When Your Parent Has ADHD — And You Don’t


Parent Has ADHD

What is it like to grow up with a parent who has ADHD, especially when you don’t have ADHD yourself?  A brief essay, below, describes one woman’s experience. I welcome you to share your experience in a comment.

We hear much about parenting children who have ADHD.  We hear from parents who have ADHD. Frank South writes Stories From an ADHD Dad. But we hear very little from the child’s point of view, as a child or an adult.

This short essay’s author, Jennie Friedman, writes on her See in ADHD website:

My family has wrestled with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and schizophrenia for generations. Growing up with my entire tribe affected sparked in me the drive to educate others how to embrace our differences so we can just focus on the most important business of loving one another.

Growing Up With ADHD—When You Don’t Have It 

By Jennie Friedman

“Why, Kebie, why can’t you just do the simplest thing? All you have to do is empty your pockets and put the receipts in THIS envelope. Why don’t you remember anything?”

Dad was getting scolded again, and I was just happy it wasn’t me. Why did she have to get so mad all of the time? I felt bad for him.

Whatever it was she was mad about, though, you’d never know by him. He was too busy to get upset; he was always on the run, dashing in and out of the house or going away on exotic business trips. Oh, sure, I heard a lot of sighs, watched his face get flush, and his forehead would get all wrinkly, but rarely did he lash back at her.

Oddly, we had the same forehead, my dad and I. We looked a lot alike even though I’m an adopted child. And while that is how I escaped the genetic pool of a family with anxiety, depression, ADHD, bipolar, and schizophrenia, I didn’t escape the familial environment that was shaped by his neurobiology.

ADHD rarely travels alone, and his special blend was ADHD, bipolar, and seasonal depression. Unfortunately, in 1985, he stopped taking his lithium and committed suicide almost two years later.

Consequences: The Good And The Bad

There are many consequences of being raised by at least one parent with ADHD—some good and some bad, with coexisting conditions contributing to difficulties. Also, if one parent has it and the other does not, the child can witness arguing and miscommunication and misinterpret what is going on.

In my eyes, dad was the fun one who sadly wasn’t around as much as the mean bossy one. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my mom very much, but she was never the life of the party like my dad. I remember her telling people how he had Peter Pan Syndrome. I didn’t know what that meant, but it sure sounded fun.

As a young kid, it was great having an adult that all the other kids wished they had as a parent. He would take me for bike rides and let me decide which way to go even if it were so far from the house we arrived back home after dark. He would tell my friends and me the scariest ghost stories and then chase us afterward.

Mom, on the other hand, never played with us, ever. She would only tell us what to do or how to do it. She was the disciplinarian and dad, the camp counselor. Naturally, she resented this, “Why do you always have to make me the bad guy?” From my perspective, she was doing that to herself.

Throughout childhood, I felt in defense of Dad. He was my best friend and my hero. I marveled at his creative, open mind and wanted to be just like him when I grew up. He was the smartest, funniest, and most adventurous man that ever lived. But I did know something wasn’t quite right. He always seemed preoccupied, and that created an absence that was felt. He also over-committed to others, which took time away from us.

When he was around, Mom would treat him as a third child. Obviously, she wouldn’t have had to correct Dad so much if he were more like her, the perfect one. And since I was so much like him, I gathered I probably wasn’t good enough either.

Then I became a teenager, and everything fell apart.

Suddenly His Qualities Grew Embarrassing

All of the qualities that had so enamored me became embarrassing. Suddenly, his joining my friends and me while we danced to the Go-Go’s was horrifying. When we would go out to dinner, he would explain to the waitress how I was shy, which mortified me.

Worst of all, when he would talk to my friends, it was inappropriate if only because he acted as if he were one of us. Eventually, there was nothing normal about him, and I kept my distance.

I know on the surface this sounds typical. I sure thought it was. But it’s always in hindsight where we see things better.

My dad’s disorganization, faulty memory, and poor sense of time were taxing on everyone. He couldn’t engage with the mundane daily grind that Mom responsibly managed. He also had trouble with filters and boundaries, which wreaked havoc on all of his relationships as well as his career. We even moved six times in 15 years because he couldn’t keep his job.

Did this make him a bad parent? Absolutely not, but his ADHD did affect everything. Well, everything but the love. You see, I will always love him.

Jennie Friedman’s website is See in ADHD.

Growing up, did your parent(s) have ADHD? Do you think it affected their parenting style or your parents’ relationship?

Jennie and I welcome your comment below — Gina


106 thoughts on “When Your Parent Has ADHD — And You Don’t”

  1. Thank you for this post! I do also find that there hasn’t been much work done on the effect of ADHD parents on children.

    My mother’s family is late to everything- we’re talking HOURS late, 3 days late for Christmas late. My mother has been known to miss flights because while packing she realized she needed to clean out her sock drawer. She could disappear for hours and forget that she left her husband and young kids in the car at dinner time when she ran in to pick up milk.

