Positive Parenting

10 Ways My Child with ADHD Has Made Me a Better Parent… to All My Kids

At first, my child’s ADHD knocked me down to the ground. Then it dug a pit and threw me to the bottom — no food or water in sight. Hungry and desperate for a way out, I clawed my way back up. Approaching blue skies again, I can now see how my hard work has made me not only a better parent to my child with ADHD… but to all three of my children. I’m still climbing and slipping, but I can see that I’m on my way to becoming the parent I always wanted to be.

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I'm Kinder

I don’t think I was ever outright unkind, but I definitely had little tolerance for ADHD behavior. This made me harsher than I should have been. My parenting belief was this: If I worked hard enough, I could make my daughter behave. This was foolish.

As time went on, and my harshness produced nothing but worse and worse behavior in my daughter, I learned to calm down and be kinder in the way I spoke to her; kinder in the way I forgave her missteps; kinder in the words I chose; kinder in my expectations. Happily, this approach helped my daughter to feel less on edge around me, and we began to find better solutions for her challenges — together. But even if my daughter hadn’t softened in response to my own softening, this was still the right thing to do. All of my children deserve a mother who is kind.

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I’m More Patient

Before kids, I was oh-so patient. And I assumed I always would be. (Insert loud guffaw.) But parenthood in general tests your patience in dozens of tiny and big ways each day. Parenting a child with ADHD? Well, buckle up. You’re about to see what your patience is made of: steel or straw.

Reminding your child to pick up her shoes on the way upstairs as she’s stepping over them (and she still doesn’t pick them up because she immediately gets distracted) gets old. Fast. Being on the receiving end of a sudden onslaught of angry emotions is terrifying.

Through plenty of trial and error, I have slowly learned to be more patient. Understanding ADHD forces me to slow down and chill out. I know she’s impulsive and isn’t going to remember the rules all the time; she’s distracted and isn’t going to hear what I say each time I open my mouth; she hyperfocuses and is going to forget something important. And even though it appears her siblings don’t have ADHD, they’ll mess up in similar ways, too. Being patient and understanding makes for a happier home — for all involved.

A family with ADHD giving each other piggyback rides and practicing better parenting skills
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I’m More Loving

Before I understood what was going on with my daughter, I was frustrated and angry all the time. I loved her — oh, I loved her more than life itself — but I had a hard time demonstrating that love through my frustrations. When she was well behaved, it was easy to snuggle and praise her. When I found out she destroyed an object or when her emotions were out of control, I struggled to bring out my love in a visible way.

Once I began to understand ADHD, and its accompanying impulsivity, hyperactivity, and intense emotions, I could see her behaviors as separate from her. Once I knew about ADHD, it was so much easier to see my little girl as just my little girl having a hard time. And I learned to love through the tantrums. Once I knew she was struggling to cope rather than being defiant, I could feel my heart burst.

Her siblings are so lucky they came along after I learned this. I still have a long way to go, but instead of focusing on behavior first, I try to live by “love first.” The behavior can be worked on after everyone feels loved and good about themselves.

[Free Resource: What NOT to Say to Your Child]

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I Know How to Have Fun Again

It goes against logic, but parenthood can sap the fun right out of you. You’re surrounded by delightful, tiny people who want nothing more than to have fun, so it would make sense that you would just jump in and enjoy life right along with them, right? Unfortunately, for many of us, it just doesn’t happen that way. Those fun little humans have needs, wants, and demands, and if you aren’t careful, your capability for fun can dissolve faster than a puddle on a hot summer day.

At least that’s how it worked for me. But once I began to understand ADHD, and we learned how to get some of the more challenging behaviors under control, I was given the gift of really seeing my daughter — not as a collection of symptoms and challenging behaviors, but as the person she really is. And that created space for me to stop and have fun with not only her, but with her siblings as well. Like any family, we have plenty of tough times, but now they’re balanced by lots of silly voices, goofy games, and even hopping, skipping, and jumping.

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I Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

I was raised by meticulously neat parents. Even if I offered you a million dollars to find a speck of dust in their home, you’d come up empty. I didn’t inherit their extreme neatness, but I am much more tidy and clean than I would have been if I wasn’t raised in their home. I rarely lose anything, and I hardly ever forget to put something where it belongs.

That means nothing, now that I have a husband and daughter with ADHD. They regularly put items in strange locations, if they put them away at all. (Toothpaste with your cereal, anyone?) I can’t count on anything to be where it belongs. Beloved items disappear — often and forever.

Never being sure if I’ll have an item when I need it isn’t easy for me. I used to pitch impressive fits when a needed item went missing. But I began to see my husband and daughter crumple when they realized they had accidentally lost something — again. It broke my heart, and I am learning to care more about the relationship than the thing. All of my children benefit from this, as I let things go... literally. I have learned that things truly don’t matter — which is good, because my things are all missing.

People with ADHD cast shadows on the concrete wall
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I Don’t Care What Other Parents Think

Nothing can knock the confidence out of you like your child throwing an epic tantrum in public. All you want to do is silence your child to stop the stares, but nothing you try makes any difference.

I’m ashamed to admit that, in the beginning, I never had my daughter’s best interests in mind during meltdowns. I only wanted to appease the strangers around me by silencing her screams and tears. This involved hissing, ignoring, and grabbing too hard. Sometimes, these “methods” stopped the tantrum, but they always made her feel terrible. Over time, I’ve learned to look at HER, not at the strangers. SHE is who I’m supposed to care for and about, not the strangers. This means I now focus on the things that are hurting her — the sensory overload, the request she thinks is unfair, the confusion she feels at my instructions.

