The Silent Member of the Family
Twenty years ago I didn't understand anything about ADHD. Honestly, neither did most of the medical and scientific communities.
As a wife, and a mother, I spent years trying to manage a household of ADHD without diagnosis, with no real understanding of the challenges facing us. It was like the cart leading the horse — ineffective, and remarkably frustrating.
ADHD was always a silent member of my family. ADHD was ever-present, responsible for so much, but held accountable for nothing.
When I look back on the early years of not-knowing, I am mixed with gratitude for what I now understand, and sadness for the years that I didn't appreciate what was actually going on…with my husband, my daughters, my son and myself.
As each member of my children (and my spouse) was diagnosed, we developed a deeper understanding of ADHD, and the extent to which it impacted every aspect of our personal and professional lives. There is no piece of ourselves that is unaffected by ADHD: relationships, personal performance, even sexuality are all impacted by this brain-wiring.
At some point in the journey, I began to realize that there was no way my husband shouldered all of the genetic responsibility for our family's complex, neuro-biological soup. I had myself evaluated. Voila! At the age of 41, I was diagnosed with ADHD and learning disabilities. My life started to make more sense.
So there we were: an ADHD family of 5. No wonder life felt really overwhelming. NOW, what was I supposed to do?
I wanted help. Each of my kids' doctors and therapists were great, but I needed someone to help me look at the whole family unit. I had to stop reacting to the symptoms, piece by piece, and look at the big picture of what was happening in my family. For me, I found the guidance I needed in coaching. Whatever it is for you, I assure you that getting support for yourself will change your family's life for the better!
2 Critical Points of Learning
I share my story because I want to make two critical points:
- Diagnosis can be empowering, for adults and for kids.
- Parents are the missing link in managing their kids' ADHD.
I challenge the so-called stigma of diagnosis. It breaks my heart to hear parents say things like, “I don't want her to see herself that way,” or “I don't want to pigeon-hole him." Years ago, an “Additude” magazine newsletter subject read: “I hope the world won't judge my ADHD child.”
Seriously, the world is going to judge. It's what people do. It's our job, as parents, to empower our kids. We can do this by helping them to confidently understand and accept themselves. Armed with understanding, we can teach them not to ACCEPT the ignorant judgment of others.
Think about it this way: if you had a child with diabetes, would you tell him/her? Would you pursue treatment, or would you let fear of stigma interfere with the best health care management you could provide? How is this different?
When you have ADHD, certain aspects of managing life can be difficult. That is a clear and simple fact. When we deny or mask the challenges without understanding the core issue, it makes it that much harder. To make matters worse, it can do a number on your self-esteem (especially for kids).
Diagnosis brought me, and my kids, a clarity that was empowering (if sometimes annoying). It gives us permission to focus on our strengths, and “farm-out” those areas that are particularly challenged. For the first time in my life, I actually feel successful – in part because I no longer beat my head against a wall trying to do things that my brain is simply not well-suited to do.
Perhaps even more important, my knowledge of the realities of ADHD has changed the tone and the direction of my role as a parent. I have learned to see success differently, and to shift expectations appropriately. This allows me to provide the support my kids need to learn to manage ADHD most effectively in their lives.
Parents are the Missing Link in ADHD Treatment
It's actually a pretty simple equation. When parents take an active role in understanding and managing their kids' ADHD – when they empower their kids and take a coach-approach to parenting — they pull their families out of survival mode. The whole family actually begins to enjoy the ride of family life. Parents are able to directly improve the outcomes for their kids.
To the millions of parents managing the challenges of raising ADHD children, here's what I know (for absolute certain!) will yield extraordinary results for you, your children and your family:
- Learn about ADHD and the wide range of treatment options available – think outside the box!
- Identify your kids' strengths and encourage the heck out of them.
- Allow diagnosis to be a boost, not a bust. Consciously shape your kids' understanding and acceptance of themselves.
- Take the long view: this is a marathon, not a sprint.
- Learn to take a coach-approach with your kids. It's remarkably effective in helping them to achieve the ultimate goal: independence.
- Re-define success and set expectations that are in alignment with your values.
- Seek support for yourself, not just for your kids. Whether it's a coach, a therapist, a support group, an online class or a really clued-in best friend, you'll find greater success and enjoyment when you feel connected to others who understand.
Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like had my mother known 40 years ago what I know now. Your child is lucky. S/he never has to wonder that. If you are raising a child with ADHD, YOU have the power to make a difference! What you do with that power is up to you.