If your child has experienced social rejection or problems with relationships during his early years, he may be concerned about how having the common problems associated with ADHD will affect his ability to enjoy a happy, fulfilling adult family life. In general, adults with ADHD may experience problems in the areas of long-term personal relationships and parenting. The ADHD-related symptoms, such as impulsiveness, inattention, and lack of organization, can disrupt family functioning—shifting most of the responsibility to other family members and thus generating a great deal of resentment and anger. Frequent job changes or the highs and lows of entrepreneurial life can also take their toll on family life.
Because ADHD tends to run in families, adults with the condition may find that some of their children share many of their own symptoms. Managing a child’s ADHD-related behavior and consistently implementing approaches, such as behavior therapy techniques, can be particularly challenging for a parent who has ADHD. Hopefully, when your child reaches adulthood—having received careful evaluation, treatment, and monitoring throughout childhood and adolescence, and having been taught sound principles of behavior management as adults—he will find increasing success in family life and parenting.
As in academic life and on the job, a direct, forthright approach is often best when trying to minimize any effects of ADHD on personal relationships. Partners and children of an adult with ADHD are far more likely to accept and try to work around the lack of attention to their feelings and ideas if they understand where these concerns are coming from in the context of ADHD. Some common complaints of family members—that the person with ADHD is selfish, unperceptive, disorganized, forgetful, and takes too many risks—are all aspects of ADHD, not a personality defect or an indication that he does not love them. Efforts to communicate this fully to his partner and children—if necessary with the help of a counselor or family therapist—can go a long way toward putting his family life on the right track. Once the entire family understands how ADHD can affect behavior and influence personal interactions—once family members understand that the parent’s or spouse’s inattention or impulsiveness is not his “fault”—they can begin to identify problem areas in their daily lives and experiment with the best ways to address them. Typical relationship-enhancing approaches include
- Understanding the need for structure. Because adults with ADHD often lack structure in their inner lives, they may need more external structure if they are to function well. Partners of adults with ADHD often find that life goes more smoothly when family members routinely make lists of tasks to be done, maintain a family calendar to which everyone can refer, clarify which family member is responsible for which chores, and remind the person with ADHD, if necessary, of time constraints.
- Breaking down tasks into manageable steps. It may be possible to get through a mortgage application together or to plan a daughter’s wedding without major setbacks—when partners agree to take it one step at a time.
- Playing to each other’s strengths. If one partner is a more organized bill payer and the other can commit to driving the kids to their after-school activities, there is no reason why these tasks cannot be divided in the most acceptable and effective way. Taking on too much responsibility for daily chores is a major complaint of partners of adults with ADHD, so it is important to make sure that, even if the adult with ADHD is better off not being assigned deadline-oriented duties, he makes up for it by taking on other chores that are viewed by his partner as having an equal payoff value.
- Learning how to communicate effectively. Despite the best efforts by an adult with ADHD, his ADHD-related behaviors can still cause resentment in family members. Rather than expressing anger in non-productive ways, or risk intensifying the resentment by trying to talk about the issue with an inattentive partner, it may be better to agree ahead of time on a more effective way to communicate—over the phone, via e-mail, using a timer to ensure that each person has a chance to speak or, in times of major conflict, with the help of a family or couples therapist.
- Maintaining realistic expectations. Just as all adults have areas of strength and weakness, some adults with ADHD may never be able to handle the family’s finances as well as their partner. If their partner is also unwilling or unable to take over responsibilities, it may be better to hire outside help than to blame a partner for his inadequacies.
- Understanding that relationships are a 2-way street. Couples and families need to take care that the entire burden to solve ADHD-related problems is not placed on the person with ADHD. Just as the adult with ADHD must work to manage his problems with organization or impulse control, his partner should try to support and facilitate his efforts. Mutual respect will help motivate all family members to continue doing their best.
- Celebrating the joys of the partnership. Adults with ADHD typically bring a great jolt of energy, spontaneity, inspiration, and excitement to marriage and family life. Couples should remember to take breaks from problem-solving to remember why they got together in the first place, and to appreciate what they have accomplished together and who they have become.
Specific techniques for addressing problems as they arise can be adapted from the earlier education and treatment experiences of the adult with ADHD, or both partners may be able to create new ones together and on their own. Ideas are also available on ADHD support Web sites and in books for adults with ADHD.
Successful Arrival at Young Adulthood
Adults with ADHD are much more likely to enjoy successful and satisfying lives if they were properly prepared during childhood and adolescence to monitor and manage their symptoms on their own. Throughout this book, you have been encouraged as a parent to give your child the gift of self-empowerment—to include him in the process of understanding his symptoms; all decisions relating to his evaluation and treatment; discussions of the ways in which ADHD is affecting and may later affect his daily life; and planning for his future as a student, a family member, and a productive member of the adult world. By parenting to your child’s strengths, continually building his knowledge base, taking care to applaud his efforts, and otherwise nurturing his self-esteem through childhood and adolescence, you have taught him to think of himself not as an “ADHD adult” but as an “adult who has ADHD.”
Now as your teenager enters adulthood, armed with the knowledge, experience, and practiced ability to manage his ADHD-related symptoms, he will begin independent life in a stronger position than that of the generations who preceded him. Of course, every young adult with ADHD is different, and no individual outcome can be predicted. But by incorporating the guidelines presented in this book, and empowering him to use this information as you watch him proceed from childhood, through adolescence, to young adulthood, you will have helped your child take advantage of his unique strengths and take charge of his vulnerabilities as he begins his adult life.