“Setting aside” my ADHD to be a better parent and husband

Like many parents, my time is split among work, household duties, errands, managing finances and appointments, spending time with the kids and being a supportive partner to my wife. I also have  and struggle with attention, focus, time management, and memory. All of which are things that I’m trying to teach my kids to manage. And they have learning and thinking differences, too. Sounds like a mess, right?

In the past it has been. But recently, I’ve had to make an intentional shift in mindset. I decided it was time to “set aside” my ADHD and stop using it as a reason to not make change. Of course, I can’t actually set it aside. I’m aware every day of my ADHD and all that comes with it.  But “setting side” my ADHD means I’m making a decision not to use it as an excuse anymore.

I got my ADHD diagnosis as an adult and it explained a lot about my struggles in life — things I didn’t understand before. When I first got that diagnosis in my mid 30s, I talked a lot about ADHD and tried to make sense of what it meant both in my past and my present. 

Having ADHD was the reason I was so disorganized — why I missed doctors’ appointments as well as family and school outings. It was the reason my kids were disappointed in me, and I was disappointed in myself.

It’s the reason I felt bad when I told my son with ADHD that “I forgot” isn’t an excuse for not following through... because I forget things all the time. It’s why I always felt like a hypocrite when I was trying to get him to focus on something... because I often can’t focus myself. And honestly, it’s why I felt like I was being just plain mean when I had to hold my kids to expectations that I, to this day, have trouble meeting.

I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t also present challenges in my marriage. Being one half of our parenting team, and being a scattered mess at times, can cause friction and frustration. My wife is the only person in the house who doesn’t struggle with attention and executive function. I know she frequently feels like the “keeper” of the schedule for everybody. And it weighs on her when she feels like she’s carrying more than her share of the burden.

And that’s why I’m setting aside my ADHD — to be a better parent and husband.

Now I try to keep ADHD out of our marriage. I avoid saying to my wife things like, “You know this is hard for me because I have ADHD.” That can create resentment, and she already knows I struggle. Instead, when I drop the ball or make a mistake, I apologize and try to plan for how I’m going to do it better next time.

I try to talk as little as possible about my ADHD because my wife and I are a team, and we need to pull together no matter what.

I’ve also started using tools to help me organize my life and set a good example for my kids. For instance, I use the virtual assistant on my smartphone often. I use it to set reminders and timers, and to add things to my to-do or shopping lists. It’s great because I can use my voice to activate and give it commands. I don’t have to stop what I’m doing to write something down or type something in with my clumsy thumbs.

My teenage son typically rolls his eyes at my inability to type on a small phone screen. He says I use a smartphone “like an old person.” My 8-year-old son, though, thinks it’s cool and it leads to situations like this:

Me: “What’s that beeping sound?” 8-year-old: “Your phone. I told it to remind me to eat my muffin at 7:30.” Me: “What? You used my phone for that?” 8-year-old: “It is what it is, sport.”

Wisecracks aside, I thought it was clever of him, and I was glad he recognizes there are tools that can help him focus and remember things. It’s about letting my kids know that things can be hard, but not impossible.

I think that if I were asked for advice by other parents with ADHD, I’d tell them to consider setting aside their own issues as much as possible. I'd also encourage them to hold their kids to realistic expectations, but only if they hold themselves to the same expectations. I’d tell them to research and come up with strategies for helping their kids — and then use the same tools themselves. And I’d tell them that if they’re in a relationship, to simply try to be the best partner they can be. ADHD or not, the key to making things work is supporting each other.

Read expert advice on whether it helps for kids to hear about their parents’ learning and thinking differences. Learn how adults are diagnosed for ADHD. And get tips on how to keep your learning and thinking differences from affecting relationships with family.

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