My other children don’t struggle with public tantrums in quite the same way, but they do throw fits. Thankfully, I already don’t care what people think, and I can work to help them, regardless of the stares we receive.

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I Will Search Until I Find Answers

I’m very proud that I didn’t give up. My child was different — she was harder — and I didn’t listen when people told me kids are just hard. I certainly felt like I was failing when she screamed in public over small issues. I certainly felt like I’d never get it together when she made dangerous, impulsive decisions that destroyed property or put her life in danger. I spent many days and nights feeling helpless, angry, and overwhelmed.

But living in overwhelm can’t go on forever. I realized the only way through the oppressive fear and despair was to research until something seemed to fit. I wasn’t going to give up; I would go to the ends of the earth to help my children (and thanks to the Internet, I’ve been able to go to those ends from my home).

And now when I see troubling behaviors in my other children — behaviors that are out of the “norm” — I study and research until I find a solution. Sometimes, we’re dealing with a temporary setback; sometimes it’s more serious. But always, I know I will keep searching until I find answers. I will trust my instincts and keep fighting for my children.

[Never Good Enough: The Emotional Toll of Motherhood]

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I Have Learned My Children are Not Me

As a parent without ADHD, I find parenting my daughter extra difficult because I don’t instinctually understand her brain. It makes no sense to me why she fixates so intently on one aspect of our day while simultaneously forgetting to brush her hair — for the billionth time. It makes no sense to me why she just has to say the thought that’s in her brain; why she bursts out with the thing, even when I’m asking her to please hold it in for a few more seconds.

But eventually I realized that, while I can’t understand her behavior on an instinctual level, I can at least grasp the reasons behind her emotions and behaviors from an intellectual level. So I research her specific problems to find the explanations behind her behaviors. And this pattern has helped me with all three of my children. I no longer barrel through my own opinions of how my children should act. I learn everything I can about their ages and stages, and even their funny quirks. This helps me to not expect too much of them. I learn what they are capable of, and what they still need to learn.

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I See Strengths

ADHD can be so overwhelming, it becomes all you can see. In my eyes, my child may become a mixture of impulsive decisions, huge tantrums, and aggravating distractibility. It’s easy to see the negative; even more than that, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by it.

Over time, I have trained myself to look for strengths before negatives. When I find myself spiraling about the negative traits I see in my child, I force myself to stop and count her strengths. As if I’m experiencing some sort of parenting miracle, it hasn’t taken long for this to become second nature. I now easily see her creativity, her sense of humor, her intelligence, her natural curiosity. In my eyes, these are now stronger than any negative traits she has.

I’ve been able to do the same with my other children: look past the faults they have and find their strengths. When coming from a place of positivity, negativity takes a back seat. And my children thrive when I find the strength to do this.

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I Forgive Myself

Four years ago, I could not have written this article. I was drowning in negative behavior (both from my daughter and from myself). I hated the parent I was, but had no idea how to be a different parent. I felt like I was hurting my daughter every day, but I didn’t know any other way. I lived and breathed fear. As I learned about ADHD, I realized how much I didn’t know when I began. This made it so easy to spiral down a dark tunnel of self-loathing and regret. I made mistakes. Big ones. And it hurt to see that so clearly.

But I knew I had to forgive myself if we were going to move forward. It took time, but eventually I came to treat myself with grace.

When I lose my patience with any of my children, when I speak too harshly, when I feel my children are annoying or burdensome, I realize this is life. I apologize, and then forgive myself for my negative feelings and actions. And I move on. This helps me give my current best self to my children. Forgiving myself and moving forward helps me be the best parent I can be right now. And I have my daughter’s ADHD to thank for that; it has formed me into a parent I never would have become otherwise.

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  1. This is EXACTLY where I’m at right now. I wish I knew how old the author’s daughter is now? I thought I knew ADHD and understood it well given that my 11 year old son was diagnosed at 5. I had researched and read everything there was. Then, my 8 year old daughter started struggling and was diagnosed. She is completely different than him, and exactly what this author describes. I’m having to learn a whole new way than I did with our son. I finally understand that she isn’t behaving badly, she is a child with severe ADHD that requires a different approach. Thank you for the most helpful article I’ve probably read.

    1. Hi there. I’m the author. I’m so glad to know you relate to my words, as that helps me feel we’re all in this together! In answer to your question, my daughter is 10 now. It has been a roller coaster. =)

  2. My biggest challenge is to balance managing myself to be “kinder” vs. preparing my child for a world that is often not kind. Employers don’t care that you have ADHD. Their job is to choose the candidate who is most qualified for the job. In the workplace, there is no accommodations for extra time, frequent breaks, etc. Perhaps in our brave new world of technology, our kids will have a easier time than today’s ADHD workers.

    1. Yes, I agree — it’s always a struggle to find that balance. I read this quote somewhere: “It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” ― L.R. Knost. It really resonated with me, and I decided kindness from me can never hurt.

  3. Thank you for your raw, brave and honest insights. I feel as if I could have written it myself—almost verbatim—but, you did a much better job than I could have! It’s nice knowing there are others who struggled as well only to come out better, smarter, kinder and more understanding on the other side. It has been quite a journey and I literally have felt your pain. We are so blessed to have such amazing children. I’ve learned more and grown more than ever, or I ever could have imagined, since my son was diagnosed 2 years ago (now age 7). Again, thank you for putting my thoughts and experiences into words. I truly appreciate it.
    Warmly, Sidney

    1. Hi Sidney, I’m the author, and I wanted to thank you for your kind comments. I’m also so glad to hear you’ve been on the same journey. It’s a struggle, but it’s beautiful, isn’t it?

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