When her son was young,Vanessa Armstrong sometimes felt like going out caused more hassle than it was worth.
“I was always worried about getting a sitter and wondering if they’d be able to deal with Aiden and his behaviours,” says the mother of five.
But she stresses that it’s important for parents of children with ADHD to find time for themselves and to get the support they need.
“Self-care is important, especially when dealing with kids under special circumstances,” she says.
Ryan Chan, a psychiatrist at the BC Children’s Hospital, agrees. He says he often sees well-intentioned parents struggle to implement behavioural parenting strategies. The reasons? First, children with ADHD are generally more difficult to parent than a neuro-typical child. Second, parenting courses for ADHD are not widely available, and although general parenting classes are helpful, they may not be as effective for learning strategies geared toward children with ADHD. Third, parents who themselves have ADHD, whether diagnosed or unrecognized, generally struggle more with applying consistent behavioural parenting strategies, partly because of their own challenges. Because ADHD is hereditary, an estimated 15 to 30 percent of parents of kids with ADHD have the condition too. It is important to raise awareness of ADHD and its impact on children, their families and community at large, and to advocate for effective, community-based solutions.
“One of the fundamental challenges can be remaining calm when implementing these strategies,” Chan says. “So I remind parents that their well-being is paramount to the foundation of their family and to consider the benefits of prioritizing their self-care for their family as a whole.”
This is especially important because parents of children with ADHD are more likely than the general population to have mental health issues of their own, such as anxiety and depression.
Jeanine Lesback of Warman, Sask., has two children, one with ADHD and another on the autism spectrum. She also has ADHD herself, as well as other mental health challenges. Jeanine says it’s critical that she exercise every day, participate in parent support groups and see a behavioural therapist of her own.
“I make sure I get some time away to be with friends and other special needs parents, and just be me,” she says.
Having a child with ADHD can also create tension between parents. Often, one parent will want to “lay down the law” and take a tougher stand with the child with ADHD, while the other responds by taking on the role of the child’s defender.
“I’m good cop, and my husband is bad cop,” says Karen Ryan of Vancouver. “Compromise is really important in our house. We work on strategies for a calmer home environment.”
Parenting a child with ADHD can be one of the toughest tasks a couple faces together, so it’s important to invest time in getting it right. Therapy that includes the entire family can be helpful in keeping everyone on the same page.