    In the early 90s, when ADHD became a thing, my younger brother was diagnosed. We knew it ran in families, but somehow none of us put 2+2 together.

    Now I’m a mom and part of learning to be a better one has involved delving back into what growing up with a loving mom with severe ADHD was like. If I look back, I think my needs (hunger/tiredness) were sometimes ignored if there was something else going on. (At least until I freaked out completely.) I have terrifying memories of often being “lost” in stores for what felt like 20-30 minutes at around ages 5/6. As an older child, I was regularly left for 30 min to a couple of hours after activities before my mom would pick me up. (She’d tell me just to bring a book. But sometimes it was quite cold outside.) My parents fought a lot and divorced when I was in college. In hindsight, it was mostly due to the ADHD and how frustrated my dad felt about this.

    From my perspective, this appears to have caused me to be eternally “in charge”. I simply feel uncomfortable being dependent on someone. I also deal poorly with chaos, as it seems to trigger my survival instinct. I’ve even moved to a country known for its punctuality. On the plus side, I’m super organized and a strong leader, great at prioritizing. In a way, it’s been great for my career. Like early basic training.

    I’m here exploring other elements I might have missed, trying to learn about my past in order to grow past it. My mom did her best, and although the examples above seem extreme, we certainly weren’t abused. And yet, I think this kind of parenting can leave a mark.

    1. Hi Christine,

      “Like early basic training.” 🙂

      What you describe is similar to the stories I’ve heard from others.

      That includes this story from an MD who, thanks to having adopted children with ADHD, was finally able to see her own mother through the ADHD lens. This was her mother was showing signs of Alzheimer’s….or advanced ADHD.


      I’ve asked several of my friends whose mothers had ADHD (most of these friends are older) to share their stories in a guest post. Maybe I should just collect vignettes.

      It’s very tricky communicating the range of possibilities …. people take offense quickly and assume we mean “all women with ADHD.”

      But finding some truth, how do we understand what happened? The “narcissism” specialists are very eager to paint such mothers as narcissists, with the implication that the damage wreaked on the child is almost a permanent feature.

      My friends have managed to reframe the relationship through the ADHD lens, and, if their mothers are still alive, find ways to modify the relationship.

      Thanks for writing

    2. Christine, your story is so similar to mine that I had to check twice to make sure I wasn’t reading my own post! Everything from the missing flights by days, basic needs being ignored, being forgotten at school or activities regularly, getting lost in stores, and becoming incredibly independent as a result. I’m so glad you’re now unpacking all that was chaotic about your life that comes from having an ADHD mother.

    3. Hi Christine!

      Than you for your response. The struggle is real … I see in my sister, and many other ADHD moms, some of the mothering traits you experienced as a child. It seems like you have analyzed the situation and have made peace with it though.

      I’m not sure when you say you “deal poorly with chaos” what would be helpful for you. I teach my clients forgiveness. In your case, there is the obvious forgiving of your mom (we all can benefit from forgiving the sins of our parents) but you may want to explore forgiving yourself.

      I know with my dad, it was after I forgave myself for having expectations not met that I was able to move forward in a very positive healthy way. I mean, of course it is reasonable to have the expectation that your parent would be responsible, thoughtful, and punctual. Except when untreated, unmanaged ADHD is involved, is it?

      For me, those unmet expectations lead to feelings of shame and embarrassment. I also tolerated bad behavior from others until I strengthened my own boundaries. Inner work brought me relief and confidence and I can see now that began with forgiving and loving myself more.

      I’m wishing you all the peace and happiness in the world!


  2. This author is very fortunate to have such a positive outlook on their parent with ADHD. Wow! All I can do is complain of my experience. Precaution of my depressing comment:
    My parents came to Western society from the old country and they have been together since they were teens.
    I believe my mom developed aggressive bipolar and depression on top of her ADHD after she was in an accident and took lots of strong medications around the time I was born, and it’s possible my dad had some kind of slight autism .
    They are very stubborn and have never been diagnosed. Their European country was deprived of these things in the past.

    I believe every second child landed with some kind of bipolar , depression, or autism.
    The ADHD is what I self diagnosed myself with with the side of anxiety- depression.

    It’s very irritable to me. I know I would not make a good mother. I just annoy myself including the people around me. I don’t want any one to experience the cringe I did as a child , and even in my adult life as a 31 year old.
    For me, love in a family is not going to win all. It’s not as important as the stability and respect , it’s all about balance. (The author was fortunate to have a mentally stable mother at least, for some kind of support)
    In the end, kids usually remember the bad memories more than the good ones.(including my 5 siblings and myself)
    I think It’s selfish to have kids with any mental illness like that. I don’t recommend it as a victim, it feels like full on mental and physical abuse.
    Non of us siblings really went to therapy, we only complain and lose hope on feeling better since our parents never got better, but worse. You lose motivation and self esteem and don’t make enough money to pay for proper counseling.
    I always dreamed what it would be like to have “normal” parents. But now, are the parents with mental disorders the “new normal”?!

