Step-Parenting a Child With AD/HD, ODD
So. You found your soul mate. Everything is sunshine and roses. Your search is finally over.
You are the single parent of a child with AD/HD, ODD.
Over the last several months, or years, depending on how long you and your prospective mate have been dating, you have confided everything. Every suspension, every argument, every upset.
After all, how are you supposed to build a lasting relationship without making sure he or she is prepared?
Easier said than done...
I once asked an AD/HD counselor (who counselled parents,) what his views were on starting a new relationship, and he laughed. He said it might be easier to wait the seven or eight years it would take for the child to grow up and move out before embarking on the relationship.
At the time, I thought that was a little extreme, but still fairly good advice, as my situation was still very stressful. I also thought that as long as I totally prepared my prospective mate, that he would be able to provide the positive role model I knew would help my son.
Given the fact that I was in no way ready to cohabit with anyone for quite a few years, I was fairly certain that I could accomplish this without overwhelming him to the point that he ran screaming into the night!
Off to a great start
Over the next few of years, I shared everything related to my son's development. Every success and set back, every hoop I had to jump through to get assistance and every small step my son took toward independence. The daily arguments, phone calls from the school, counselor appointments, specialist appointments and weekend visits with my son's father, were all mentioned, dissected and discussed in depth.
Finally I felt that I had someone in my corner who applauded my efforts, supported me and motivated me to do my best. Someone who used the plural "we" when discussing my son's future.
Then in we moved in together.
Winds of change
The summer passed quickly. It was an adjustment period, and everything seemed to be going well. There were the occasional flare-ups associated with co-habituation with a new family member, but I had, I thought, prepared both of them for our new life as a family.
That ended when school started and the phone calls began.
The year that followed was rife with discord, upset, blow-ups, tantrums and tears.
Seeking a balance
Despite good intentions, intestinal fortitude, full disclosure and many, many warnings, my son's new step-father was not prepared for the daily manifestations of ADHD/ODD. Nor was he ready to render constant reminders, chastisements and consequences.
Even though he had been told many times, and had witnessed, to a certain extent, what it was like to live with a child with these disabilities, he still harbored the idea that once the child had been disciplined for a certain action, that action would no longer recur, or if it did happen again, it would be short lived. Unfortunately, that is not what happens with a child with AD/HD.
Unless you have lived with the symptoms and effects of ADHD/ODD, literally nothing can prepare you for it. Imagine waking up the morning after a particularly difficult day and having the love of your life suddenly tell you that he can't stand your kid. Now what do you do?
Two of the challenges step-parents have when trying to parent children with AD/HD, ODD are not 'understanding and acceptance', they are; separating the disabilities from 'normal' behavior and the stress of constant repetition. Even though step-parents understand there are disabilities and limitations, and accept those facts, it is difficult and frustrating for them to keep repeating lessons or consequences over and over and over.
I am not saying this is not frustrating for birth parents as well, but step parents don't have the same bonds of responsibility. Their bond is forged through the birth parent, and the constant repetition, coupled with little or no immediate response is a continual and seemingly unending source of stress.
This brings me to the very important challenge of support. The birth parent is now, at least partially, supported by their companion, but who supports the step parent? Your automatic answer would be the birth parent, as that would be the logical conclusion.
However, it is extremely difficult for the step parent to express their feelings of frustration to their companion without repercussions and hurt feelings. These discussions can sometimes cause more harm than good. You need a solid relationship with open communication where both of you are 'on the same page' regarding discipline and consequences, before you can broach this type of discussion without either one of you feeling as if it is a personal attack.
Which brings me back to the question of who supports the step parent.
Who do they talk to when they feel overwhelmed and disheartened?
Who do they turn to when they are fed up and frustrated with your 'recently-turned-teenager', who feels he deserves a new game system, yet balks at picking up the bathmat and runs around the house making gun noises?
Who listens when they confide their misgivings about the child's estranged parent who periodically sweeps into the picture and turns everything upside down?
Venting is required.
However, the step-parent cannot always vent to their spouse - that just adds more stress to the relationship and creates discord within the family unit. Friends and family outside of their relationship have little to no understanding and comprehension, so they cannot offer anything aside from a 'friendly ear'.
Which again, brings me back to the original question...
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ADHD Coach Jacqueline Sinfield works with ADHD Adults. She is author of the ADHD Book Untapped Brilliance How to Reach your Full Potential as an Adult with ADHD
- One Small Step for Parents
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CHADD, Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, is a non-profit, membership organization that provides resources, the latest research, and management information on the disorder.
I'm sure there are many step parents who question why they have taken on their present circumstances. Many probably had no idea exactly what they were in for, and others thought themselves well prepared to take up the challenge.
Regardless of which it is, every one of them is striving to do their best in a challenging situation. The added stress of parenting a special needs child can, at times, be overwhelming, especially when there are no definitive answers available.
Support groups are hard to find and Community Support is overtaxed, with overflowing waiting lists. Parenting groups specific to your needs are limited and generally require referrals to join. It seems like you are adrift in a sea of information with little hope of being rescued.
There is hope out there. You just have to devise a paddle to steer your canoe. You need to learn to navigate by the stars if necessary - whatever it takes to get your voice heard and your needs met. Don't take any one professional's negative answer to the question of support as the final word. Keep searching - you will find the help you need.
And above all, remember that you are in this thing as a team. Without teamwork, whatever plans you have for a successful future will be all that much harder to achieve. ...And let's face it, you already have enough on your plate.
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