When my stepson came to live with us, he was 14. I didn’t even know what ADHD was. He was struggling (significantly) in school, had few interests, little to no social life, and had been diagnosed with “learning difficulties.” When we held him back a year, he began to thrive. I attribute this not just to the added year of maturity, but also because we enforced an IEP, and provided an increased level of structure in his life. He graduated with all As and Bs, and we figured he was well established to move forward into the next phase of his life.
Fast forward 10+ years, and he was struggling again. Maybe it was still struggling. This time he was trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. He tried college for a few semesters right out of high school, but it just didn’t seem to be a good fit. By his late-20’s he was living with a roommate, had a relatively steady (but low-paying) job, and a good relationship that he hoped might become a permanent one. He wanted to determine what path to take, but the idea of figuring it out was overwhelming.
Here’s the reality from my perspective. My stepson was struggling, and likely has ADD. At this stage in his life, I am more of a bystander than a parent, so what is my role? I have a few thoughts:
- Support his agenda: Ask him what he wants for his life and future. Listen to what he sees as his challenges and struggles. Really listen to what he is saying. Offer to help him in any way he sees as supportive.
- Talk to him : Specifically, I want to inform him about the “Six Fundamental Steps to Effectively Manage ADHD.”* Identification, Education, Management and Treatment, Structure, Self Care and Brain Chemistry, and Coaching. I want to say to him:
- “For those places in your life where you do see yourself struggling, it could help you to figure out if ADHD might be part of what is getting in your way. We know it’s genetic, we know it’s present in our family.”
- “There are some behaviors we see in your brother and your Dad, both of whom have ADHD. Do you see them in yourself?”
- “Unmanaged ADHD creates significant problems for many people. We also know that it’s highly treatable. If you had a disorder in your body like diabetes or high blood pressure, there is no question that you would seek the advice of a medical professional. What’s the risk in doing that now?”
- Acknowledge and celebrate: A little positive reinforcement even works for adults.
- Respect his space as an adult: Ultimately I can’t make him do anything. Although he sometimes comes to us for emotional support, he no longer relies on us financially or practically. That makes typical boundaries and motivation levers more difficult. I can get clear on potential boundaries (like if he came to us for money). But, it’s important not to let getting clear turn into something more stressful, like worry. We really can’t know what will happen, so its helpful not to spend too much time thinking about all the “bad” stuff that could happen.
- Take care of myself. As a parent, it’s hard to be in this position. You want to get involved. In fact, at one time it was your job to get involved and fix the situation. Now there may not be any action for you to take. For me, I need to set boundaries around how much I get involved, and how often I ask questions, especially if they are questions I might rather not hear the answer to.
- Hold the vision for his success: Lastly, I can send prayers up into the ethos. This might not be where you come from, but it’s really about letting go and trusting … in his future, in his desire to succeed, in the seeds that I’ve planted when he lived with us, as well as now.
All the years of parenting kids while they are at home lay the groundwork for how your relationship can be once they are adults. At the same time, parenting an adult with ADD is completely different than parenting a kid with ADD. There isn’t a text-book or a formula for making it work.
If it’s not working as well as you would like right now, that doesn’t mean that you were a “bad” parent. You have the opportunity to look back and see how you might make some tweaks to improve how it’s going today. Just keep your goal and vision in mind: a happy, successful kid.