The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Tag: self-efficacy

How much should we help a spouse with ADHD?

Last week, I wrote about ADHD, failure, and resilience. The week before, I wrote about letting go of all my life’s could-have-beens.

But what about the person right beside us — our life’s co-pilot? What if we’re married to someone who has ADHD, too?

Living in a dual-ADHD marriage is complicated. Where does my success or failure stop, and my partner’s begin? Where do my responsibilities to myself stop, and my responsibilities to my family begin? How much of my self should I invest in lifting up another person?

A friend told me once, before I got married, that a marriage is like becoming 1.5 people. You never do anything truly alone. In many ways this is true: our fates are intertwined. We can’t (or at least shouldn’t) give up all of ourselves in service to another person, but neither can we afford to cut the rope and let them drown.

So how much should a partner’s ADHD feel like my problem? How much should I help, support, and rescue?

ADHD is different for everyone

Our family’s biggest blessing and biggest challenge is how different we are. My husband and I come from opposite ends of the ADHD spectrum. His Achilles’  heel is hyperfocus and time management. My focus is all over the place. On the bright side, I can’t stand being late. Rigid systems and lists repel him, whereas I’ve used them as a form of coping and self-soothing since my teens. I have no idea how to relax. He refuses to worry about anything until it’s critical. ADHD manifests differently for everyone. We’re a perfect illustration of this.

While differences allow us to support each other, we can’t let each other — or ourselves — off the hook. If adult responsibilities are divided too unevenly, a marriage can begin to feel like a parent-child relationship. I may be anxious and obsessively organized, but I shouldn’t do so much for my husband that he feels incompetent.

I also have to remember: my ADHD isn’t his ADHD. What feels right for me, may make little sense to him.

Life and marriage are different for everyone

I also have to think of my own sanity. ADHD expert Gina Pera often tells partners of people with ADHD, “put on your own oxygen mask first.” That often means finding a way to make peace with how things are right now. Regardless of how I’d like our team to operate, how can I make sure I write every day — right now? How can I practice yoga daily and go running three times per week? How can I keep others’ behavior from stressing me out? If I’m running myself ragged for someone, it’s not a healthy relationship. I help, I support, but I don’t sacrifice my self-care priorities.

Also, every marriage is unique. I’ve had many people, most of them pretty good friends, tell me things like “I don’t know how you do it” or “I could never put up with that.” What they mean is this: they couldn’t tolerate their spouse, in their marriage, rarely being around to help put their kids to bed. They wouldn’t want to be responsible for mowing the lawn or taking out the trash. For me, in my marriage, these things are tolerable. I enjoy mowing the lawn. Sometimes I ask my husband to take a few days off to stay with our son while I attend a writing conference or retreat. He supports me 100%. He’s never said no, and he’s never complained. As long as the equation balances for me, I try to ignore what may or may not work for anyone else.

ADHD symptoms, in priority order

If I’m asking myself how much I should help my ADHD partner, I have to consider if he even wants my help. How much of a problem is this for him? What are his priorities?

My own symptom-management priority has always been clear: to make sure I can comprehend and stick to a system for keeping myself organized. I can’t stand living in chaos.

On the other hand, I bet my husband would point to my temper. Also, my tendency to start new projects whenever I think of them, never mind the 10 projects I’ve already dragged him into. He’d probably say my ADHD can — when poorly managed — make me negative, inflexible, combative, and anxious.

Being an intolerable person is a problem, I get that. It’s just not as big a problem as failing to be productive.

It’s important to talk each other about what symptoms are bothering us most. Walking into an argument — or a well-intentioned attempt to help — assuming the other person ranks this problem the same way you do is a recipe for disaster.

Setting a spouse up for success

There’s also the issue of teaching a person with ADHD to fish, rather than giving them a free pass. My husband also has trouble coming up with productive ways to spend time with our preschooler on the weekends. He has things he wants to do, and he struggles with how to involve our son. I bought a few books with screen-free and science-y activities for young children. I bookmarked a handful of pages. Then I gave my husband a few pre-selected choices on a Saturday morning. He had no trouble picking one. He and R. went to the store for supplies, returned home, and made sensory “moon sand” in the kitchen.

I kept expectations reasonable. I didn’t berate him, nor did I hold his hand any more than I needed to. I set him up for success because success builds confidence and, in this case, relationships.

Go for what works

The bottom line: it’s a balancing act. I’m trying to find the sweet spot between the health of my family, our relationship(s), and my own sanity. I support and help — and, yes, pick up slack for — my husband. I also demand that certain conditions be met: our family relationships are strong, I’m taking good care of myself, and our home and finances are in order. When my kid feels hurt or disappointed, I’m not writing, and/or I feel like I have too much on my plate, I speak up and demand change. Otherwise, if it works, I do it — even if it’s not the way my friends are managing their home lives.

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Unfortunately, every parenting win springs from impulse control.

Parents with AdultADHDAn interaction I had with my three-year-old a couple months ago blew me away. I should’ve been delighted. Instead, I felt deeply sad. And I knew I couldn’t say a thing.

We’d talked about his books before. He had too many to fit on his shelves. One day, he looked at me and said, “Mommy, I want to give Little Critter Snowball Soup away.”

I was flabbergasted. This was one of his favorite stories, one we’d read over and over and over again. He hadn’t asked for it lately, but I was still shocked he’d get rid of it. We talked more. He understood what he was saying: he didn’t enjoy the book anymore and wanted someone else to love it as much as he’d loved it. It needed to become someone else’s favorite.

Then he started pulling more books from the shelf, saying “I only wanted to read this one five times,” and “I don’t enjoy this one anymore.”

