The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Month: May 2016

Chores, gender norms, & ADHD

ADHD sabotages marriage relationships on (at least) two fronts: the emotional and the practical. One can precede or exacerbate the other. Sharing domestic responsibilities is far from mundane. When we feel unsupported — or worse, cut off at the knees — by a partner, our relationship can drift toward a parent-child dynamic. Not good news for emotional intimacy.

Partners of people with ADHD often complain about division of labor in the home, but it needn’t remain a sticking point. It’s easy to restrict ourselves to two options: continue to nag and get angry, or do it all on our own. Our ADHD household has taken the road less traveled. The house stays relatively clean, most urgent maintenance is addressed in a timely manner, and the bills get paid. Sometimes friends look at me funny, and one fellow at-home parent even told me, “I’d never put up with that [behavior].” But it’s not about “putting up” with anything. We’ve figured out what works for us, and we’re doing it.

If you’re struggling to maintain domestic peace and basic sanitation, you’re not doomed. You just need to figure out what works for your family. This often requires us to reject gender norms and other meaningless expectations. We need to experiment, be realistic, and find our ADHD superpowers.

Chores, gender norms,and #AdultADHD

What’s your ADHD superpower?

ADHD superpowers aren’t gifts. ADHD doesn’t make us special or superior. In his book, I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not, Dr. Wes Crenshaw describes superpowers as places we depart from the diagnostic criteria. For example, ADHD’ers are stereotypically terrible with money. I’m not. I could write a series of posts about finances, and maybe I will someday, but for now, know this: no matter how small my paychecks, I’ve never been broke. ADHD has crippled me in other areas, but not my bank account. ADHD superpowers are more like dodged bullets than gifts.

At home, this means my husband and I — both ADHD’ers, but very different people — break down responsibilities by strengths, not tradition. His perfectionism and hyperfocus — sometimes a terrible Achilles heel — makes him a great fit for jobs that require a fine touch. My ADHD makes me the bull in the china shop. That same hyperfocus makes my husband completely time-blind. If something needs to happen at a specific time, it’s my job: taking out the trash, verifying bills are paid on time, mowing the lawn. I rarely force myself to do nit-picky jobs, but if I get him started, my husband can’t put them down until they’re done. He won’t vacuum without moving all the furniture, and he’ll spend an entire day tracking down an error in our accounting ledger.

You may have noticed, I end up with many of the “man” jobs. I need physical activity to function, and my body type makes me the muscle of our small operation. My husband is the engineer. He’s the person reminding me to slow down and make sure the job is done right. Dividing tasks along gender lines feels arbitrary at best, intensely frustrating and counterproductive at worst. Why set each other up for failure? Why not let everyone have the job they want? Both failure and success have inertia, dragging us toward learned helplessness or self-efficacy. We choose the latter, even if people look askance at a woman mowing the lawn.

Experimentation is key.

Our household may be up and running now, but we learned most things the hard way. For example, we began with my husband managing our online bill-pay accounts. He insisted mailing payments was antiquated and silly, but since it worked for me, I told him, “you want a new system, you set it up.” He did. We stopped getting bills in the mail because he got them via email. Would you guess that someone with ADHD can both forget to log into his bank’s bill-pay system and get behind on his email inbox?

These snags are best dealt with calmly, without finger-pointing. If your ADHD partner lets the grass grow knee-high or forgets to pay the electric bill, he knows it’s a problem (even if he won’t admit it). She feels bad about it (even if she won’t admit it, or even blames you). When we hit a snag, I try to remember it’s a clue to a puzzle we need to solve. Yelling at your spouse, expressing disappointment and shame, or telling her she needs to act like a responsible adult only damages the relationship.

May all expectations be realistic…

Above all, an ADHD household needs realistic expectations. This doesn’t mean resigning ourselves to a lower standard of living. It means being realistic about which responsibilities our partners can take on and how they’ll get the job done. Forcing a square peg through a round hole is a recipe for argument, resentment, and less stuff getting done. What works for me rarely works for my husband, and vice versa. Rather than dwell on the downsides, we use our strengths to fill in for each other’s weaknesses. My husband may never take the trash or recycling out on the correct day, but it’s all good. When I encounter a problem in the house and think, “I can’t even imagine dealing with that,” he’s my man.

