Being a mum or dad to a child with ADHD is particularly challenging. It requires patience beyond normal levels, empathy and understanding. Often parents with a child with a learning or behavioral difference such as ADHD will become great researchers and spend hours searching the internet for advice and information. It is through this phase that parents often become the educator and are able to pass on their newly acquired knowledge to significant others in a meaningful way.
Having a support network is very important. Not everyone may understand your child’s behaviour and the reality is that unfortunately some people can be unhelpfully judgemental. This is why choosing members of your support network wisely are critical to your well-being. The last thing you want as a mother or father with a child with any difficulty is unhelpful or unkind comments and persistent judgement being made by others about your situation.
Children with ADHD are noticed a lot because of their symptoms. For example, they are more hyper than the average child, take more risks, don’t always think about the consequences of their actions and are prone to impulsively reacting to a situation. For these reasons they are also more likely to attract negative attention and build a reputation which is hard to shake. Of course, in an ideal world, we should all stop and think before we judge the poor mother with a small child cart-wheeling impulsively down a shopping aisle! However, mental short cuts (also called heuristic processing) are responsible for the creation of stereotypes and hence the automatic judgement in many cases that the child is just plain naughty. As parents we understand the difficulty for children with ADHD to control their impulses and so cruel looks from other people are very unhelpful. I would recommend exercising the ability to meet ignorant stares from strangers with a simple smile. People who know your child well (e.g., family / friends and those that work with your children) should be informed of the diagnosis. It is also helpful to inform parents of children your child interacts with at school or in after-school clubs.
Educating people about ADHD, dyslexia or any learning difference will empower you and also encourage people to think more sympathetically about your child’s behaviour. Having a diagnosis is not an excuse – it is a facilitator for change and improvement and provides access to valuable resources which will help your child cope better. It is nothing to be ashamed or guilty of and if anything the experience of raising a child with ADHD will make you a more caring, empathetic and devoted parent. If you have the time, there are ways to help and motivate others also. For example, you could set up a facebook or twitter page to bring parents in similar situations together. Writing a blog can be therapeutic as well as a chance to circulate information. Receiving the support of your child’s school is critical and involving them as much as possible is essential for maintaining healthy, positive and supportive relationships. For example, you could ask the head-teacher at your child’s school if they would be willing to host a pre-school coffee morning for parents of children with special educational needs. Joining groups or hosting a group will open doors and provide a forum for open discussion and sharing information. Trying to deal with your child’s diagnosis alone is extremely isolating and it is important to recognise you are far from alone – there are millions of people out there in the world with whom you can connect.
Having a loving husband or partner can make a huge difference to your situation yet it is critical to form a united front in terms of managing your child’s behaviour. If you are a single parent try to keep actively involved in groups as well as asking supportive family members or friends to lend a hand from time to time. It is very important to have some “ME” time – whether this is going out with friends, a visit to the gym or simply treating yourself to a relaxing activity (massage for stress relief work wonders!) at least once a month. Never over-look or devalue the importance of caring for you too. Being a parent is a full-time job and coping with the demands of a child with ADHD can be particularly intense. So naturally, it is easy to feel frustration, low and alone at times. When my son was small, from time to time, we would each write a list of things that we loved about each other. We would then exchange lists and read each other’s out loud. This simple act was a reminder of the strong love we shared despite the chaos that surrounded us at times.