ADHD has a profound influence on family life. Unfortunately, a lot of that influence contributes to an increase in daily household stress. The overall level of tension in the house, for example, is often relatively high. This tension results from factors such as widespread disorganization, messiness, noise, and periodic emotional outbursts from one person or another. In this article, we’ll focus on explicit, simple, and doable ways of dealing with and reducing this household tension. More specifically, we’ll use several concepts as the basis of our discussion.
First of all, living with ADHD means no wishful thinking is allowed. It’s important to accept reality as it is (without feeling guilty) and give up naive and idealistic notions of what you think family life should be like. ADHD, in other words, is not your fault (you really want to get that through your head), but you are stuck with managing it.
Second, a pleasant sense of calm versus the unpleasantness of being upset are both emotional matters. We often focus so much on the symptom triumvirate of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity that we overlook the fact that ADHD is usually a very emotional matter. I have been lobbying for years regarding my thought that emotional overarousal should be on the ADHD symptom list. ADHD usually means feeling everything—positive and negative—very intensely. That includes anger, anxiety, and sadness, as well as happiness and excitement. This makes for a lively household!
Third, part of being realistic about ADHD often means accepting the fact that more than one family member has this handicap. If you have a sibling with ADHD, for example, your chances of having ADHD are one in three. (Sibling rivalry will also be worse.) If you have a parent with ADHD, your chances of having that disorder are over 50 percent.
Multiple family members with ADHD means several things. For one, it often means that one family director (parent) or sometimes even both directors (Mom and Dad) are disorganized and overly emotional. Not a good way to run a family—or a company. Also, multiple ADHDers often means the opposite of “the more the merrier.” The more family members you put in the same room, for example, the more confusion and conflict is likely to occur, especially when there is a specific task that needs to be done, like eating dinner, getting up and out in the morning, or going to bed.
So is a family with ADHD impossible to manage? Not at all. Tough, but not impossible. In fact, if you look at your current daily life, you are probably already doing most things reasonably well. You eat, sleep, get along most of the time, get most of the homework done, get the kids off to school on time, pay your bills, etc. The fact that you often feel exasperated—or even like a failure—may be more ADHD (emotional overarousal) talking, rather than a realistic commentary on your daily competence.
Here are a few ideas, from someone who’s been there, on how to further reduce your family stress. These ideas I chose largely based on simplicity and feasibility—the possibility, in other words, that these ideas can (1) actually be put into action and (2) that they can be maintained because they become self-reinforcing.