Dear Cathi –
Later in life (when I was in college) I learned that I had ADHD. While I was growing up, I had many struggles with my father. He was a strict authoritarian and it was “his way or the highway”. I never felt he understood me and knew he was constantly disappointed in me. I’ve spent many years since wishing we had a close relationship and feeling sad about the whole thing.
Now, I’m a dad who has an 8-year-old son with ADHD. Even though I know better, I’ve found myself parenting my son in the same authoritarian way. It’s like I can’t help it — I seem to be hard wired this way. Of course, it’s been a recipe for disaster and has really put a strain on my son’s relationship with me, as well as with our entire family. I don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past and have my son grow up resenting me. I want to build a father son bond that’s positive, and that lasts.
I’m frustrated and disappointed in him, but mostly I’m angry with myself. I want to change the way I am with him, but I don’t know how.
I have no doubt that your situation is complicated and frustrating.The good news is that because you’re aware there’s a problem that needs repair, you’re already one step ahead of the game. Since you’ve experienced (and still do) some of the same symptoms your son is dealing with, you are in a unique position to relate to his challenges. On the flip side though, you likely sometimes find yourself responding to him impulsively and with a lot of emotion. You may find yourself misinterpreting his social signals and assuming his behavior is purposely oppositional rather non intentional.
You can’t escape the fact that your feelings towards your son are colored by how you were treated by your father. But with conscious intention and practice, you can undo the beliefs and attitudes you developed about yourself growing up and the temptation to rule with an iron fist like your dad did. Try tuning into what you needed as a kid and didn’t get: A calm, reasoned approach? Understanding and empathy? Encouragement and support? An admission of mistakes?
Kids tend to see themselves as others see them, particularly their parents.If they’re given the message that they’re “bad” or “worthless”, they believe it. Remember that your connection with your son is ultimately more important than his academic productivity, whether or not his room is always clean or his chores complete or he has an outburst in a public place. Age-appropriate communication is key. Let him know that you’re both learning what it means to live with ADHD and how to take care of relationships that mean the most to you.