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Attention Problems and Children X  

This is the final article on dealing with special issues for parenting children with attention challenges, and I continue to talk about how parents can take care of themselves. Last month I talked about an attitude parents can take on to feel more effective, or really, to better recognize their effectiveness. I think it is also important to acknowledge here why parents should make self care a priority. Often parents feel like it is their duty to put more energy into their children than into themselves. The problem with this is that parents are the primary vehicle for most everything that happens with their children, so anything that damages them also damages their children. I think the best metaphor here is that of the oxygen mask on an airplane. The announcement of when the masks will be activated always has some directive that parents with minor children should put on their own mask before putting on their children’s mask. It’s kind of obvious there, but the same principle applies in general life. Taking care of yourself as a parent is very important and worth prioritizing – even if it takes a bit of energy away from your children.

The emotional strain of parenting an attentionally challenged child can cause or exacerbate problems with depression or anxiety. And such problems in parents tend to contribute to difficulty with implementing effective parenting. It is thus important to take emotional stock and attend to your own functioning as a parent, doing what you need to take care of yourself.

There is also a good bit of biological heritability to attention problems, so parents of attention challenged children are more likely to have attention problems of their own. Knowing your limitations and taking what actions you can to address them will make the parenting process that much easier.

It is vitally important to seek emotional support for yourself. Parenting is difficult and being able to talk openly about the difficulties with a friend, and receive empathy and support for that, will be helpful. I heard a story recently about a conversation between two men, one a parent of a young child and one not a parent. In the first part of the conversation the parent told the other man how much his life had changed since his child was born, how much he had given up, and how miserable it was at times. The second part of the conversation was about how rewarding it was to be a parent and how his life was now more meaningful than it had ever been. The non-parent was confused and asked how both of those things can be true. Most parents would have no difficulty understanding how both of those things are true. Part of the problem though, is our culture in general offers a lot of support for the second part of that truth and little for the first – sometimes even shaming those who express it. Cultivate at least a few relationships who are willing to hear you talk about all the difficulty of parenting as well, and willing to be loving, understanding, and accepting anyway.

Finally, remember that the most important thing you can give to your child, an emotional connection, is the part of parenting that is the most fun and most rewarding for you as well. While there may be a lot of pull with an attentionally challenged child to put most of your energy into shaping and correcting, it is equally, probably more, important to focus on creating an emotional connection with them. What does that mean? Take the time to enjoy your children, even if they drive you crazy at times!