“I FEEL LIKE A LOUSY PARENT”

It’s a recurring theme in our Forums – so many parents have shared this feeling.

“Even our doctor suggested our daughter might have ADHD, but we scoffed. Finally, after another round of tears, we looked into it.  The diagnosis and a holistic approach has made a huge difference. Now I feel awful for the three years of her suffering.”

“I watched this video and cried.  I recognized so many things that I do, that I think I may have passed on to my son who has been diagnosed with ADHD. I feel like I’ve cursed him.”

“It’s scary to think that everything that he has gone through is my fault.  I’ve always felt like such a lousy dad and this just about confirms it.”

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, the guilt and regret that erupts can be devastating.

 “I made my child suffer unnecessarily.”

“I gave them this devastating disorder.”

“I’m a terrible parent.”

Recently, a mother wrote a heartbreaking message of despair over the fact that she had ‘cursed’ her child.  Let’s call her Marie.

What follows is a slightly expanded version of what I told Marie and many other parents who are going through the turmoil of a child’s diagnosis.  It’s awful.   I know.

Dear Marie,

I suspect that every parent has experienced what you’re going through to some degree. 

We hope we’re doing the best for our kids.  Our intentions are good.  We’re doing the best we know how.  Unfortunately, there was something huge that you didn’t know–this invisible saboteur called ADHD.  

In fact, if you were a “bad parent” you wouldn’t be feeling miserable.  It wouldn’t bother you that your child is struggling. 

I recently said to my ADHD specialist, “I’m worried that I’m an narcissist.  Reading about it, I’m afraid it describes me, and I’ve been a jerk to people.”  To which he chuckled, “Yeah, you must be a narcissist because you don’t care what people think.”

Oh… Right.

The Emotional Tornado

When I was diagnosed, it took me a while to work through the anger – If only I’d known sooner!

And the sadness – All of that suffering and struggle I could have avoided.

And the regret – If only we had known, how much better could it have been for my child, myself, and my family?! 

As I began working through this tornado of emotions a loved one gave me a piece of advice that she had found powerful.  She told me, “You did the best you knew how.  But now that you know better, you can do better.”  She talked about the need to forgive and move forward.  

Easy for her to say!

Eventually, one day, as I was re-hashing it all yet again, flagellating myself yet again, “I’m a bad father! My child is damaged!…” I suddenly saw that these hours I was now spending suffering over the time and energy I’d wasted before I had the diagnosis, were yet more time that I was wasting. 

I was wallowing, and not without cause, spending time I could put to better use, helping my son, learning about ADHD, and getting my own symptoms under control.  

That’s when things shifted. 

I still sank into that grieving process at times, but far less often, and each time it healed a little more. 

What made the most difference, for me, was seeing my son and myself take on our ADHD, use tools, try out strategies, find things that worked for us, and begin to succeed. 

Where you are right now is normal. 

How could you not be upset right now?

It’s natural, and perhaps a universal response.  At first, it may even be helpful.

But at some point it’s not helpful.  Trust me, I know.

If you can, talk about the negative beliefs with someone who is not going to dismiss your feelings or tell you “Big deal. Get over it!” 

Or even worse, “I told you so!” 

I found that writing out my feelings, especially the darkest ones, the worst fears about his future and mine, actually helped a great deal.  It went from ‘an all-consuming tornado of anger, sadness, and regret’ to a long list of concerns.  Rereading those dark thoughts a few days later was startling.  “Wow, I’m a real Drama Queen!…  Or am I a Drama King?”

I imagined, “What if…”

I had a breakthrough. What if someone else had written this?  Or said this?  Then I imagined I was their best friend.  What would I tell them? 

I was suddenly able to offer kindness, compassion, and assure them, “It’s painful.  But it will pass.”  

Being as kind to myself as I was to others was liberating.  

It freed me from a mindset of suffering, shame, and regret.  Like hearing your voice on a tape recording or seeing yourself in a video, “OMG, is that me?”

Suddenly, the toxic thoughts that my ‘monkey mind’ was spewing sounded ridiculously negative and downright nasty.  (The Monkey Mind is what the Buddhists call that voice in our head that we mistakenly think is us.  It’s not us.  Who are we?  We are the ones who are listening to it.  And either believing that thought, or, saying, “Thanks for sharing.  But that’s not true.”)

Some Strategies Many People Swear By…

A lot of folks have found that journaling their thoughts, or talking with a friend,  joining a support group, sharing in our Forums, getting counselling, or especially learning as much as one can about what ADHD is and what it is NOT, may interrupt the tornado of awful thoughts, and allow them to move past the negative emotions, without suppressing or denying them. 

Having gone through this painful process myself, and then seeing how universal this is, I created a video called Now You Tell Me?! – The Emotional Tornado of the ADHD Diagnosis.  So many ADHD specialists and regular folks talk about this bitter mix of feelings that erupts as you learn about the diagnosis. 

You are not alone.  It’s a natural trap many of us fall into and there are ways to move past the negativity and on to relief and hope. 

Yes, Feelings Are Valid…

…but they aren’t always helpful. 

Our feelings are driven by our thoughts.  For example, if we think someone likes us, we’ll experience very different feelings than if we think they hate us. 

And if that someone is ourselves?… Well, that seems to be the universal human condition, whether you have ADHD or not.  No wonder the Buddhists say you will never totally silence that Monkey Mind, but you can learn to tune ‘turn down the volume.’

To me, the fact that you’re upset about all of this is a pretty good sign that you are in fact a good parent.  You care about your child, deeply. 

You did the best you knew how.  Luckily, with the diagnosis, you now know better.  So you can do better.  There is hope.  And there is so much that can be done.

I hope this helps. 

Best always,

Rick

If you want more information on parenting, children, and ADHD, I’d recommend our full-length videos  ADHD Goes to School and Parenting Kids with ADHD.

Also check out the list of books we have compiled for parents of ADHD children.

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One Reply to ““I FEEL LIKE A LOUSY PARENT””

  1. Excellent post! Thank you! I especially like your advice to write a list of “future fears” and “what if’s” and then read it like my best friend wrote it.

    How would I respond to him? With love and grace! How about I try that with myself, too!?!

    Thank you.

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