Guest Blogs

Taking a Break From ADHD Parenting

I love my daughter fiercely, but sometimes, our family relishes a break from her ADHD-fueled neediness and behavior problems. Does parenting a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) restrict your freedom? And how do you cope?

“This is a wonderful day!”

“What a wonderful day!”

“I love this day!”

My husband, Don, repeated this sentiment, in one form or another, at least a dozen times last Saturday. And I agreed.

Most people would think it was a pretty ordinary Saturday. We slept in. After we got up, we drank coffee while watching morning news shows and reading the Des Moines Register and the Ames Tribune. We went to the downtown farmer’s market and wandered around. (No tomatoes or sweet corn yet. Darn!) Our almost-15-year-old, Aaron, ordered a sandwich from the Battle’s Barbeque vending cart — for breakfast, at 10:30 a.m. We sat in Tom Evans Park while Aaron ate, listening to a guy with a guitar singing covers of Bruce Springsteen songs.

Back at home, I spent the afternoon cleaning the kitchen and boxing up clothing that the kids had outgrown to take to Goodwill. Later, Don, Aaron, and I took in a movie in air-conditioned comfort. The popcorn was good, but the movie was terrible. We really didn’t mind.

Ordinary, right? Well, not for our family. The difference was that our daughter, Natalie, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), was gone, off for a respite weekend at my sister’s house, giving Don, Aaron, and me some freedom. Unchained from Natalie’s ADHD-fueled neediness, volatile moods, and unpredictable behavior, we could do as we pleased.

I felt terrible for feeling so happy.

Of course, I love my daughter like crazy. I even like her. Adopting her has enhanced my life in ways I never dreamt were possible. But raising her has also restricted my day-to-day activities because of her needs. So many “ordinary” things are hard for her because they are overstimulating, require sitting (or are otherwise understimulating), and require impulse control and social boundaries. Those same activities are hard for me or the whole family when Nat is with me/us: eating in restaurants, watching TV or going to movies, riding in a car, going shopping, or watching Aaron’s baseball games, to name a few.

We can (and do) expect Natalie to do those things, and over the years, some of them have become easier. For example, a combination of maturity and learning coping skills and practicing them with helpers have made it so she can hold it together when we go shopping. But it’s work for me to take her. That extra effort becomes a chain that restricts my movement. And often, I choose the easier route. I wait to buy groceries when Don is home to watch Natalie. I get a babysitter so that I can pay attention to Aaron’s baseball games. Those restrictions, those extra steps, are my choice, but they are also chains that restrict my freedom.

Don was right. It was wonderful to have an ordinary day.

Do you feel like having a child with ADHD restricts your everyday life and that of your family? I know I let it restrict mine. But is the alternative — insisting on living my life as usual — even possible? I don’t have the energy to try it. Do you?

Children with ADHD: Angels…Or Devils?