When Parenting Is Hard: A Perspective on the Challenges of Parenting a Child with ADHD

by Meghan Fowler

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Sometimes parenting my son feels like climbing a mountain. Complete with the joyous moments where I feel strong, I exult in the beauty, I feel like I belong in the unfolding scene. Sometimes – stretching the analogy here – the climb feels more like hard work: like slogging upwards on loose stones, where every step yields a backward slide almost as far. Ugh.

Mom and Son looking at camera

It bears noting that he has some ‘unique’ struggles… namely the ones resulting from ADHD. This is not to suggest that other parents don’t face challenges! We all do. Life is complex and we all have hard times. We all have difficulties we have to work through, or work at accepting, or both. If you’ve suffered or struggled as a parent, you don’t need a diagnosis to justify your pain. I believe that suffering is suffering; struggling is struggling, whatever the outward cause. But in our story, a diagnosis has helped to explain the shape of our particular challenges, and it’s helped to equip us to deal with those challenges constructively.

If you’ve suffered or struggled as a parent, you don’t need a diagnosis to justify your pain.

For us, the daily grind of dealing with attention challenges and behaviours resulting from struggles with impulse-control and anxiety can be really hard. Like, really really hard. And exhausting. After babysitting our kids for an evening, my mother-in-law – who raised 4 energetic kids herself – came to the door to greet us, totally exhausted, saying “you’re not crazy! That really is hard.” We felt such a rush of gratification at being validated like that. “YES, it is hard!” And, “Yay, we’re not crazy!” (Or maybe we are, but mostly because we’ve been driven crazy – haha. I jest.)

The fact is that our son really does require “extra” engagement, extra input, extra energy. And we think he’s fantastic, andwe wouldn’t trade him for anything, and we think so much of that “extra” is evidence of beautiful gifts and abilities and traits. But at this stage, it’s sometimes just plain hard.

My mom, who raised 4 kids and made it look easy, has often noted how very relentless the exceptional demands on us have been. A tough day, or the odd epic-disaster moment (you know what I’m talking about: kids screaming simultaneously in a store because one has hurt feelings and the other bumped their head, and you’re in the midst of check-out at the end of a big Costco shop you attempted with a sinus infection and headache… That kind of epic-disaster moment), that’s manageable stuff, and even if it’s not, it’s finite.

I am at the point in parenting where those things rarely get me down. I can (usually) kind of roll my eyes (figuratively) and laugh (internally) about it, and just step up and give the kids the compassion or direction they need.

We all make it through, and I feel this broad sense of solidarity with all the other parents dealing with bat-shit moments where obscene amounts of little things go wrong, and Lo! You walk out alive and hopefully with your sense of humour intact.

I feel this broad sense of solidarity with all the other parents dealing with bat-shit moments where obscene amounts of little things go wrong, and Lo! You walk out alive and hopefully with your sense of humour intact.

However, when you stack a lot of tough days and tough moments on top of each other, the difficulty morphs into a grinding kind of pain that is probably better described as suffering. You may be nodding right now because you understand. Sometimes life is like that, ADHD struggles or no.

I don’t know how many moments or days it takes to put my heart into a state of solemn grief, but I know I have found myself in that state more times than I would ever have expected when I jumped into parenting. Sometimes it feels like if it’s not one thing it’s another, and we sometimes move from challenge to challenge without much in the way of respite. Maybe a good comparison is to imagine the struggle it is to deal with an acute illness vs. a chronic one.

Don’t get me wrong, there are those glorious times we get in a happy groove and all is well, but a change in routine, or something unidentifiable sets him off in a restless or crazy or contrary or grumpy mood, and those days or weeks can be really wearing. And you know how it is, when you’re in a rough patch, it’s hard to remember how much time has spent in good patches, and vice versa too! (How many times, when I’ve been sick, have I been like, “I can’t remember what it feels like to be well!!” haha)

One of the many treasures we have gleaned over the years of parenting has been perspective. We don’t panic so hard when nonsense is afoot, we don’t despair or devolve into negative thinking and bad-reactions so quickly (ok, but we sometimes do), we know we will get through, that the stage will pass, and that catastrophizing has never once helped us; it’s only ever entrenched our minds in negative circular thinking!

So we have learned to reign in our thoughts and remember that we have come through many hard things, and we’ve seen such growth, and we’ve seen such progress in our incredible, brilliant, tenacious, spirited child, and we ourselves have grown deeper and more substantial as people. We have learned and developed handles, mantras, rules, systems – ways of thinking and being and coping that are really life-giving and functional for us. We have clarified our family identity and the ideologies that undergird it, we see our son more clearly and lovingly and have struggled and suffered our way into deep relationship and deep love and solidarity with our precious kid. And we’ve experienced God’s faithfulness in both presence and provision. Priceless treasure indeed.

The process is hard, but we are all being transformed. So yeah, sometimes parenting my child feels like climbing a mountain, but there is rarely a time when – if I take the time to look – the view isn’t magnificent.

He is magnificent.

A quote for instagram

If you found this encouraging and would like to hear more about our journey with ADHD (among other things related to homemaking creatively and thoughtfully!), please sign up for our email list ➡️➡️➡️. Or drop me a line on our contact sheet.

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