I remember asking my oldest son awhile ago, “What do you remember about me when you were young?”
He replied, “I remember you yelling at dad a lot and getting angry with me.”
Ouch. I wish I wouldn’t have asked.
I am a parent diagnosed with ADHD. Both my boys have been diagnosed with it as well.
ADHD basically is poor attention skills, an inability to control impulses, and hyperactivity (in some cases). Symptoms of ADHD can include, missing information and directions (me), misplacing things (me), struggling to stay focused (me), and lack of regulation (also me… as reminded by my son in my early years of parenting)
What most don’t realize about ADHD is that it is a development issue, not a behaviour problem. Yes it is passed down through genetics, but it is not “caused” by genes either. The environment a child grows up in shapes personality. Genes and environment together shape what we see in ADHD.
Let’s talk about environment for a moment. The first year of my life my mother was experiencing domestic violence. When I was just over one year of age, she fled her abusive husband. You could say the first year of my life was a stressful one.
The first year of my oldest son’s life wasn’t much better developmentally, even though I wasn’t in a traumatic situation such as domestic violence. I had just moved to a new city. I had lost the company I had worked hard on and now was stuck breastfeeding for what seemed like hours watching Home and Garden Channel. My husband had long working hours and even when he was home, I felt left to tend to our new baby alone. I was lonely and lost my purpose. I sank into a depression and was angry at my husband. I loved my baby boy and spent loads of quality time with him. I tended to him whenever he needed and made sure I smiled and sang to him, however, something important was missing. Something that I believe didn’t provide the right environment he needed.
Let me explain.
One of the hardest truths I’ve had to swallow in re-learning how to parent my boys is this: just because I love my child doesn’t mean they feel it the way I do. Unfortunately the way I dealt with my depression was to fully dive into my ADHD nature. I became distracted from my baby by taking on the goal of proving to myself and the world that I could be a new momma of 31 years of age and still look amazing. I became fixated with working out. When I wasn’t distracted with keeping up with the yummy mummy’s, I was doing all kinds of good: volunteering, planning and hosting meaningful events that was making a difference in everyone else’s life, except those in my home, ALL WHILE LOVING MY BOY more than words could express.
Unfortunately, children can sense parents distractions. They may not be able to communicate about it, they just feel it, no different than when we just know by feeling when someone isn’t really fully giving us their full attention.
Note the name again: Attention DEFICIT. A prefrontal cortex developmentally delayed because there was a deficit of attention.
Gabor Mate says, “You could call it ‘attunement deficit’ rather than attention deficit.’”
Before I continue, I want to make sure you’re not hearing what I’m NOT saying. I’m not saying that we parents are to BLAME for ADHD. First, that is not helpful. Secondly, that is not what’s being said here, so please continue reading even if this is uncomfortable.
What is attunment? It’s what infants need from their caregiver. It’s when they take in our eye contact, even the intensity of our look – is it peaceful? stressed? distracted? Attunment includes what we AREN’T saying with our words. What is mirrored to the infant through the eyes and body language. Emotionally sensitive children pick up senses and experience tension in the parents voice. My oldest son often says to me when I am speaking calm, “You may be speaking calm, but I’m sensing a tense vibe, mom.” How does he do that?!
“Psychological tension in the parents lives during the child’s infancy is a major and universal influence on the subsequent emergence of ADD” Gabor Mate from Scattered Minds; Origins of ADD. He believes the contributors to ADD are ultra sensitivity in children, marriage stress, stress, and distracted parenting inhibiting attunement.
I don’t know about you, but I just about gave up on parenting when I read that. I can’t tell you the despair I felt knowing that the first years of my son’s life were filled with me yelling at my husband because I felt abandoned by him, and me distracted with trying to escape from a life void of meaning. I felt pretty much every emotion you could feel after reading that; despair, but also anger. How dare someone put that much guilt on me. I’m only human after all! Can anyone really give their child a perfect environment to thrive? Then the shame came. Maybe I’m the only one not cut out for this. Maybe I’m the only one who’s ever completely wrecked their child.
At this point I feel it’s important to address these reactions with the following:
I have learned nothing is written in stone.
The brain is moldable through environment, which means everything I do to create a new environment in my home counts! And I’ve seen it first hand.
2. I can’t change the past, but I can look at it, make sense of it without guilt screaming in my face and I can take control of the one person who can see change happen: ME.
I can’t control my husband, or even my kids, but I can control me. I can take the steps necessary to work inside me health that I can then pour into my family.
3. I can share my story and realize I’m NOT the only one who has stumbled and failed through this parenting journey.
Together we can loose shame by listening empathetically to one another’s stories and encourage one another to be the parents we know we want to be.
4. I constantly remember that where my humanity fails me, God is there to cover and help.
This brings me hope.
Below I’ve included some tips for parents to be and parents of any age. If you are expecting, knowing this could do a world of good for your child. For those of us who have children with ADHD, this isn’t going to take their ADHD away, but it’s going to make a world of difference in not just managing their ADHD, but giving them a place where they can thrive.
Love your child, yes! But remember that they FEEL your love through creating a physically and emotionally safe environment.
Are you distracted? Does your child sense that? Be sure to connect with your child in a meaningful way every day where they FEEL your connection through your voice, eye contact, and body language.
Guard the peace in your home with everything you’ve got. Do whatever it takes to not buy into or find yourself in a stressful lifestyle. Busy isn’t doing our kids any good, and working so hard just so we can afford “stuff” is destroying the mental health of our children. When we’re stres sed, they’re stressed. More than ever, our children need environment that allow for quality connection with family in a calm environment where they find rest.
And most importantly, when you find yourself not “measuring up” with any of the above, remember there’s NO WAY anyone can get this perfect. Just pick yourself up, talk to a good friend who will encourage you, and go for it again.