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Step-Parenting a Child With AD/HD, ODD

Updated on September 10, 2015
Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb is a Community Support Social Service Worker, published author, jewelry designer and single mother extraordinaire.

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New Beginnings

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.

Full disclosure.

After all, how are you supposed to build a lasting relationship without making sure he or she is prepared?

Easier said than done...

Full Disclosure

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...


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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    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      6 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      My goodness, thank you so much Dorsi! We have only been together for a couple of years (under the same roof,) and it can be quite a trial most days. It's very hard to handle the stresses of working, then coming home to an argumentative, oppositional teen! I'm fairly used to it (not liking it much, but used to it, but my b/f isn't...that is where we have challenges lol)

    • Dorsi profile image

      Dorsi Diaz 

      6 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

      Oh my my my Enelle. Can I EVER RELATE to this hub. My sons were 2 and 3 when I met my husband (second marriage) and we got married within months. 2 years later found out both my sons had ADHD (I knew something was wrong early on just didn't know what) THEN found out his son (9) also had ADHD (he lived with us too)

      Needless to say, absolute chaos ensued. Yes we are still married (23 years) unbelievably. Still trying to repair broken relationships and hurt feelings though.

      So how are you and your family now? Are you still trying to work things out?

      Tweeted, FB'd, pinned and plussed!!

    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      6 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Me too, vespawoolf, me too! Thanks so much for the support and comments!

    • vespawoolf profile image


      6 years ago from Peru, South America

      I have nothing but admiration for parents raising ADHD children. My brother has ADHD and at the time he was diagnosed, not much was known about the disorder. Thank you for writing this. I hope it can help and comfort those families struggling with similar circumstances.

    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      6 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Thanks RedElf, there are so many different views, sometimes it's hard to please everyone!

    • RedElf profile image


      6 years ago from Canada

      Another wonderful article about real people with real problems. I so admire the way you field the comments - you have such a wide range to address.

    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      6 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Stress could be a part of it, especially when the child is ADHD, and could cause a manifestation of defiance. ODD on the other hand is a 'whole other ball of wax'.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great info. I can see where the two could be related because stress can cause a spectrum of symptoms and I believe that often it is outside stress that leads kids to display these types of symptoms.When I'm under a lot of stress I find myself experiencing more and more symptoms of ADHD. Thanks so much!

    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      6 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Hi zzron, I agree! Thanks for stopping by :D

      learnlovelive, I also rarely see a manifestation of ODD with ADHD kids, however, it does exist, is nothing like defiance exhibited by ADHD individuals, and can manifest with any of the disabilities under the autism umbrella, including ADHD.

      You are very welcome angela. I understand what you mentioned about the relationship and age. Twelve is a tough year, but you can weather through it. ;)

      Seeker7, thank you for the vote :D I'm glad you found the hub interesting, (and hopefully useful!) Thanks for the great comment!

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 

      6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      This is an excellent hub and I think this will be useful and interesting to anyone who is going through or has gone through the same kind of experience. Voted up!

    • angela p profile image

      angela p 

      6 years ago from Richmond, Virginia

      I just want to say thank you for writing this. I am going through and have been going through the exact same thing since I remarried 4 years ago. The stepson stepfather relationship in our house is stressed and sometimes nonexistent. I know it is stressful for my husband to deal with my son but I just wish he would try a little harder to understand him and participate. I think he gets so frustrated that he walks away because its easier. Not sure. My son is ADHD/ODD with symptoms of bipolar. I feel like my son and I are alone in this journey most times. And even I lose my will to keep on pushing through it. He is 12 now and things are getting worse and worse with attitude and cooperation. I think age has a lot to do with it in addition to his ADHD. I could relate 100% to your hub and encourage you to keep writing about it. I have written a few articles on our journey as a way to help me get some of it off my chest and cope. Thanks again and be strong!

    • learnlovelive profile image


      6 years ago from U.S.

      They tried to tell me I was ADHD/ODD. It's not so. Was diagnosed by U of M by age 5. However, I'm not oppositional; I have ADHD, certainly...and it is true, yes, that I enjoy pursuing my own initiatives. On top of that, I'm left handed which makes me 80% more likely to be right-brained. If you know anything about the right brain you will know that it's not linear, it's creative and spontaneous. Having such a unique personality may have been complimentary of the ADHD or the result of various compounding effects: environmental, social, and psychological.

