*For the purposes of this article, the term ADD refers to both ADD and ADHD.
The Reluctant Dad
This Father’s Day I want to call attention to those fathers for whom parenting their ADD* children did not come naturally. Dads are often criticized for not adequately participating in the parenting of their child with ADD, yet, many stay the course. Those who do stay deserve to be recognized for all they do, even if awkward, which supports the parenting of their ADD child. This post is about those men, who, for whatever reason, are reluctant to become involved in the ADD specific parenting of their child. For many men, ADD specific parenting has been a long, ongoing struggle. Many fathers initially become involved in their child’s ADD care only because their wife, or someone on their child’s treatment team, insisted. So today, I suggest we consider those Dads for whom ADD specific parenting doesn’t come naturally but who, no matter how reluctantly, did cross the threshold, into the office of an ADD professional on their child’s treatment team, and stayed. The majority of fathers who come to see me, do so with trepidation and skepticism, and at the insistence of another.
Many fathers of ADD children, work hard to “get it right”, while struggling often with their own ADD, perhaps diagnosed and treated, perhaps not. Parenting an ADD child can be an extraordinary challenge. For some men, basic parenting is an elusive concept and the parenting of an ADD child seems overwhelming. Many of these men struggle to to understand the child who is either so much like them it is painful, or so different from them, it is incomprehensible. These men often find everything they thought they knew about parenting challenged, and yet, slowly do allow in new information which debunks many of their long held beliefs. It takes significant courage, as an adult male in our society, and as the proverbial head of the household, to open oneself to professional scrutiny, exposing not only your own parenting flaws, but often those of your parents, as well.
Many of the men with whom I work, come to my office willingly, but with the assumption that no one can tell them how to better parent their child.
These men come, not to work with the coaching process, but to work against it. Many are (mostly undiagnosed) ADD themselves. These men cannot wait to tell me they were just like their child when they were the same age, and they “turned out just fine, without being labeled and dragged around to doctors, therapists & coaches all the time.”
Mom is Frustrated by Dad’s Distant Parenting
Understandably, the wives of the reluctant-to-become-involved-in-the-ADD-process men, live with resentment and frustration, and bring those
feelings into their coaching and therapy sessions. The wife either sits silently, rolling her eyes, or speaks up to share issues which significantly decreases the family’s quality of life.
Some of the more common wifely comments are:
- “Oh really? You don’t have trouble staying focused? Then why have you had seven different jobs in the last five years?”
- “What about your temper? None of our neighbors will talk to us because you have complained to each one about something they do, which you think they shouldn’t! Now, the neighborhood kids aren’t allowed to play with our kids!”
- “What about your nightly six-pack? You often pass out in front of the TV, leaving me alone to do the dinner clean up, bathe the kids, help with homework, prepare lunches for the next day, and get the kids to bed!”
- “Really? So your numerous affairs aren’t due to your impulse control, and you have no problems and are just fine?”
Dads Can Choose to Become Involved in ADD Specific Parenting…No Matter How Difficult They Find It
Changing our long-held erroneous beliefs, perhaps handed down from our own parents, can feel threatening. It is an uncomfortable feeling for anyone to have their parenting challenged by professionals, but I suspect it might be uniquely difficult for men. Men tend to share less, hold more in, and they possibly feel the sting of any professional constructive criticism, regarding their parenting, a bit more intensely and/or longer. For whatever reason, in my practice, it is my observation that it generally takes Dads longer to process what they need to, to significantly improve their parenting.
Dads often wonder, “I’m doing what my Dad did, and if my wife, and all of these professionals, tell me it’s wrong, what does that say about me? About my childhood? About my own parents?” This can, consciously, or subconsciously, trigger the feeling that one’s entire upbringing is being called into question. Such thoughts can set in motion the fear that the basic foundation of who you are is about to crumble, causing some dads to be defensive and resist fully participating in their child’s treatment.
The good news is by the professional genuinely sharing the common goal of wanting whatever proves best for the child in question, most of the skeptical Dads eventually do open up to the coaching process. In so doing, they allow in the education and information needed to work cooperatively with the child’s mother, teachers, and the rest of the professional team, and to be a better Dad than they may have been otherwise. Many Dads find this process can be long, laborious, and sometimes painful, but choose to stay the course.
