When Mom or Dad Has ADHD

Discipline and behavior strategies for parents who have adult attention deficit disorder (ADHD).

Father and son with ADHD fly paper airplane outside in field
Father and son with ADHD fly paper airplane outside in field

People have always said that Joshua is a miniature version of his dad. Both have dark hair and blue eyes. Both have similarly shaped facial features.

Both have attention deficit disorder (ADHD).

“We see evidence that about 50 percent of people with ADHD seem to have inherited it,” says ADDitude medical advisor Larry Silver, MD. Figures from the National Institute of Mental Health say that at least one-third of all fathers who had ADHD in their youth have children with the disorder.

Many parents become aware of their own ADHD only after one of their children has been diagnosed. Think about the implications of that for a moment: An impulsive, strong-willed, hyperactive child being raised by an impulsive, unstructured, hyper-reactive parent who probably hasn’t been diagnosed or had any treatment for ADHD. Edward Jacobs, Ph.D. compares the experience to standing in a hall of mirrors.

“Everywhere you look you see your reflection, and you cannot get away from it,” writes Jacobs, in his book Fathering the ADHD Child (Aronson, 1998). “Interacting with your child when he is impulsive and hyperactive stirs up your impatience and irritability and you respond impulsively. Confronting your child’s poor control over his emotions stirs up your anger, which you act on impulsively. Reason can go out the window when the two of you are interacting.”

Jacob tells fathers who have ADHD that they can help their child with their ADHD only after coming to terms with your own. Or, in the words of the airlines (in the event of cabin decompression…) “place your mask over your own face before placing the mask over your child’s face.”

It’s Not Just Dad

ADHD also occurs in women. Although not as common among females as it is among males, there are still plenty of moms with ADHD who are struggling to raise their own child with ADHD.

This creates additional stress for the mother (on top of the stress that mothers already have) as these mothers compare themselves to unrealistic models of women in general and mothers in particular.

“Moms feel one way but they think that they ‘should’ feel another way,” writes Christine A. Adamec, in her book Moms with ADD (Taylor, 2000). “So they become angry with themselves and get stuck in a negative loop of mentally beating up on themselves. They may also become sad and find themselves drawing inward.”

What Can You Do?

This is by no means a comprehensive list. Use these ideas to get started and take it from there. The books mentioned above are excellent resources for more information.

The first step for parents who think that they may have ADHD is to get an accurate diagnosis. There are other conditions, including mood disorders and other medical problems, that can look like ADHD. Proper treatment requires proper diagnosis, so learning what you’re dealing with is the first step. After diagnosis, you can begin to deal with your own ADHD, or whatever it is that is causing you problems.

Parenting a child with ADHD requires years of consistent effort, something that is especially hard for someone who has ADHD. Look into parenting classes, family therapy, or other resources that can help you with discipline and other child rearing responsibilities.

Remember that not every moment spent with your child has to be a lesson in some type of life skill. Nurture a positive relationship by spending unpressured quality time with your child. Find something that you can share, something that will always be a positive source for conversations. For Josh and his dad, this “something” is baseball, a sport that held absolutely no interest for Josh’s dad until his son started playing the game. But he wanted to have something in common with his son, so he decided he had better develop at least one common interest. Baseball gives them something to talk about and something to share.

Finding something to share with your child can pull the two of you closer together and creates enough good memories to help you through the bad times.

Have confidence that ADHD is not an insurmountable obstacle for you or your child. Help your child identify his or her strengths and focus intensively on those. Don’t use your ADHD as an excuse, and don’t allow your child to either. Share what you have learned, and let your child know that there is hope.

You can do this.