      The ADHD individual has the opportunity to witness and display thought much differently than the standard individual does. The mind of an ADHD individual is comparable to a ball of rubber bands; each band serves as an individual thought loop but there are hundreds of these loops compacted and formed together into a congruent (but not often cohesive - especially for the young ones) ball of energy: the mind.

      ADHD is a glimpse into the mind of genius. A glimpse into what it's like to have an overactive mind, a mind too powerful to harness properly, sometimes. Symptoms of "classic ODD," may present themselves, but only as an expression of underlying ADHD. Kids get frustrated with their cognitive difficulties, they are just kids and don't understand things the way that a mature, developed individual might. Frustrated kids with overactive minds and overbearing adults, sounds like a recipe for early-on psychosis. Already feeling out of control in your own mind and all the sudden every adult is rushing you claiming you're a freak....before you know it, the ADHD kid becomes a stereotype and you've lost your chance at connecting with them and helping them to hone their mind.

      Defiance is provoked within the ADHD kid, it's just in the nature of the individual, dissension into their own world when feeling threatened. But there is such a HUGE difference between defiance and kids just wanting to be their own person when the world is trying to cast them in some giant confusing paradigm. True ODD isn't provoked, it's a sociopathic disorder. To be defiant without any cause other than to satisfy some intrinsic desire to be difficult and cause problems. ODD is the stuff of patsy rebels and unfounded malice; I just don't see that much in ADHD individuals - they are too smart for that. Why do you think that most people level out with their symptoms as they get older? Because they learn to cope or to dumb themselves down in such a way that they can perform amongst the general collective...if they don't inevitably give into being a victim, they'll likely keep growing, learning, and continue on to to be extraordinary and successful individuals.

      Kids just want to be kids. ADHD kids...they can barely handle being a kid most of time - the pressures of trying to deal with and overcome an overactive mind can be so taxing - especially to the untrained individual. That doesn't even include extraneous pressures. These kids still have still have personal directives and even if they don't understand where these feelings come from, their defiance is only a quest for individuality.

      These kids are so wonderful, so exquisite - and they have been marginalized by the school system and this view has been maintained by society - ADHD/"ODD" - outcast as black sheep. "Oh, Johnny can't stay in his seat at school and wants to build with blocks all day...he gets frustrated and irritable; even defiant, when asked to go back to his seat". Instead, the "grown-up's" often treat this as a case of defiance rather than it simply being an inquisitive child.

      Can't marginalize the rest of the group. All the average kids would feel slighted if Johnny got to play with blocks and took on an IEP without going into special education (for having an emotional/social disorder). The other kids will just follow suit, they'll be complacent and do as teacher asks...but they don't care, most of them. They are appeasers. Johnny is the real deal. He wants to be an engineer and doesn't have time for the rest of the group. He wants to be learning, playing, growing, and is getting excited to just think about this. The other kids are trying to learn basic math and study so they can be accountants or cashiers. Maybe some of them will become doctors, lawyers, engineers, but none of them with the zeal that Johnny has. Johnny was born a genius, born an intellectual, born to succeed; to create; to lead and decide.

      People are afraid of this. People think it's no normal for kids to be so ambitious, about anything. There is just so much of a lackluster understanding of the ADHD mind. The general collective is still victimizing the ADHD individual instead of victimizing themselves; though the ADHD individual does have to learn to cope with a faster-paced intellect, they are predisposed for success and primed to be inquisitive. There is no limit to the imagination of the ADHD individual and this shocks people. Average people aren't exactly the most forthcoming or ambitious people, they are just used to the paradigm, used to trying to scrape on by. ADHD individual doesn't care, they see it differently. There are no boundaries.

      It's not ODD: it's misconstrued inquisition and the result of thwarted desires.

      ADHD is a real condition but I'm not so sure that the "ODD," which it is so often associated with ADHD - is. It could likely be a real disorder but not in ADHD individuals. I think it's just a title that pissed off parents and adults give to misunderstood kids who happen to also be overactive - it makes sense, perfect scapegoat. But it's a marginal and biased approach. These are just kids, they couldn't stand up for themselves if they knew how; the adults wouldn't believe them, listen, or care.

    • zzron profile image


      6 years ago from Houston, TX.

      This was very interesting and informative thank you for sharing your story and advised. There are many things that should be considered when starting a new relationship. Communication and honesty is the best policy for a successful relationship.


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