Do you or your partner have ADHD? How do you manage household chores? Do you feel like you’ve hit your stride, or are you still looking for a solution?

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Taking a u-turn away from the Big Adventure

Something amazing happened the other day. I turned my car around.

Not as in a three-point turn, which I’ve known how to do since I was 16. I turned around after I’d gone out for a Big Adventure. Unlike a three-point turn, I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.

U-TURNSwept away by Big Adventures

A little background: this week contained four writing deadlines, three of which I’d underprepared for. My husband was home and had taken our son for the day. I had a few hours of unencumbered productive time.

As I write this, I now see the obvious ‘and’: “and I didn’t think twice about using that time to write!” If you have ADHD, or if you live with someone does, you already know the story isn’t going there.

I seized the moment and thought, “now is my chance to buy dirt for the garden!” I filled my water bottle, threw some snacks in my bag, and prepared for a Big Adventure. Of course I’d decided there was only one place I could buy dirt. It was a solid 45-minute drive from home (hence why a kid-free day seemed perfect for the errand). I was pleased that I had all the time in the world and could finally stop at the gas station. My fuel light had been on for a day or two. I looked forward to a full gas tank and a dirt-filled car, and I hoped I wouldn’t be home too late for lunch.

As I started the car and scrolled through my Pandora stations, seeking the perfect soundtrack for my Big Adventure, I started to feel uneasy. I used to love the sparkly excitement that preceded Big Adventures. They broke up the drudgery and made the whole world seem like a brighter place. For an afternoon, I could leave my messes behind, roll down my car window, turn up the music, and get something done. Maybe it’d even be useful, like when I framed those pretty lithographs to hang over the couch. But then I got older. As I got older, I started getting tired.

Need to do vs. need to do now

Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s these new meds, maybe it’s my daily yoga practice. Something’s different. I’ve stopped falling in love with life on Big Adventures and I’ve started getting tired. Tired of throwing caution to the wind and returning to tighter deadlines or a messy house. Tired of starting yet another project I’ll have trouble finishing. Tired of being swept away on a wave of excitement.

I pulled away from the curb, keenly aware of an unfamiliar feeling in my gut: something was saying, “no.” Thanks to age, meds, yoga, or all three, I did something crazy. I listened, even though it meant aborting a mission in progress. It meant breaking the ADHD Code and unlatching my hyperfocus.

Yet once I thought it, I couldn’t unthink it: yes, the garden needed more dirt, but today? Now? At the cost of 90-plus minutes in the car? When I could be working on my four(!) writing deadlines? Surely, I could purchase dirt somewhere else if I needed to. Maybe over the weekend, once I’d completed my work. I decided to put gas in the car and return home to write.

In our household, we sometimes use the fact that something “needed to be done” as an excuse. An excuse for doing it the long way, at the wrong time, and/or instead of being there for one another. That’s because ADHD impairs our ability to direct our attention. There’s no deficit of attention in our home, we just have trouble taming it. We fail to differentiate between what needs to be done Right Now and what simply needs to be done. There is a difference.

Sometimes the u-turn is the biggest victory

My u-turn was almost sabotaged by the gas station around the corner, which displayed a huge sign reading “pumps out of order” when I arrived. Again, if you have ADHD, or if you live with someone who does, you may know what comes next.

I was out to get gas, right? A vision flashed through my mind: I was driving toward the next-nearest gas station when I thought, what if another station has cheaper gas? Maybe I’ll go to the one with a car wash. No, I don’t like that car wash, maybe I’ll head over to Remington and hit the Wash Works. I wonder what gas stations are over there?

I turned around and drove home. With my fuel light still on. Five minutes after pulling away from the curb, I walked back into my house. I made myself an iced coffee and walked upstairs to my office. Then I sat down to write.

These were uncharted waters. I’d never said no after reaching out and touching the Big Adventure. And yet, I felt a deeper, more satisfying thrill this time. It was the thrill of the u-turn.

It’s taken me nearly three decades to get here. Maybe the u-turn is a skill that comes with practice. Maybe I’ll be more choosy about my Big Adventures in the future. Who knows. Only one thing is certain: that u-turn felt like a huge victory, and I hope it’s not the last.

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