Parenting

My Son’s Anger, My Anger: Managing ADHD as Partners

“During homework, I’d find that my irritation rose alongside his. Our cheeks flushed a matching shade of pink, our voices hardened. My words were anything but calm, anything but patient.”

Son doing homework with mom

In third grade, Miles was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). His father and I learned that the disorder contributed to his hair-trigger frustration, his quick anger. To help, we read everything we could, lapping up advice like water. Most tips seemed sensible and easy; “remain calm,” professionals warned. “When parents become angry or impatient, it makes the child’s behavior worse.”

That was reasonable. Star charts were suggested to track good habits and offer positive reinforcement. I liked the idea, and in one weekend of frenzied motivation, I stockpiled stickers and made charts, writing neatly across the top, “Miles’s Homework.”

I didn’t know then that my own hair-trigger temper was caused by ADHD. So, evening after evening, envisioning Miles calmly working through assignments, me tamping down any frustration with firm but loving words, I’d find that my irritation rose alongside his. Our cheeks flushed a matching shade of pink, our voices hardened. My words were anything but calm, anything but patient. Eventually, the charts were abandoned, the stickers left in their tight, promising rolls.

Miles was in tenth grade when I was diagnosed, after which he and I began clinking our Adderall tablets together like champagne glasses each morning, “Bottoms up!”

He started doing homework at school as part of his IEP. He lingers after dinner, though, and tells me about school. When I ask about his classes, he sighs. Sometimes his cheeks flush and I sense I’m crossing a boundary, edging into the dangerous territory of irritation. And so I breathe. I remain calm. The Adderall whizzes in my blood and allows me to recalibrate, adjust my tone. It works every time. I calm and he calms too. His breath slows. We relax. The advice works. I wish I could find those stickers. We both deserve one.

[Free Handout: Get a Grip on Tough Emotions]

Updated on October 11, 2019

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  1. This sounds a lot like my wife and kids. Unfortunately, though, my wife will not accept that she has ADHD. When I try to follow the advice of remaining calm and ignoring negative behaviors (extinction in parent-guide lingo), she starts yelling at me for not doing anything.

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