March 29, 2017

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  1. I was about ready to write a short narrative describing what happened this morning between my my wife, myself and our 28 yr-old son, a married man with two toddler daughters who can’t be with his own family due to many legal and social mishaps he’s caused. He has ADHD plus a few more things causing his emotional outbursts which make him unwelcome in his in-law’s place. So we’re stuck. Also has no car and no license due to a DUI offense and wrecking his car last year that his in-laws arranged for him to have. They’re from Eastern Europe and must be shaking their heads about some American young males. So do I. I have ADHD (“in spades” as one doc diagnosed my condition at age 49.) I’m now sixty-seven, a survivor of two minor and one major strokes, the biggest one occuring on Christmas weekend in ’17.
    Hate to put it this way, but in many respects, even in spite of my other adult childrens’ insistence that I don’t put the blame on our son with ADHD for the strokes and other severe emotional traumas and stress he’s put both of us through, I can’t help linking his irresponsibility and selfish determined insistence upon getting his way all the time notwithstanding the number of continued repeated failures he’s experienced. Yes, we both agree that you continue moving forward and that you only learn through your failures, or at least in theory. And if you fail, make sure to “fail forward” as Mrs. Obama constantly exhorts her audiences. It’s sound advice, but no where did I ever hear her or anybody else wiser in the ways of finding success suggesting that one should continue repeating the same kind of mistakes if they only lead to more pain and heartbreak all around while learning nothing in the process. I’d like to find some actual experiential and for lack of better words, scientific link between strokes and ADHD or the parents of kids, of any age, who have it and refuse to do a damn thing to control it and blame everybody but themselves for their failures and the miseries they inflict upon others in life. Lord knows I’ve committed my share of sins because of terrible judgment used which may or may not have been related to the jerky way people with ADHD sometimes function. I’ll own up to them, confess ’em and make amends for them. It’s called taking responsibility your actions. ADHD doesn’t excuse bad behavior, meaness, selfish behavior, illicit conduct or a lifetime of criminality and a lack of self initiative to care for one’s own mental state of being. That’s a bit wordy, I’ll admit. But I put it that way because I wanted to cover as many bases as possible.

    I’m sick and tired of it all. While spending three weeks in rehab, two of the weeks spent in another city, my son with the ADHD didn’t visit me once. He was afraid to. But he sure made life miserable for his mother. Just as he did while I had to stay longer down south on a visit to FL/SC for a family funeral that was delayed. Boy was he a cuss and I was just embarrassed and torn beyond belief. My surviving brother wanted to know why I had to take so many different blood thinner and related meds, in addition to my ADHD and Bipolar meds. He soon found out on Mothers Day when I had to use his phone to call my wife and he saw me cupping my ear to tone down some of the blaring static I was receiving from our son with the ADHD.
    Sometimes I wonder, does he have ADHD because of biology, or does he choose to have it magnified because he wants to hide behind it and the excuses it for his poor judgment and behavior that he needs to take greater responsibility for.
    No doubt, somebody will find my remarks quite offensive and wholly unempathetic to say the least. Fine. They’re entitled to their opinion and perhaps they’re right. But in this day and age when we hear pols and other public figures, doctors, social experts, behavioral experts and experts on this that and every other damn thing or another bleating on about the need for people to “be held more accountable” and the need for “greater transparency,” — how ’bout some damn plainspoken/written English we can all understand. I used to be a reporter and columnist. Hell, I’d love to get back into it but I’m afraid in today’s namby pamby world, when it’s damn near impossible to set the record straight for so many things that have gone wrong and the near instant desire by so many well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) people who are all too quick to provide a medical cover or label to explain away the misbehaviors, abuse, and crimes committed by people who know better than to use legitimate medical terms to either belittle their lack of responsibility for the crimes they’ve committed or all too happy to excuse them away because of misguided sympathies.

  2. Allow me to correct one misimpression. Had my son visited me in the hospital, I would’ve been delighted. But he hadn’t and that was a major disappointment and lost moment to help set things straight(er) and calmer. I was afraid to return unless he was either gone or really given a good “teachable moment” from his mother, older brother and two older sisters. And as for being the youngest, he gets no slack there from us because his mother and I were the third youngest in our respective families of three girls and three boys. You make what you can out of your childhood, take your lessons and go forward from there. You’ll never even be able to “fail forward” if you can’t learn quickly enough to give yourself more time to move, and if necessary, keep “failing forward” without using legitimate medical reasons as excuses for bad judgment and sloppy professional and moral behavior. Want to cut down on the number of Bipolar Depressive episodes filled with self-regret, help young people who have ADD or ADHD (and other learning disorders, etc.) to take ownership of these conditions and make the best of them so they can move ahead and give a positive testimony as to what can be done with ADHD no matter how strong or weak it might be within us. It’s up to us to control the situations we’re faced with in life. Control them and we’ll have done yeoman’s work in also controlling our emotions that also control and shape our self respect and confidence..

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