Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Managing Unhappiness

guest blog by Marie S. Paxson

Can you be the parent of a child with ADHD and still be happy?

Meeting attendance doubled when our CHADD chapter presented this topic. Ironically, without the coordinator’s expert leadership, it could have become one of our gloomiest meetings.

You may be surprised to learn that managing unhappiness is one of the keys to increasing happiness. As the parent of two young adults with ADHD, some of the lessons I’ve learned and insights I’ve gained about managing unhappiness may be helpful for you.

•    During difficult times, is aiming for happiness even realistic? Some things are just sad or upsetting. Learning to stay in uncomfortable moments is not instinctive. It was much easier to go to my favorite vices, like distracting myself by meddling, uninvited, into other people’s business. I had to learn techniques to “sit with the sadness.”

•    If you are in a truly miserable situation, learn about and practice radical self-care. You may want to tackle a problem immediately, but it is better to stabilize yourself before taking part in tough decisions or difficult conversations.

•    Connect with others in a similar situation. You will probably have to look outside your circle of friends who are raising neurotypical children. Having understanding and supportive friends provides many benefits. Make this a priority. One Mother’s Day, my best friend and I didn’t like how our teens were treating us. So, we went to a local restaurant for brunch together. Yes, it was odd being surrounded by happy moms and grandmoms receiving flowers and adulation from their families. But since that was not our experience, we celebrated our ability to rise above it all. Jill and I ended up giggling and feeling so grateful we could count on each other. (We met at a CHADD meeting, by the way.)

•    Adjust your expectations. I like the saying “Don’t go to the hardware store for a loaf of bread.” This means having reasonable expectations and not expecting actions that are beyond our children’s current capabilities. If our children will struggle with forgetfulness, lack of focus, or impulsive behavior, why do we get annoyed when they display these traits? Recognizing that they are a work in progress provides perspective. Realizing that they pay a bigger price than we do for their difficulties invites compassion.

•    Avoid braggy parents who have “perfect” children. You are NEVER stuck with these folks; you have choices. In their company, fake a lost phone or stomach distress. Get away from them as soon as you can. Sometimes braggers do this because they miscalculate their audience. Sometimes they are taking credit for their child’s accomplishments. Sometimes they are lying. The reasons don't matter. Just like baseball players don't swing the bat at every pitch, you don't have to listen to every story they share about their fabulous children.

As you add more happiness to your life, you will develop greater tolerance and may even appreciate other children’s accomplishments. But if you aren’t there yet, don’t make yourself miserable… RUN. As you are running, send the bragger a warm (not smug) thought. Sooner or later, all children make disappointing decisions and these parents do not have the coping skills or resilience that you have acquired.

•    Don’t overdo the parental sacrificing. All parents give up time, energy, and money. If you feel resentful about missing a favorite aspect of your life, that is a sign that you have scaled back too much.

Next Week: Becoming Happier

A longer version of this post appears in the April 2015 issue of Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!
Join conversations about parenting kids with ADHD on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!

Marie S. Paxson chairs the editorial advisory board of Attention magazine. A former member of the organization’s national board of directors, she is a past president of CHADD.

1 comment:

  1. I disagree that "that they (i.e., the children) pay a bigger price than we do for their difficulties". It's parents of children who have the greatest struggles: financially, socially, even with self-esteem issues. Sure, there is help available to parents who struggle, when all is said and done, resources have limits (including time and money) and the child's needs take priority. The impact of this is not felt full force during the first few years at school, when parents, teachers, and therapists are focused on making plans but by year 5 or 6,if things aren't markedly better, the toll on parents' emotional and financial lives can be enormous.