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To Stressing Less as Parents of ADHD Children

We aren’t perfect as parents of “hard to raise” kids but we are competent, able. Remind yourself of that often.

The last time I had lunch with Karen and Lisa, two of my oldest friends, we met at House of Chen, a local Chinese restaurant. As always, the talk centered on two topics: children and pets. Karen is a veterinarian, and even though kind, thoughtful friends would not expect her to work during her time off by asking her pet-related questions, Lisa and I never refrain. We ask away about diet, behavior, medication… Hm, now that I think of it, we talk about our pets in exactly the same way we discuss our children!

Lisa and I are both multi-method parents — we formed our families both the old-fashioned way and through adoption. Lisa’s oldest child, now an adult, was adopted from foster care; my Natalie was adopted from an orphanage in Russia. Their developmental paths have been remarkably similar. Both have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), along with a variety of other issues, some likely rooted in events that took place in utero, during infancy, early childhood — all pre-adoption. This means that whatever I go through with Natalie, Lisa has usually already been there. She understands what it’s like to raise a child with special needs — completely. I’m so lucky to call her a friend.

For some reason, our lunch conversations always follow the same pattern. We start out with the lighter side of life: what sports and other activities the kids are involved in, how they’re doing in school. It’s not until the check arrives that we delve into the hard stuff: incidents where the kids have gotten into trouble, our worries about their futures. We end up talking, and taking up a table, for much longer than we’d planned.

That’s exactly how the conversation went that last time we lunched at House of Chen: When the check arrived, we finally got down to the nitty-gritty. And as always, along with the check came three fortune cookies. One for me, one for Karen, one for Lisa.

Three fortunes. What would they say?

If I could write three fortunes for the ADDitude community, for parents of kids with ADHD and its common comorbid conditions, they would say this:

1. Ignore those who judge you harshly. Believe in yourself and follow your parenting instincts. In the process of researching and editing the upcoming book Easy to Love but Hard to Raise (DRT Press, October 2011), I’ve learned some fascinating lessons from nearly 30 amazing contributor-parents. One is this: Parents of “hard to raise” kids are nearly always judged harshly and unfairly by other adults. We are made to feel shame and begin to doubt our own instincts. But over the years we are vindicated. We learn that we were right when we thought our child had more going on than the “simple” case of ADHD diagnosed by the pediatrician, that mood issues were emerging, or that sensory processing issues were complicating things. We were right to pick our battles, to ignore certain behaviors that others wouldn’t dream of putting up with, because we knew that our kids were not just being defiant, they were reacting to a situation they weren’t equipped to handle. We aren’t perfect as parents but we are competent, able. Remind yourself of that often.

2. If you live honestly and openly, you will find great strength in a community of like-minded individuals. Parents of “hard to raise” kids often feel isolated. If we try to join a playgroup, we’re unable to sit and chat while our child plays with the other kids. We’re constantly up and intervening, chasing, redirecting. We decide that investing our limited energy reserves in trying to socialize isn’t worth what we get out of it. And when our kids aren’t invited to birthday parties, quit Scouts because they feel excluded, or don’t excel at team sports, we don’t become part of the parent cliques that surround those activities. It isn’t until we develop a certain confidence and openness in talking about our kids that we start to create a network of trusted friends. These are often parents of other “hard to raise” kids. If you haven’t found those people yet, don’t give up, and don’t forget, we’re here for you at ADDitude, here on my blog, and in the parenting forums.

3. Contentment will find you if you are willing to meditate on both the forest and the trees. Your life as the parent of a “hard to raise” child will be much different than the ways in which you imagined it would be; your child will be much different from how you imagined him or her to be. Allow yourself to grieve the loss of your dreams, if you need to. But then adjust your expectations and learn to celebrate your child’s every success, no matter how small. The essays in Easy to Love but Hard to Raise show that as adulthood approaches, our children really do come into their own, make their way in the world, and find and shine in their niches. When you worry about what’s to come (as you’re bound to; I couldn’t expect any of us to stop), imagine what a positive future will look like for your child.

I wish everyone in the ADDitude community good friends and good fortune in this New Year.

This post, with its “three fortunes” theme, is entered in the January 2011 Blog Carnival at WEGO Health.