Taking on the Daddy Issue

When my son Javi was diagnosed with ADHD, I had no clue that our biggest challenge — the one that would make or break every single goal — was my husband.

Don’t get me wrong, my Mountain Man (MM) is an amazing and loving father. He was also raised on a mountain by parents who tolerated nothing. One of MM’s favorite childhood stories is how he ate an entire chicken bone because his father refused to allow him to leave the table until his plate was clean … even after hours had passed.

You can imagine how hard it is for this thick-skinned, no-nonsense man to understand that our son can’t “just” eat or “just” sit still or “just” accomplish his tasks faster. While it is still a struggle for me to remember that Javi can’t completely control his behavior (and isn’t manipulating us with it), understanding often seems insurmountable for my husband.

And so I had to develop some strategies to help my MM remain a loving and nurturing force in his son’s life despite all the frustrations (and to keep me from losing my mind). Hopefully these suggestions will help the dad(s) in your child’s life do the same:

Encourage joint activities. My guys love basketball and football so I spend lots of time encouraging and making it possible for them to participate in these activities together. MM coaches Javi’s football team and takes him to every basketball practice, they go to professional and college games together for “boy’s nights,” and both often get to leave their chores for me tof finish so they can go toss a ball around.

Why it works: Not only do these activities burn up some of Javi’s extra energy and help clear his mind, they also develop a tight bond between my guys. This really comes in handy when Javi can’t seem to remember where he left his homework folder or acts on his worst impulses. (Keep in mind that you can’t force either dad or child to participate in an activity they don’t enjoy. That’s a recipe for disaster!)

Include dad in appointments. Moms are pretty amazing and competent people — but so are dads. There’s no reason to leave them out or excuse them from participating in therapy or medical sessions. MM and I either take turns attending meetings and going to therapy or we show up to those sessions together. He was resistant to this at first, but now he really appreciates being part of the process.

Why it works: When we are both active participants in managing and monitoring Javi’s disorder, neither of us feels either overwhelmed or left out. Before we instituted this policy, I often felt like I had to be all things to all people and MM felt that I didn’t trust him to be involved in his son’s care. Now we stay on the same page and have fewer disagreements about the next right step.

Introduce dad to other dads. Fathers of children with ADHD aren’t like the mothers. They’re less likely to seek out support or confide their feelings to other people. This often leaves them feeling like strangers in a strange land. But for every mother of a child with ADHD you know, there’s likely a husband, boyfriend, or other father figure standing right beside her. Encourage these guys to open up to each other and vent their highs and lows.

Why it works: By making friendships and sharing their frustrations with other men who’ve had similar experiences, dads feel more connected and better understood. The bonds they create will remind them they aren’t the only man out there dealing with ADHD issues, which will sustain them through whatever challenges come next.

And, speaking from experience, there’s nothing more hilarious than listening to a bunch of men laugh and cut up as they share those heartbreaking-in-the-moment-but-ridiculous-now moments!

Bonus:These articles give more great advice on how to get dads involved and keep them compassionate toward your child with ADHD:

How have you helped your child’s father or father figure better cope with and feel included in your child’s disorder? What resources would you suggest for dads in particular?

Kelly Quinones Miller is the mother of an adopted son with ADHD, inattentive type. She works from home as a freelance writer and designer while trying to teach her son the strategies and skills he’ll need to succeed. Kelly blogs about family issues, casual environmentalism, backyard chickens, and more at The Miller Mix.

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About the author

Kelly Quinones Miller is the mother of an adopted son with ADHD, inattentive type. She works from home as a freelance writer and designer while trying to teach her son the strategies and skills he'll need to succeed. Kelly blogs about family issues, casual environmentalism, backyard chickens, and more at The Miller Mix.


  1. Way to rock the dad/husband issue Kelly! Such valuable insight and advice!

    I am going to email this to our “Daddy” (also a mountain man but by relocation, not by birth). He too wonders why Luke “can't just” this or that. He was raised in a zero tolerance household as well. (Super zero tolerance!)

    I wish Luke were into sports because he and Daddy could really bond that way. They do build Legos together frequently. And Luke was do some wood working with Daddy and loving it (until Daddy had a hand injury at work recently and surgery, but they'll get back to it).

    As for attending doc appointments, that's tough for us. Daddy is paid by the house and already misses several hours a month to manage and treat his auto-immune disorder. We can't afford for him to take more time off and neither can his boss. We do attend parent's only meetings with our counselor every 3 months or so though.

    The good news for me, and for you, is that our son's father-figures are trying and they want to be valid and appropriate participants in the ADHD game. They believe ADHD is real and are educated about it and that's more than half the battle!

  2. Penny, before Javi became interested in sports, he and Billy “tinkered” together. It's messy and can be frustrating, but I encouraged it (which is key around here … I have to make things happen). They took things apart and put them back together, did puzzles, put together remote control vehicles, etc. Anything that could happen outside did. Billy would do the small details and then would loop Javi in for the less frustrating work. They also like to go camping and leave “the girls” at home. I definitely think there are ways around the sports thing.

    As for doctor visits, it can definitely be tough. However, I say if the dads attend even two or three visits a year, it's much better than the traditional alternative (you know, where moms do it all).

  3. Stacia says:

    Good tips, Kelly. For your sanity and Javi's well-being, it's so great that MM is involved in so much.

  4. Stephanie says:

    I think most men just assume it's up to Mom to do all things child-related; whether that's a product of how they were raised; that they feel moms just know better; or perhaps because Mom implied Dad wasn't “doing it right”. I've really started to push my husband and son together…throw the ball, go to a car show, tinker on the hot rods. It's awkward to watch…they didn't really know how to talk to one another without someone feeling hurt or angry. I think both are learning things about one another that they never knew. I've often told my husband I'm not a single parent…it's time to engage!! Thankfully, I think he FINALLY gets it.

    Thanks for a wonderful article. I hope MM and son continue to find activities and interests that bring them closer together.

  5. I found this post… hard to read for me… as my husband… Just has no tolerance.. for how my son eats at the table.. the many nightly meltdowns we have.. with the same schedule etc… So just yesterday I was going to post about my alone.. and frustration about how my husband told.. me please don't include me… in things with our son… he just frustrates me and can't just do it right- without a fight….
    It was so hard to hear… and I am still at a loss what to do.. my son says don't invite daddy… all he does is yell at me~and that is what happened last night trying to carve a pumpkin….sad too..I even purchased my husband a adhd father book.. but to no avail….

  6. dmd says:

    Great post, Kelly! This is definitely a big issue. My DH is a very concerned and loving dad, but like the others described here, wants his son to do what he asks when he asks it. The interesting thing is that I strongly suspect DH has ADHD, too. You would think that would make it easier for him to understand, but it doesn't. He also – so far – won't get assessed for ADHD, so this remains a suspicion not a fact.

    When DH spends good quality time with Dylan, he's usually better, especially now that Dylan is on meds. But when life gets stressed (pretty often!), he is very easily frustrated. He also does not want to participate in counseling meetings, etc., which is frustrating for me.

    Nf1andprek-whisper your situation must be so frustrating! Dylan has often “preferred” me to daddy, much to DH's extreme dismay. This is changing, although Dylan will always be “mommy's boy” (hopefully w/o the negative side effects). Like Luke, Dylan is not terribly into sports, so that also makes it hard for male bonding. When Dylan joined scouts, I thought it would be a daddy/Dylan thing since DH was a scout. Guess what? I'm now the den leader!

    Nf1andprek-whisper, it sounds like you all might need family counseling, if your DH would go for it. Good luck!



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