The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Month: August 2016

Family life with ADHD: Stash those labels.

Labels — we all use them sometimes, even though most of us know we shouldn’t. Parenting has taught me to use labels intentionally and sparingly. My favorite books caution against labels, both in the positive (“you’re such a good girl”) and the negative (“you’re a troublemaker”).

Labels tell us how we fit in.

The labels we give our children become the language they use to define themselves. Parenting expert Vicki Hoefle writes in Duct Tape Parenting, “your child is answering one question over and over again: ‘In my family I am the child who…'”

ADHD labelsFor those of us with ADHD, the end of that sentence was (or is) often negative. I can trace most of my childhood labels back to my undiagnosed ADHD: oversensitive. Inconsiderate. Selfish. Vain. Ingrate. Argumentative. Rude. Lazy.

Even positive labels, like “smart,” came with baggage. For a girl with ADHD, “smart” often means “you’re too smart for this.” This being missed homework, a bad grade, or a lower-level class. “Smart” also implies potential. It sets expectations for your life and career path.

As a kid, I sometimes took on these labels — “it’s true, only a selfish person would’ve done that” — and sometimes fought against them. I wanted to view myself as a caring, sensitive, quiet person. I never wanted to make people angry. And yet, I felt like the outside world saw me as selfish, aloof, and melodramatic. I didn’t like that person. I barely even recognized her. I longed to show everyone the “real me.”

ADHD inspires labels that belie our true intentions.

As a young, newly married adult, I still suffered with untreated ADHD. I felt desperate — and yet unable — to disprove the labels still haunting my life. In a long-ago conversation argument about household responsibilities, my husband uttered the phrase, “lazy is as lazy does.” I wrote it down, along with many other labels, in an attempt to sort through my feelings. Deep inside, I knew who I was, but I couldn’t show it.

I eventually sought help for my ADHD. (Side note: My husband, who was pre-diagnosis himself, would never say something like that today.)

And, just like that, we can evolve. It’s never too late to shed damaging labels and redefine ourselves. Change begins with a commitment to build each other up rather than tear each other down.

ADHD labels pull quote

Resisting labels while appreciating the little stuff.

These days, we shy away from labels in our home. In their parenting classic How to Talk So Kids Will Listen…and Listen So Kids Will Talk, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish point out the dangers of even the best-sounding labels: “you can take away ‘good boy’ by calling him ‘bad boy’ the next day.” As a child — and later an adult — with ADHD, I learned to eye each personal victory with suspicion, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

That’s why I refuse to trade my negative labels for positive ones. I get no pleasure from hearing “you’re a hard worker,” “you’re so organized,” or “I can’t imagine you losing your temper.” On the bad days, positive labels only serve to hone my sense of loss and failure.

Instead, our family works day to day, praising and appreciating each other for the specific — the nitty-gritty. Somewhere around age two, our son went through a hitting phase. When he got angry and didn’t hit, I’d tell him, “you were so angry, I know you wanted to hit me, but you didn’t. You went upstairs to calm down instead.” When my husband — often at work very late — is home in the evening, I tell him, “I’m glad you’re here.”

This is especially critical for areas where we struggle. Specific praise and appreciation lets people know we see them. We see them doing their best, and we notice their small victories. When this is what defines us, rather than “unreliable,” “late,” or “hot-headed,” we access our power to do better.

What labels do you find yourself using in your family? What labels did your parents use with you? How do labels affect the way you view yourself and those around you?

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The internet: ADHD’s friend and foe

When I get overwhelmed, the internet’s the first thing to go. That’s why my social media feeds are either hopping or silent. But the the internet, huge burden and distraction that it is, can also help me on my ADHD journey.

It’s complicated. On one hand, the internet — and social media in particular — keeps me connected to friends and family. It provides me with a community of like-minded ADHD advocates — a safe space to learn and to vent. At the same time, it’s easy to overstretch, to get distracted, to sink too much time into things that shouldn’t be a priority.

I found myself wondering recently: why do I assume my time for online activities is unlimited? Because I don’t need to get in my car and drive to the internet? Because Read Instagram feeds (personal and professional) isn’t something I block out on my calendar? Each new thing requires time and attention to feel like I’m keeping up.

For a while, I thought my ADHD was incompatible with social media. I took six months away from Facebook, with overwhelmingly positive results.

I wanted to stay away, but that didn’t feel right, either.  I have family and friends all over the country and the world. Exiting social media felt like a decision for them, too: in downgrading my internet use, I was downgrading my relationship with them. My ADHD Homestead Facebook page reaches thousands of people. A few of those people have written to thank me for making a difference in their lives. I participate in a small, private ADHD discussion group, and I want to keep up with the friends I’ve made there, too.

As much as I’d love to quit it all and throw away my smart phone sometimes, it makes more sense to treat online activities with the same respect I treat real-life ones. This year, I made a promise to myself to say no to any new evening commitments. I’ve been decluttering my schedule and reminding myself that my time is limited and valuable. If I say yes to everything, I shortchange everyone.

Likewise, I need to stop clicking “join” on every group that looks like it might be up my alley. If a social media app isn’t contributing value to my life and relationships, I need to delete it. Even if a Facebook group or a Coursera class doesn’t show up on my calendar or my doorstep, it requires time and mental energy.

The whole world can fit inside our computer or smart phone. It can’t fit inside our brains or our days. We can’t see or touch social media, not really, but a lack of intention around its use can deplete our most precious resources. The distinction between our online lives and “real lives” grows fuzzier by the day.

How do you balance the internet’s powers of good (connection) and evil (distraction)? Have you had to quit anything to reclaim your focus?

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