“I grew up feeling like a failure. This feeling of worthlessness impacted everything in my life, including my ability to parent. I’ve learned how to be a better parent with time and practice, but these regrets will forever remind me of life’s greatest lessons.”
It’s never too late to try to mend your relationship with your child. Case in point: I’m working to rebuild my adult son’s trust in me, and wishing I could have avoided the damage in the first place. I can’t change the past, but you can learn from my mistakes — and I hope you will.
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1. Lashing Out
I was guilty of overreacting to the bad behavior of my children, both of whom have ADHD, too. They acted out in ways that were overwhelming for me. I’d come home from a busy day of work to find a home overrun with chaos. Unable to process the stimulation, I overreacted to them, or took out my frustration on them when I shouldn’t have. Homework issues were always a hassle. My wife, who doesn’t have ADHD, was more patient than I was when my kids began talking about things that weren't even related to the assignment before them. It was very, very difficult for me, but I did improve with time. Over the last year, my daughter needed help with chemistry, and I was able to help her consistently. When she got sidetracked, I admit to getting irritated, but overall I saw great improvement in my reactions from when she was very little.
I struggled in school and had to work 10 times harder than other kids to get the same grade. I wanted to prove I could do what anyone else could do. So, when I had children, I expected them to behave the same way and do anything for the A. If they didn’t make the grade, I would belittle them – and it wasn’t good. When I realized it and changed, they changed. If I hadn’t extended unconditional love, they would have ended up hating school, and me by extension.
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3. Being Undependable
I learned the hard way that most kids interpret "maybe" as "yes,” so it's better to say "no" if you're not sure that you can follow through. It’s better to pleasantly surprise your child, than to demonstrate that you're not dependable. Lack of consistency in parenting and discipline can lead to a lack of trust; your kids may hesitate to come to you with their problems. Overreacting to your child’s negative behaviors can be an issue, as can taking out frustration from a workday on your children.
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4. Not Being Present
Often, my son would say "Dad, I want to spend this time with you. Come look at this project I'm doing." I was constantly saying, “I’ll be there in a minute. I just want to finish something.” There was always something more important, one more thing to finish first. A lot of this was my ADHD symptoms that were not under control; we are wired differently and it’s easy to be distracted. When I was on my way to the living room to spend time with my son, I’d see something else and pick it up and forget where I was headed. As time went on, he became less trusting, and eventually stopped asking me to do things with him.
Growing up, I got spanked a lot. Spanking is counterproductive for kids with ADHD. It actually escalates a problem and makes things worse. It really wasn't the appropriate way to go for our children and I wish we hadn't reverted to that technique, knowing my kids now. Make sure that you are in control when you are disciplining, and be certain the punishment fits the crime, so to speak. Consistency between parents is really important. When one parent does things one way and another parent does things another way, it creates instability for children.
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6. Mistaking Symptoms for Defiance
Many times it's difficult to distinguish what behavior is defiance and what is ADHD impulsivity. Particularly after a hard day, it is very difficult. When in doubt, I would consult with my wife. If I felt I couldn’t control my anger, I would get away. When I disconnected, I could see things in a different light.
When you have one-on-one time with your child, talk about just them. Focus on that child, not on yourself. If you do so, you might be able to get them to open up. It might take patience and persistence, but it can happen. If your relationship is estranged because you belittled or criticized your child, the last thing you want to do is criticize. Get yourself out of the way and completely look to that child; talk to them about what they're interested in. Your child looks up to you. If they see you as a real father figure and a leader, then they will be able to see that ADHD and leadership qualities can go together and that they can make a difference in this world. There's a lot of good that can come out of that.