Our children mirror us.

As anyone who knows me will attest, my son did only what I taught him to do. I’m an aspiring minimalist, and I believe minimalism has special benefits for people with ADHD. I also believe self-efficacy is the most important gift I can give my child.

My son is generous, thoughtful, and capable of making his own choices. He’s learning to part with material things — even old favorites — that he no longer enjoys.

He needs a mom with impulse control. A mom who knows how to keep her mouth shut and let him do his thing. I haven’t always been that person, but I’m working at it every day.

We don’t start out choosing our reactions.

My core values as a parent, homemaker, and person demand a pretty high level of impulse control. This is something I totally lacked at the beginning of my ADHD journey. Before I started learning about and medicating my ADHD, I didn’t choose my reactions to people and events in life. I didn’t know a choice existed. I thought what happened inside also happened outside — for everyone.

During my first week on stimulant medication, I described in my journal this gap that had opened up between stimulus and response. I felt like I’d discovered a time warp. I gained a few critical seconds (maybe even milliseconds) to notice what I was feeling and attempt to control how I expressed it.

Kids need parents who stay out of the way

Getting out of the way: tough for any parent, tougher for ADHD parents.

Plenty of parenting books warn against emotional reactions when we’re angry. What about when we’re bittersweet, or when we doubt our child’s choices? It broke my heart to part with some of those books. I desperately wanted to intervene, even though intervening would question his judgement (you’re getting rid of that one?) and undermine his generosity (what if I just hold onto these on my bookshelf?).

I didn’t intervene. He wanted to wish the books well on their journey to someone else. I was as proud of myself as I was of him. My ability to keep my mouth shut empowered him to make his own choice and stand behind it. He felt capable of solving a problem on his own, and I got out of his way. I trusted him. He gained confidence in himself.

This would be hard for anyone, but for someone with a clinically diagnosable deficiency in shutting up? Let’s just say, I never thought I’d see the day. I gave myself time to mourn the books, but after my son was asleep. Burdening him with my complicated emotions — at least in this context — wouldn’t benefit him at all.

Be quiet and leave space for others.

Sometimes, keeping quiet and leaving space for others in our relationships is the most supportive, loving thing we can do.

For adults — and especially parents — with ADHD, it’s also the hardest thing. Our emotions overwhelm us, our reptile brains take over, and we often stop to think long after we’ve already spoken.

But the rewards make it worth it to keep trying, and to take good care of myself and my brain. Because I owe it to my kid, who’s already a better person than I am.

Book Review: Mini Habits

 

audiobook-copyI understand if you read my book reviews every month and think, “yeah, okay lady, but here’s the problem: I don’t really read.”

But you need to read Stephen Guise’s Mini Habits. Not just to read more — though that might happen, too — but to change your life, and fast. The audio version will take you less than four hours, and the print version checks in at under 150 pages. You have no excuse not to give it a try.

Mini Habits was such an inspiring read, I talked about it to everyone and anyone who would listen. I bought a copy for a friend just because.

Mini Habits will be revolutionary for many ADHD readers because it removes motivation from our habit-forming equation. If you’re still relying on feeling motivated to go to the gym, Guise insists, it’s only a matter of time before you fail.

If you have ADHD, you don’t need a book to tell you that. You may need a book to tell you success is within (even) your reach.

What’s a mini habit?

Guise’s simple trick is to reduce your habit to the tiniest possible steps — and keep it there. His inspiration for Mini Habits came from his own success with the one push-up challenge. When one push-up per day morphed into the workout routine he’d previously failed to establish, he knew he was onto something.

Once you remove barriers to entry, you often find yourself willing and able to do far more than the minimum. Now that I’m on the floor for one push-up, for example, why not just do 10?

For someone who often can’t find motivation even for enjoyable activities, a mini habit (or two or three) may alter the course of your life.

How to create a mini habit

Guise recommends attempting only a small handful of habits at a time. I’m notoriously overzealous, so I chose three right off the bat. They are:

  • Open my novel manuscript once daily
    (I couldn’t set a word count goal because I’m editing a years-old draft)
  • Open my blog dashboards once daily
  • Get into downward-facing dog once daily

The most challenging aspect of creating my mini habits was, and continues to be, keeping them small. I struggle not to feel like a cheater when I open my manuscript and close it again without changing a word. I wanted to commit to more than one measly yoga pose.

On this point, Guise (and my husband, who I’ve enlisted as my in-house reminder) is firm: keep mini habits small. If it feels stupid — aka “stupid small” — you’re doing it right. Go bigger and you might feel good today, but mini habits must be attainable even when you’re sick, tired, demoralized, or otherwise having the worst day ever. No matter what, you must be able to experience success every day.

Smaller habits, it turns out, do net bigger results: I’ve been more productive with my writing and even finished my edits ahead of schedule for my monthly critique group. I can now hold crow pose for a whole three seconds, and I’m working up to a headstand in yoga.

Most importantly, I’m experiencing a brand-new feeling: sticking with something. This, Guise claims, is “training to believe in yourself.” It’s something we ADHD’ers desperately need.

The bottom line

Mini Habits is short, conversational, and simple. Nothing Guise suggests feels overwhelming or out of reach, as is so often the case in self-help literature. Not once did I dismiss advice by saying, “yeah, but I have ADHD.”

In fact, the biggest threat from ADHD is my tendency to bite off more than I can chew. Mini habits aren’t glamorous or exciting. It doesn’t feel good to tell your friends, “I’m committed to opening my manuscript and looking at it every day.” Mini habits are as much an exercise in keeping myself in check as anything else.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up a copy right now and share your mini habits in the comments.

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