How Can Adult ADHD Affect Parenting?


There I was, sitting on the floor poring over every study and article I could find on how Adult ADHD can affect parenting. I was preparing to present on the topic at the CADDAC conference on ADHD in Toronto May 30-31, 2009).

My husband walked into my office, took one look at the explosion of papers surrounding me, and asked, “What the **** happened in here?”

With all the various angles and possibilities to cover—ADHD is no one-size-fits-all condition, after all—it felt very overwhelming.

Top-Of-Class-Attorney? Meet Parenting

A few days later, with the presentation finally Powerpointed, I met a 40-something mother with ADHD. She also felt overwhelmed—by living the topic I’d only been writing about. Definitely more challenging!.

This top-of-her-class attorney had adjusted fairly well to her first child’s arrival some seven years ago. Four years later came her second daughter, the sweet-faced little spitfire whose photo she proudly shared with me from her iPhone. That’s when this stay-at-home mom’s organizing skills—tenuous, even at times humorous, since childhood—hit the skids.

Setting off on her errands after dropping the oldest at school, she’d often find herself inexplicably off-course. Instead of mailing items at the post office and grocery-shopping, she was sipping lattes and cruising the toy-store aisles. At first she attributed her distractibility to being overwhelmed with the responsibilities of raising a family. “But honestly, ” she said, “plenty of other mothers are doing much more, and with less stress, it seems.”

She’d also noticed that she and her husband, who’d always gotten along so well, now often squabbled.

Those “Quirky” Behaviors Had a Name

Finally, in classic ADHD inter-generational style, her daughter’s teacher mentioned a significant problem with “daydreaming” and disorganization; that prompted her husband to read up on ADHD, thus finding apt descriptions not only of his daughter’s but also his wife’s “quirky” behaviors.

“I think I’m a good mother, a very loving mother who truly enjoys her children,” she told me, “But I’m not the mom with the organized closets and the weekly meal plans. In fact, if you peeked in my closets, you’d think, ‘what is she, crazy?'”

Newly dumbfounded by the recent revelations about ADHD, she wasn’t quite ready to acknowledge that it might be a problem for her. She did admit, however, she was tired of expending so much energy to get through the simplest household tasks. “And I worry,” she added, “about how I’m going to help my daughter stay organized and work with the school on helping her.”

This mom has a good foundation for tackling her challenges as well as her daughter’s — a supportive spouse, secure income, high intelligence, low defensiveness, and access to good resources. For many respondents to the ADHD Partner Survey, however, co-parenting with a partner who has late-diagnosis ADHD poses larger challenges. Like ADHD itself, the issues are all over the map. The survey looked at several aspects of co-parenting when a parent has ADHD, which we’ll explore in future posts.

ADHD Partner Survey: Co-Parenting

For now, consider the responses to these questions in the chart below to gain a sense of some hot-button issues:

ADHD parenting

Your comments welcome.

—Gina Pera

21 thoughts on “How Can Adult ADHD Affect Parenting?”

  1. My partner found your videos and sent them to me, and PHEW. I have recently brought it up to my therapist that I think the ADHD was swept under the rug after having my second child and seeking therapy. With our first, I started to notice a change. And what I thought was mere depression and anxiety for so long or possible BPD or possible bipolar, has become very clear that is is more than likely adult ADHD. My behaviors mixed with his reactions and vice versa have caused such a problem in our relationship that he hasn’t hardly spoken to me or slept in the bed for days…it breaks my heart. I have a hard time admitting my wrongs when he’s constantly pointing out my flaws and what I’m doing wrong for me. I have temper issues when challenged. I’m spacy, I have a hard time keeping tasks. I can’t relax with my family at night when I should be because there’s a million things going on in my head. That’s just a small explanation to a large laundry list of problems. I love my partner and I don’t want him to continue to tell me he’s leaving or would be happier with someone else. We have two beautiful children and almost 8 years together. But this is taking it’s toll. Do you think counseling and medication would be helpful? It’s a mess. I know he’s tired of my antics and I’m tired of feeling hopeless as well.

