Two things I learned in the early years of raising kids with ADHD.
1) No two kids are alike.
2) It’s exhausting.
Okay, make it 3 things, because I also learned that my husband and I weren’t on the same page regarding parenting tactics. Hell, we weren’t even in the same book! Back then, it went something like this:
Husband raises voice and demands the behavior stop or else.
Husband and kid power struggle begins while wife (that’s me!) steps in and tells husband he is being too harsh.
Husband and wife begin arguing.
Kid gets tired of waiting around and disappears from the room.
Repeat cycle all day, every day.
Not super productive. Remember those 2 things I mentioned earlier? Well, our kids also learned 2 things:
1) My parents don’t know what they’re doing; are not a united front.
2) I’m not sure what I’M supposed to be doing; getting mixed messages about my behavior.
Instead of teaching them strategies to handle emotions when they feel out of control (that’s what is really happening during a meltdown), we were either expecting them to pull themselves together or ignoring their needs altogether because we couldn’t get out of our own way to address them.
Back then, I was reading every book about ADHD that I could find, meanwhile my well-meaning husband seemed to be stuck in old-school parenting mode, saying things like ‘Because I’m in charge’ and ‘Well, I’m the Dad’ or my favorite thing he would tell me (*sarcasm*): ‘The boys just need more mental toughness.’
Cue me banging my head with the pantry door right about now.
Since our parenting differences and stress from the aspects of life with ADHD kept us from communicating effectively, I chose to write my husband a letter. Figured he may ‘hear’ my words better if they were written down as a visual. I was honest, sharing that we needed to wake up and get a grasp on our daily life. That we were drowning in chaos and could do better for our kids.
That I needed him to join me on this journey. He agreed.
It’s no wonder we were sailing in choppy waters when we first discovered ADHD. We weren’t a team, and you don’t win playing for yourself. Wins happen as a team. And a good team doesn’t just show up one day and take home a trophy. You have to practice to be successful.
So, we did.
We began by practicing 3 simple rules when we were struggling to remain calm with our highly emotional kids.
♦Walk away: We gave each other a free pass to walk away when we could feel our patience running low. Nothing wrong with saying we need a break and letting our spouse take over. We’re human. Rely on each other when necessary.
♦Apologize: We expect our kids to apologize when a situation calls for I’m sorry, and sometimes parents need to tell kids they messed up, too. Model the behavior you want to see in your children. Did you lose it and knee-jerk react with your child? Own it. Tell them you didn’t react the way you had hoped and you’re sorry. The message? When we make a mistake, accept the blame and do better moving forward. Parenting is teaching. For kids with ADHD, getting defensive and passing the blame is common, so there is no better lesson than seeing mom and dad show some empathy for the person who ended up as their sounding board.
♦Have a code word: Remember that Walk Away rule? Well, sometimes we don’t recognize that we’re getting hot under the collar on our own. Another set of eyes and ears (your spouse) will recognize our temper flaring and give us a nudge. Rather than undermining you in front of your child, we created a code word to use.
Our code word? ‘Diet Pepsi.’
One night, my husband blurted out ‘You NEED a Diet Pepsi’ and I bit my tongue. I had been raising my voice, upset by our oldest who was being argumentative. I had wrongly engaged in a power struggle with a 12-year-old.
A minute later, our youngest ran into the room with a can of Diet Pepsi from the fridge, announcing, ‘Here, Dad said u needed a Diet Pepsi.’ Boy, did I ever! (On second thought, make your code word ‘wine.’) We both were laughing over his literal interpretation, enough that it diffused the angry environment brewing in our home.
What about YOU?
Are you and your spouse/partner using the same parenting tactics? Or are you sending your kids mixed messages? Need an ADHD Parenting cheat sheet to get back on track? Print it out! Kids with ADHD need lots of structure, clear expectations and CALM PARENTS.
You can’t teach a child to behave better by making them feel worse. They need, and actually WANT, parents to show them, teach them and explain to them what they want them to do. Calmly. They need the message to be clear and concise, from both of you.
Its no wonder our home was total chaos. I would parent my way, my husband would parent his way, and we hoped the two versions would magically collide and make life easier.
THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN.
We both agreed what we were doing wasn’t working and it was time to make a change. You can do this too, starting with this little nugget today!
‘Meet your kids where they are.’
Don’t hope they act like the kid who has it all together. Don’t wish they could be independent like you were at their age. Don’t nag for them to meet your unrealistic expectations.
Meet kids where they are. Your kids will learn and grow. But, it doesn’t happen overnight. Tackle one struggle at a time, not by yourself, but as a team.
Soon enough, you’ll earn that trophy.