One of the most challenging symptoms of ADHD is emotional dysregulation. When multiple family members suffer from ADHD, it can make for a pretty chaotic household, overwhelmed by the frequent impulsive episodes of emotional extremism.
Parenting is hard enough as it is. Even with the most easy going, even-tempered kids, it is not always easy to determine when being protective or nurturing blurs into overbearing and enabling.
Being a parent with ADHD, to a child with ADHD, seems to create additional obstacles in distinguishing between what is helpful and what is harmful. First of all there is my own emotional impulsivity. I have learned that my initial “instinct” is often clouded by the flood of adrenaline and cortisol, and it has taken me a good portion of my life to learn how to control my response to these emotions – but throw in an equally emotionally impulsive person, specifically a person who had not yet learned the tools to emit an appropriate response to their emotions, and things can get ugly. Things can get so heated that my “instinct” may be telling me to throw said person out the window.
I often look to the internet “professionals” for advice. Parenting websites seem to echo the suggestion to “go with your gut” or “follow your heart.” Now don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of being in tune to the unique needs of each child as an individual, but after many many years of learning ways to use experience and logic guide my choices.
My son came home from school the other day and while we unpacked his backpack I noticed that he had not eaten any of his lunch. When I asked him about it he looked upset, like he thought he was getting in trouble and he told me that he forgot to put his lunch in the bin before recess. I know that this has happened in the past because his teacher sends home a daily report and whenever he has forgotten to put his lunch in the bin, he gets an X, which in his eight-year-old mind, means getting docked for bad behavior. So on this day, rather than telling the lunch aide that he forgot his lunch again, he would rather go without.
Well at that moment my heart wanted me to call that teacher and give her a piece of my mind. We just talked about his struggles at the last conference – and she seemed to have an understanding of ADHD, so why is she still using these negative disciplinary practices? I considered picking him up at lunchtime every day so we can have lunch together, just the two of us, and no fear of getting X’s or going hungry. However, after some thought, I realized that the world isn’t always going to change the rules for my son just because his brain works differently. I tell him that while I hope that he continues to try to remember to put his lunch in the bin every day, I understand full well that we can easily forget things sometimes when our brains have so much to think about all. the. time. and that I would rather have him get an X than not eat.
Another time he was outside playing with the neighborhood kids and he felt that one of the boys “cheated” at baseball. Now I didn’t see an Apple Watch, so I’m not sure if my son suspected that little six-year-old Tommy was a juicer, but in any case, he got angry and pushed him to the ground. I happened to see it happen, so I grabbed him and brought him in the house and told him that it was not ok to hurt his friends and that he was done playing outside for the rest of the afternoon.
He sat by the window and watched his friends playing without him as tears ran down his face. His remorse was evident and he asked no one in particular, why he could not “just be a good boy.” My heart was telling me to let him go back outside and enjoy being a kid in the summer, but I knew that it was best to remove him from the situation and that he needed to understand that hurting someone out of anger was never acceptable and that we might take this opportunity to discuss different ways to respond when we are upset about losing a game.
When I drop him off at school every morning, I watch him clumsily jump out of my car, usually with his backpack open and the contents all but falling out. Often his shoelaces are untied and sometimes he forgets his jacket. I want so badly to follow my heart. I want to follow it right into that classroom, wrap my arms around it, and keep it safe by my chest where it will be protected from all of the very big and very overwhelming challenges that come with having ADHD. But instead I watch him walk in and hope that he realizes how very, very much he is loved.