    1. Dear Sarah,

      First may I say I’m horribly disappointed, yet again, in the failure of almost the entire “medical establishment” to recognize ADHD.

      I often think about women with unrecognized ADHD, coming home with the baby. Hormones still creating the usual “loooiness” as with many women. And also facing the enormous demands.

      Hormones affect ADHD, too. So do increased demands at organization, irregular sleep, etc..

      There was an initiative a few years ago to routinely screen post-delivery women for depression. I thought that was a dangerous idea, because many of those women would then get treatment for “depression” — when it’s actually ADHD. And antidepressants can intensify ADHD symptoms. I think it didn’t pass. Or maybe it’s done in some hospitals. But shew….

      I feel for you. It’s not your fault that you didn’t know you had ADHD. It doesn’t sound like you were “denying” it. You were failed.

      I cannot say what’s possible for your marriage with your husband.

      But I hope he at least decides to learn more about ADHD, in particular the ways in which it might have been affecting you — that he took personally as intentional behavior.

      Here’s the thing: You and he will be sharing custody, right? He owes it to your children, if nothing else, to work with you on understanding ADHD and in pursuing treatment.

      I created my course for just such situations. It’s not all about, “Let’s learn about ADHD so you can do MORE for your ADHD partner and ignore your own needs MORE.”

      No, there’s compassion for all involved — and acknowledgement of difficulties. In detail. And it paves the path toward improving functioning — yes, including medication (the single most effective tool in the ADHD toolbox) but also new ways of cooperating. ADHD-friendly ways.

      I hope he will consider it. And if not him, I think it will help you to form a deeper understanding — and know which steps to take.

      There is an awful lots of nonsense online now — and in books, too. One must be careful, especially when not knowing ADHD has been playing a role in your difficulties.

      At least check it out. You can take it together. Or separately. Or just one of you.

      I wish you luck. You’re not alone.


  2. My grandson was diagnosed with ADHD just recently.Through this we have now discovered my son has it.After years of thinking he was an alcoholic, sending him to rehab a few times for months to now find out he has the same thing.The most worrying thing for me is he wants me with him most of the time.I cant seem to go anywhere.I dont want to upset the apple cart.Hes not started his treatment yet as the doctor has been treating him with depression so the meds are wrong at present. As he is in his late 20’s he is used to things but I also find there is a pattern with his ways.Sometimes I feel like I’m going round in circles with him.I have fought off his many many fines council tax court orders to prevent him going to jail.They become vulnerable adults & can very easily be led on.Also one day they can be like a child the next day like your the child.He only think about his needs & dosnt show feelings towards others.Im learning more as I try to get to grips with his situation.He has had 2 failed relationships with 4 small children involved.Its very sad & keeping him connected to them is so hard but I dont want the kids to miss out on him even though hes like a child too.Pheww! Last but not least it is killing me & my partners long term relationship as I now realise that hes going to have to live with us long term.

    1. Dear Carol,

      I’m sorry to learn of your family’s situation. It’s bad enough for an MD to miss the ADHD diagnosis — but when the MD risks exacerbating ADHD symptoms by prescribing an anti-depressant…..

      I hope that he can get into treatment ASAP. And I don’t recommend relying on that MD again or any other prescriber until you have proof of competence.

      I encourage you to read my first book right now, especially focusing on the medication chapters.

      You will need a solid education and probably much self-advocacy to stabilize him and your long-term relationship.

      The “clinginess” is common to some younger children with ADHD. I’ve not heard about it as much with an adult. Though I can see how it would happen.

      Seriously, my book will be an eye-opener and a strong support to you.

      Also, I will launch online training soon. It’s primarily for couples but I also point out that “couples” can sometimes be a parent and adult child with ADHD, or siblings, etc..

      take care of yourself!


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