Dinner with an ADHD Family


Curbing Your Frustration

I had one of those classic moments of insight at the dinner table last night. If you live with ADHD in your home, you’ll appreciate this story.

Imagine the scene. It’s summertime. We’re eating late because it still looks like it 2:00 outside and no one wants to eat before 7:30, anyway. My husband cooked an absolutely delicious meal, and then spent 15 minutes trying to herd cats (myself included) into the kitchen to set the table, and come eat dinner while it’s hot. Two of the kids spent 12 of those minutes arguing over who has to get the water this time.

We’re all asking for 2 more minutes when I hear him say from the kitchen, “we’re going to have a family meeting at dinner!” He wasn’t angry,  just frustrated.

Dinner was underway. Here’s what it looked like:

  • one child with only one food at a time on her plate (she says she doesn’t like her food to mingle, but really she doesn’t love vegetables);
  • another child talking incessantly and eating the crumbly topping on the chicken with his fingers (playfully being corrected by his Dad);
  • the third child cracking jokes and providing entertainment to rile the troops, while shovelling food so fast we wonder if she ate at all;
  • and my spouse, patiently waiting for the right opportunity to start a family meeting (he gets a gold star!).

There was lively conversation, including some mild bickering about who gets to talk first, and an unbelievable amount of movement.

And there was an equal amount of laughter and playfulness.

I thought back to my childhood, when we sat up tall in our chairs, and said yes m’am and yes sir without reminder. We tried to participate in adult conversation or wisely said little at all. Our fingers never touched the plate, and the level of energy in the room was what I would call subdued. We ate a proper dinner every evening in the Dining Room. It was interesting, at times – intelligent humor was rewarded — but certainly no place for lively fun.

My attention switches back to my own family dining experience, and I start to laugh out loud. By this time, my 11 year old has climbed into the chair and is leaning on the back of his older sister, and my middlest has moved on to her vegetable course. As my son walks back to his seat for seconds, I ponder out loud, “Could any of you imagine doing this at G’pa’s house?” Peals of laughter.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to accept in an ADHD family of 5. At my dinner table, I realized that my acceptance is grounded is 3 things: calm, appreciation, and playfulness.

I looked around and reveled in the joyous time my family was having with each other. Yes, we were loud, and rambunctious, and even a little wacky. And we were having a blast, making memories that foster a lifetime of connection.

We did have a family meeting talk about Dad’s frustration in getting everyone in to dinner.  We managed to keep on topic as my son returned to the back of his older sister (with a brief stint on the floor), and my middlest finally acquiesced to try the chicken. The issue was discussed, Dad was heard and acknowledged, and a new solution was suggested (no, this is not the first time we’ve had this conversation!).

The trick was to “stay calm amid the noise and haste,” as my favorite poem, Desiderata, instructs.

Sometimes, when the chaos reaches a certain level, I get frustrated and long for the “proper” dinner table of my youth.

When I manage to stay calm, and stop to appreciate each member of my family, I realize that it’s more important to me to have fun, than it is to have a “proper” family dinner. When my kids grow up, I want them to remember their time with each other, connecting, playing, loving, knowing and accepting each other.

That’s what family is about for me.

If that means that dinner-time is an aerobic activity, I’m deciding to be okay with that. I’m still a stickler for the “yes m’am,” but if I have to remind them, it’s okay. When my kids are being their boisterous, creative, funny selves, they feel accepted by us. They’re going to need that feeling when they get out there in the big, bad world.

So for me, acceptance comes with calm, appreciation and playfulness. What does it for you?

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