    1. Hi Bernie,

      Thanks for your comment. I can only imagine what home life was like for you.

      The Internet sort of loves to depict ADHD as one thing or another. The truth is, ADHD is a highly variable syndrome and people with ADHD are indiiduals.

      Research tells us that poorly managed ADHD negative affects parenting skills (consistency, discipline, etc.) and there are also adverse factors around employment, money management, health, managing addictions, and so forth.

      Is this everyone with ADHD? No. Nothing is everything with ADHD.

      take care,

  3. Thank you so much for this essay! It was useful for me.

    I grew up in a very large family, and my mom has ADHD and all of my siblings except for one have ADHD.

    It was only recently that my oldest sister got her diagnosis, which led to my mom realizing that she herself has ADHD and getting diagnosed, which then led to my three little brothers getting an ADHD diagnosis.

    Recently, I’ve been wondering if I myself have ADHD, or if I’m just exhibiting some of the characteristics of ADHD as learned behavior from my family rather than from it actually coming from my brain chemistry.

    So this was a really interesting read to see the perspective of another person who grew up with a parent who has ADHD!

    Most of the articles I’ve come across have been about how a neurotypical parent can raise their child with ADHD, and a couple about how to be a good parent if you have ADHD or what to do if you and your child have ADHD.

    This is the first I’ve come across where the child is neurotypical, but the parent has ADHD. So thank you so much for this perspective, it was useful for me!

    1. Hi Lauren,

      Thanks for your kind comment.

      Indeed, this is a woefully undercover topic. So, when Jennie agreed to write about her experience for my ADHD Roller Coaster blog, I was very grateful — and knew it would speak to many readers. (So do many of the comments!)

      You know, it might be that you have ADHD as well. Sometimes what happens is that a parent or siblings have more significant symptoms than the other parent or siblings, so that person doesn’t even think about ADHD.

      Close-degree relatives to a person with ADHD have a higher rate of symptoms, even though not fully qualifying for a diagnosis.

      At any rate, knowledge is power, and the more we can understand ourselves and others, the better things tend to go!

      take care,

    2. H Lauren!

      My clients call me ADHD-adjacent and are pretty sure I must have it too or, they think, I wouldn’t be the way I am. But I have taken tests and failed them. It turns out I am neurotypical, although, that in and of itself, is a spectrum. And so it goes, having the influences of growing up with ADHD while not actually having ADHD.

      I’m happy to hear my story helps. In it, I explain that I am adopted; however, a couple of years ago, after I wrote this, I did find my biological parents. Guess what? My biological father has ADHD! (Undiagnosed, but it’s really obvious)

      So, it probably is in my blood, so to speak. LOL and with my clients, friends, and family, I am surrounded by it. “It” isn’t even a big deal to me anymore, it’s been so normalized in my world.

      On that note, I’ll add, just keep loving every one of them, and yourself. It’s all that matters in the end, anyway.


    3. Hi Lauren,
      My clients call me ADHD-adjacent and are pretty sure I must have it too or, they think, I wouldn’t be the way I am. But I have taken tests and failed them. It turns out I am neurotypical, although, that in and of itself, is a spectrum. And so it goes, having the influences of growing up with ADHD while not actually having ADHD.

      I’m happy to hear my story helps. In it, I explain that I am adopted; however, a couple of years ago, after I wrote this, I did find my biological parents. Guess what? My biological father has ADHD! (Undiagnosed, but it’s really obvious)

      So, it probably is in my blood, so to speak. LOL and with my clients, friends, and family, I am surrounded by it. “It” isn’t even a big deal to me anymore, it’s been so normalized in my world.

      On that note, I’ll add, just keep loving every one of them, and yourself. It’s all that matters in the end, anyway.


    4. That’s an interesting thought: do I have ADHD too or am so I just struggle with some things because I was raised by an ADHD mom? I have wondered that myself many times. Am I late because I have ADHD? Because I never had a parent who modeled and explained how to manage my time? Am I distracted sometimes because I have ADHD or because I lived with an absent minded mother? I tend to think it’s the latter because I did exceptionally well in school. I never had any trouble focusing. I was always An over-achiever with good grades and good testing scores. I had lots of friends and was very self aware and tactful. I think I just missed out on some life skills around organization and time management because of my mom. Or maybe I carry little bits of ADHD. Who knows?

    5. Hi Arianne,

      From what I’ve learned about this over the years, I’d say what you describe could be a bit of both — nature and nurture.

      Genetically speaking, first-degree relatives of people with ADHD (siblings, parents, children) are 50% more likely to have ADHD as well — or at least elevated symptoms.

      That is, perhaps not quite qualifying for diagnosis but present nonetheless.

      What you describe as the potential reasons why you might not have ADHD (doing exceptionally well in school, over-achiever, lots of friends, etc.) actually might not be. I know many women with late-diagnosis ADHD who could say the same. Their challenges came later in life, in juggling multiple priorities (home, children, marriage, work, etc.).


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