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My Daughters Think I Hate Them

Many parents with ADHD wear their intensity on their sleeve. Here’s how to lighten up to let the good times roll.

Years ago, when I was a 30-year-old child learning how to be a parent, I ruled my home with The Voice. It was challenging enough to be a stay-at-home dad amid the pandemonium of raising four girls, but I was also a disabled adult with ADHD. Pandemonium meant mental confusion, and mental confusion meant I made mistakes. I cut through the commotion with a voice that stopped hearts and all the noise. It was effective.

As I became a more experienced parent, I discovered that my ADHD intensity was adding more power to The Voice than I realized. I don’t recall the conversation completely, but my youngest daughter was complaining about me telling her what to do. As parents, we usually brush off such complaints because what they’d rather be doing is watching TV or playing video games, not doing their chores. I explained to her that I was like a drill sergeant getting his troops in line. Then she said that drill sergeants must hate children.

That stopped me cold. Was that what she thought of me? That I hated her because I wanted her to do her chores? Instead of brushing the moment off as I had many times before, it put me in mind of comments her sisters had made over the years, and I had an epiphany: I was too intense.

[Self Test: Could You Have Emotional Hyperarousal?]

Intensity is a problem for adults with ADHD. Sometimes we are intense because we need velocity to propel our thoughts through the thick fog in our mind. Sometimes we are intense because we are hyper. Most of the time, our intensity is a byproduct of our impaired impulse control, irritation from distractions, and emotions in a perfect storm that come out like a cannonball in people’s faces.

It is too much. ADHD intensity makes us seem angry when we’re upset, seem upset when we’re irritated, and seem irritated when we’re eating our breakfast. When children are scolded, they don’t often have the intellectual capacity and experience to see our intensity as anything other than severity and dislike, even hate.

Here are four steps I took to rein in my intensity when dealing with my girls:

Develop awareness. I used CBT techniques, but mindfulness and old-fashioned self-analysis are helpful, too. Identify the situations in which you are most intense, remind yourself to apply coping strategies when those situations present themselves, and evaluate your performance afterward. I found talking to trustworthy and straight-shooting friends to be helpful.

Set goals. I decided to begin with my swearing. Developing awareness had taught me that my speech became colorful when I was intense. I used a sobriety calendar to track my progress. By watching my mouth, I watched my intensity. Seven years later, I don’t swear or lose my temper anymore.

[Free Resource: Rein In Intense ADHD Emotions]

Have meaningful conversations. Don’t make excuses, but do explain to your children what you are dealing with. Let them know how much you love them, and apologize for your bad behavior. That last bit may rankle some, but I found it vital in rebuilding relationships with my girls. It shows accountability.

Keep working at it. Don’t stop, even if you slip up. Your children’s self-esteem, as well as your relationship with them and others, depends on your perseverance. Use that intensity to drive your efforts. You can do it.

Intensity isn’t all bad. It gives people with ADHD their charm and individuality. It drives us to accomplish great things. It helps us compensate for our other shortcomings. It adds flavor to our world and those around us. However, intensity is destructive when coupled with anger or any form of criticism. That’s why I am glad I made the effort to change. I encourage you to do so, too.

[Exaggerated Emotions: How and Why ADHD Triggers Intense Feelings]