Many Dads Are Undervalued
The Dads who do step out of their “box”, to meet the challenge of learning how to best parent their ADD child, are often overlooked and undervalued. These men often rearrange their work schedule to attend school meetings,
doctor, therapy and/or ADD Coaching appointments, even if they don’t always seem to understand it all as well as do their wives. These men, who are way out of their comfort zone, make plenty of parenting mistakes, and often fall off track with the latest strategy they are to implement as a united team, but it cannot be denied that these are strong, courageous men. Each time they mess up, they stand up, brush themselves off, and try again; even when they feel they will never be able to catch up with their wife’s ADD parenting knowledge base. Maybe it’s time to refocus on those things Dads are doing right…starting with showing up for appointments with ADD professionals who repeatedly challenge the Dad’s thinking and beliefs.
Mothers of ADD children certainly do have way too much on their plates, but that isn’t the focus of this article. (For more on Mothers of ADD children please see Unsung Heroes: Mothers of ADHD Children.) Moms, in an attempt to help their ADD children, often tend to focus on what their husbands “did wrong this week.” Poor parenting practices do need to be addressed. I am certainly not suggesting we ignore legitimate issues raised by a spouse. I’m simply suggesting we make an effort to shine a brighter light on the positive efforts of these men, and the strides they do make, no matter how slow, or small. We all lose motivation to do better if we feel we are working really hard, but our efforts are glossed over, only to focus on what we did wrong, or didn’t do at all. If this has ever happened to you, how long did you stay engaged, and keep putting your best effort forward? I’m guessing not very long.
Stan: Father of Child with ADD
A typical scenario played out in my office is that of the exhausted, worn out wife, starting the session vocalizing her frustrations with her husband’s lack of participation, understanding, patience, etc., regarding their child with ADD. The wife’s tears spill over, as she complains of her husband’s apparent disinterest, shown through the untouched pile of ADD books and articles on his nightstand, while the husband either sits silently, staring down at his hands, or angrily denies his wife’s accusations.
What is often overlooked is Dad’s emotional involvement plays out differently than Mom’s, but is no less important. One recent example shared by my client, Stan, was his experience with the cost of his child’s ADD medication.
Stan’s son started medication two months ago. To date, Stan’s wife has always picked up their son’s medication from the pharmacy. This month Stan picked up his child’s ADD medication for the first time. In the process, he learned his insurance only covers one pill a day and, each month he has to pay several hundred dollars out-of-pocket for the full prescription. Back at home, Stan told his wife they can’t afford to pay for the medication, and he talked to the pharmacist
about alternative medications. The pharmacist gave Stan the prices of comparable amounts of other stimulant medications, and explained the significant savings to Stan, should his child switch to one of them.
Thoughts of the return of their child’s severe ADD symptoms, and the ensuing never-ending ramifications of the same, flooded Stan’s wife’s brain, overwhelming her and causing a meltdown. She cried, she yelled, and insisted they cannot do this to their child. She rattled off a long list of negative behaviors that will return, and the many problems sure to result. She reminded Stan of how happy their child is now, and all the gains made, and laid the guilt on by asking if he really wanted to take that all away from his child. During her tirade, Stan’s wife blamed him for not making enough money, for being cheap, for not caring enough about what she goes through with their son from day-to-day, and what it does to her, and finally, for caring more about himself than his own son. She belittled and demeaned him, causing him to shut down. He told me he simply didn’t know what to say because all he could think of was she was probably right. He probably was a terrible person and father.
Stan knew his wife’s arguments for keeping the current medication were valid. He did realize switching medications would likely cause their child to lose the newly made friends, resume undue daily struggles with everything from dressing in the morning, to completing homework in the evening. Stan recalled the pre-medication chaos that was the norm, but which now seemed a distant memory. He told himself, but not his wife, he would just have to make it work. The conversation ended by his wife walking away because of Stan’s lack of response. For the next several days, Stan said their relationship remained chilly, and they only spoke to each other when necessary.
