I write a lot about my son and his ADHD, but not a lot, if at all, about my daughter, who also has ADHD. She has basically forbidden me. So as much as I want to write about her right now, I can’t, so I won’t. But I will write about how parenting children with ADHD is different, but in a good way. And how I’m trying to be a better parent, the parent I needed, while also remembering my children aren’t me.
I was a typical ADHD girl growing up: too loud, too awkward, too much of a space-cadet (as they would say), too weird, too much of everything. I see parents in various ADHD support forums describing their daughters and I always write, please, don’t shame your child, they’re ok, this is normal for them, look at me, I have a PhD, and I was exactly like what you’re describing. One parent was horrified that her daughter chewed on everything (pens, pencils, etc), and I was like, hey, I did that! I still pick the sides of my fingers! And I am largely fine! It’s ok! Please! Don’t shame her, it will scar her!
I was told I was gross, I was told that no boy would even want to hold my hand (OMG SERIOUSLY THAT WAS NOT A THREAT BUT AN ADDED BONUS), I was constantly asked, what is wrong with you? Now, you can’t control other kids being shits, but you can control what is said in your own home. What the rules are. What the support structure is. How you engage with your kids to address what else is happening around them.
I watch as my kids are thriving, despite the pandemic. That makes it easier to let go of the guilt over unlimited screen time, non-existent bedtimes. To grit my teeth when things get too loud and too shrill and too chaotic and just try to breathe and let it go. If I ever EVER spoke to my parents that way…The house is a mess, the meals are barely on time, laundry sits unfolded, but what’s important is being taken care of, and so I focus on that, on those wins, because they are huge.
I think, what if I had been parented the way I am parenting? No one knew or even suspected I had ADHD growing up, so I was parented the way most kids were parented back then in the 1980s, a strange mix of laissez-faire and rigid rules and regulations. Parenting was about discipline, about making sure that you fit the mold of what was expected of you, to get you to normal, and then sending you out into the neighborhood to fend for yourself, to let the lessons on the playground reinforce the lessons at home. And when those lessons were in conflict, well, you were suddenly a bad kid and going to either get into trouble, or become trouble itself.
I was, by all definitions, a good kid: honor role, swim team captain, tutor, lifeguard, played in the HS band, was on the debate team, etc. But something about me wasn’t “right” and so I was punished for being trouble, and I became troubled instead. I started secretly seeing a counselor, forced by my friends to get help, as they were helpless themselves in the face of my troubles.
There were moments when an inexplicable rage would burst out of me, usually directed in the wrong place, at the wrong time, at the wrong person. I would pick the worst battles, shrink from the ones I should have fought, humiliated on both fronts, at once too cowardly and too foolish. The rage terrified me, the outbursts, and I would turn on myself, pairing my own punishment with the one that was inevitably coming as well.
I read and hear about Gen-X women who had a similar experience, whose ADHD became an unnamed “trouble” that turned inward, how getting the diagnosis cracked open the troubled part of us that had for too long informed our every action. And I see my own daughter and want to protect her at least from that particular trauma, in whatever way I can, by parenting differently, by being ok with difference, with big feelings, with all of it that was never ok when I was a kid.
I tell people that I am so glad that I got my mental health shit in order, that I got my ADHD diagnosis, before my kids became tweens and now teens. I understand them better, but I also have a better handle on my own reactions, understand my impulses, able to recognize what triggers me, and not take it out on my kids. My own troubles and trauma informs but doesn’t dictate my parenting. Sometimes I lose control, like we all do. And it isn’t perfect, it never can be.
The mantra that I hold on to: they will be their own people because of me, not in spite of me.