By: Maria Romaszkan
There is limited research exploring how ADHD impacts parenting abilities. But we do know that this condition — especially when undiagnosed or untreated — can make being a parent particularly challenging.
“Being a parent is challenging enough, but when the parent has ADHD, the challenges are multiplied,” says Mark Stein, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Washington and director of the ADHD and Related Disorders Program at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “Sustaining attention, time management, and impulsivity can impact the parent and children. And if they also have ADHD, their treatment and outcome depend highly on the parent. It’s easy to see how parents with ADHD get overwhelmed, and if they don’t have help and support, it can negatively impact the entire family.”
But Donna Addkinson, an ADHD coach based in the Minneapolis area, points out that ADHDers also have unique strengths that may positively impact their parenting skills. Those include empathy, creativity and justice sensitivity.
“I would contend that ADHDers are ‘hard-wired’ to arc toward justice and fairness, regardless of their lived experiences,” she says. “And, as with all things, the optimal use of creativity and striving for fairness may offer the most benefit when parenting.”
How to Take Care of Yourself as a Parent With ADHD
To become a better parent with ADHD, focusing on your children may not be enough. One of the most important things you can do is make sure that you take care of yourself and properly manage your ADHD.
Here are some expert tips that can help you do that:
• Find Professional Help
An ADHD coach or a therapist can help you understand how ADHD affects you as a person and a parent. They can also help you challenge negative perceptions about yourself and assist in developing strategies that work for you.
“Consider working with a professionally trained and certified ADHD coach (or therapist) as an individual, with your partner and even with your children through the various developmental stages,” says Addkinson. “Odds are good one or more of them will also experience the world through the ADHD lens too.”
You might also consider checking out behavioral parenting training, or BPT — generally for parents whose children have ADHD. Whether your child also has ADHD or not, you can still benefit from participating. You’ll learn how to create structures, plan ahead and use positive reinforcement.
If you’re not already taking ADHD medication such as stimulants, consider discussing this with your doctor. They can help alleviate your symptoms, making you more focused and in control.
• Take Care of Yourself
You may feel like you must always put your family first and ignore your own needs.
But when you’re stressed, sleep-deprived or juggling too many things at once, your ADHD symptoms may worsen. By taking care of yourself, you can better care for your family and be more present in their lives. Moreover, you will also provide a positive example for your children to follow.
Try to find some time for yourself. Or, if you prefer, you can invite your family to join you. Shared sessions of meditation or exercise provide an opportunity to bond and have many health benefits.
• Know That Good is Enough
You don’t have to be a perfect parent to give your children love and support and help them grow into healthy and resilient adults.
Try not to hold yourself to an unattainable standard. Remember you are doing your best. Every human being loses their patience occasionally or forgets an important appointment. That may be a bit more common if you have ADHD. Forgive yourself for these natural and human imperfections.
To remind yourself that you’re doing your best, you can make a list of moments as a parent you’re proud of and read it when you feel doubt creeping in.
• Learn Grounding Skills
Children often invoke many intense feelings — love and pride but also exasperation and anger. They also make each day unpredictable. ADHD can make those emotions and uncertainty even more intense and overwhelming. It stresses you out and strains your relationship with your children or partner.
To avoid that, learn how to calm yourself and regain control of your emotions. It’s good to have a few tested grounding techniques, such as breathing exercises, to use when you feel anxiety or anger building up.
Consider introducing time-outs as a tool for your whole family to take a moment for yourself. You can come up with code words or signs to use to signal the need to step back.
• Be Consistent
Children need consistency and steadfastness from their parents, and that’s something that people with ADHD can have trouble with.
You may find it easier to stay consistent by creating a list of rules and the consequences for breaking them. For example, you could define how much social media or screen time your children can have. (And you might think about following those same rules yourself.) Place the list of rules somewhere visible for all family members — in the kitchen, for example. Ensure your children understand each rule and what happens when they break it.
And, again, forgive yourself for not always following or enforcing the rules you set. But also hold yourself accountable. Own up to your mistakes and apologize to your children when you were in the wrong.
• Schedule Bonding Time with Your Child
ADHD symptoms such as forgetfulness or lack of organization can make finding time to spend with your children a challenge. One simple thing you can do to ensure you have plenty of opportunities to bond, and not forget any promises to hang out, is to schedule them and enter them into your calendar.
Remember that using a planner or reminders doesn’t make you a bad parent. In fact, it’s the opposite — you’re using ADHD-friendly strategies to ensure you do make space to bond with your child.
• Stay Organized
As a parent, it’s essential to implement structures to stay organized.
In the context of ADHD, Addkinson prefers the terms “scaffolding and guardrails.” They symbolize, she says, “the mobility and flexibility that contribute to an ADHDer’s ability to do all the things along the way to being the parent, the partner and the human they want to be.”
She encourages parents with ADHD to experiment and see what helps them enhance their executive functions and stay on top of things.
“There is no one best way. How ADHDers, including me, manage our ADHD will be as uniquely individual as we are,” she says.
Ways to stay organized include regular family meetings where you set schedules and discuss important dates or needs. And they might include preparing well before crucial events, such as the start of the school year or a vacation. Consider setting up a planner for each family member or a shared calendar.
• Ask for Help
Remember that you’re not alone in this parenting journey. You have your partner or ex-partner — if you’re co-parenting — as well as relatives and friends who will support you. You can also reach out to a doctor or a mental health professional.
“Look for models and good tips on parenting from others you trust or respect,” Stein says. “I recommend talking to your child’s pediatrician, who is a valuable resource and can connect you with parent training programs or recommend a therapist.”
Don’t be afraid to reach out to those you trust for help. After all, it takes a village.