A week later, when paying bills, Stan chose to discontinue his gym membership and the daily newspaper. He switched from his morning Starbucks to bringing his own coffee from home. One night a week, Stan used to meet his buddies after work for drinks. Sam told his friends he couldn’t afford to do join them any longer, and used that time to work later, with the hopes the extra effort would make him a better candidate for advancement within his company. Stan was spending much of his time rattling his brains to think of ways to reduce costs so he would be able to cover the monthly cost of the ADD medication for his son.
Then, the night before our session, Stan’s dishwasher leaked soapy water all over the floor. Instead of calling a plumber, Stan watched a You Tube video on how to repair a leaky dishwasher and was up until 2:00 a.m., fixing the dishwasher. Stan finally fell into bed exhausted, but very satisfied that he saved the plumber’s fee. His wife woke and thanked him for his hard work, but suggested he could have called the plumber and saved himself the trouble. Stan told her he wanted the challenge of trying to fix it himself. What Dad didn’t share with his wife, but told me, was that his back was killing him from all the hours spent in the awkward position required to fix the dishwasher, that spending time on the dishwasher meant he didn’t do his work prep for that day, and that it is more important to him, to have the money for his child’s medication, than to spend it on a plumber.
Fathers of Children with ADD Tend to Parent Differently From the Moms
Stan is not as patient with his child’s ADD as is his wife. Stan has “flipped through”, but not read, any of the ADD literature his wife has provided him. Stan struggles to remember to follow through the behavior plan his child’s therapist created with the family. Though Stan attends many of his son’s ADD related appointments, he is not as fully engaged in the daily ADD specific parenting efforts as is his wife. However, this does not mean he loves his son any less than does his wife.
Stan is involved in his own way, with his child’s ADD care, and is making sincere efforts to learn how to better parent his ADD child. I suspect Stan is ADD himself and possibly has some learning disabilities that may serve as obstacles to his fully engaging in the ADD parenting process at the level his wife prefers. I suggested he speak with his child’s psychiatrist to determine if an ADD evaluation is warranted, but he has not yet done so. Stan is a proud man, who loves his family, and is doing the best he can, with what he knows and the resources available to him. It is my hope, that in time, Stan is able to open himself up and seek his own evaluation. But until then, the family’s ADD therapist and I, work together, to guide Stan to better parenting practices, and communication with his wife, while helping his wife to recognize, and appreciate, the efforts Stan does make to support and care for their child with ADD.
Moms and Dads tend to express their love and support for their child differently. Often, Moms efforts are more visible on a daily basis, while Dads efforts are often less so. In the example above, it may appear on the surface, the Dad is preoccupied with work and money. What is less obvious to his wife is that his preoccupation is driven by his desire as a parent, to provide their child with the best ADD care he can.
Thank You to All Dads Who Choose to Stay the Course!
So today, and everyday, let us honor those Dads who…
- choose to meet the challenge of parenting their child with ADD head on, by attending as many ADD related appointments as they can, instead of burying their head in the sand…
- stay the course, with unwavering dedication and commitment, by stepping outside of their comfort zone, to listen, learn, and accept their child’s truth, no matter how painful…
- work to parent against the grain of the way they were raised, overcoming negative learned parenting behaviors, and substituting them with healthy, loving parenting methods…
- learn to control their temper and choose to use their hands to comfort not hurt, their words to build up, not tear down, their challenging child with ADD…
- denied, and resisted, accepting the reality of their child’s, and often their own, ADD, eventually allowed the necessary information to penetrate past their egos, and came to accept their child’s, and their own, truth…
- make sacrifices everyday, so they can give their child the best opportunities to master their ADD…
Thank you, to all Dad’s of children with ADD, on behalf of your child, for every effort, large and small, you make, to be the best parent you can be.
Happy Father’s Day!
Please Share Your Experience:
If you are a father, who has struggled with parenting your child with ADD, but have stayed the course, I’d love to hear from you! Please share your experience, struggles, tips, or whatever you can about what has helped you through the process, in the comment section below.
Please check back for A Tribute to All Struggling Dad’s of ADD* Children: Part Two, coming soon…