Just in time for the holidays: dealing with people (relatives) who don’t “get” your ADHD child

Let’s get one thing straight from the get-go: I have a really great family. My parents, my in-laws, my sisters, their husbands and even my nieces – all have been really great when it comes to dealing with LittleJ.
Yes, there have been moments, like when my (very tired) mother-in-law was seated next to LittleJ for a 4-hour car ride and he talked non-stop from the maple syrup capital in northern Vermont all the way to their home in western Massachusetts , forcing her to eventually put her hands over her ears to try to drown him out, or the time he called my mom a Big Butt and my step-dad picked him up and turned him upside down to “teach” him not to do that, or the very first time he met his same-age, heretofore peaceful female cousin and within 5 minutes had goaded her into punching him in the head…oh, the list is really endless. But all in all, our immediate family has been very understanding and kind and generous in helping with LittleJ. Many times much more than I’ve managed to do so, frankly. And I really appreciate it.
But there’s always someone, right? To preserve family harmony I’m not going to name this person or even describe him very specifically, but let’s call him The Cranky One. The Cranky One is an older person, didn’t like kids even when his own were small, and is actually pretty sick and tired of people in general, nevermind my own hyperactive, talkative, noisy, sometimes rude-ish little boy.
The Cranky One, to give him credit, doesn’t really understand LittleJ. What he sees is a child who doesn’t act like all the other children in the family, who talks back, who doesn’t always obey, and who is, above all, NOISY. The Cranky One really dislikes NOISY.
But on the other hand, from my perspective as momma, I know that on the occasions The Cranky One has been around LittleJ, LittleJ has typically been on his very best behavior. Being around family both excites LittleJ and creates anxiety. He usually will stay away from the adults, playing mostly with his cousins, and almost always remembers his manners at the table and at gift-giving time (for we usually see The Cranky One at the big gift-giving holidays). LittleJ loves his grandpa and his cousins and he knows that his mom and dad are typically in a happy mood on these occasions – so he’s in a happy mood, too.
These are times when LittleJ is deserving of lots of praise. And we’re sure to give it to him.
The problem is that behavior that is praiseworthy in LittleJ may seem to an outsider, or to someone who doesn’t really “get” my boy, more like something that needs correction, were he a little more neurotypical.
And The Cranky One corrects. He corrects the momma and he corrects the boy. The former I can take, the latter I cannot. He can blame me all he wants for my child’s behavior. I know the truth and The Cranky One doesn’t (although he’s been told). But it’s been the times when he’s corrected the boy that have been the hardest to take. Not that the boy doesn’t need correcting from time to time, or I even mind it if a friend or family member steps in – but if LittleJ has been trying hard and doing a good job and then is yelled at, well, that’s when I mind.
So what do I do? I hustle LittleJ out of there as fast as possible and try to explain how everyone has different levels of patience, that The Cranky One is older and we respect him but he likes things very quiet, and that LittleJ did a great, great job and remember when he was playing so nicely with his cousins, etc.
Because that’s really all I can do, when it comes to this particular person. If The Cranky One were a younger relative, or was someone who was around LittleJ a lot or who did care-giving for us or who went out of his way to stir up trouble, then I’d handle it differently. But because of his status in our family and because it doesn’t happen all that often I just prepare myself for it, then grin and bear it. And do damage control after the fact. Meanwhile LittleJ is being taught what? That there are some people in every family who are a little scary? Who are a little impatient? A little cranky? Is that so bad? That’s life, no?
Am I taking the wimpy way out?
I don’t know. What do you think? I’m sure you all have stories about this – please share them! And share what you did to resolve (or not) the situation. It’ll help us all.

Adrienne Ehlert Bashista is the co-editor of and contributor to Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories, and is also the author of two picture books about Russian adoption. She’s had stories, essays, and articles published in a variety of journals, both print and on-line. She is the owner of DRT Press. She was a school librarian for many years before giving it up to devote more time to the rest of her life. She chronicles her adventures raising her son, recently diagnosed with FASD in her blog, A Square Peg, a Round Hole. She also writes for the blog for Easy to Love but Hard to Raise and her writing/speaking website is adriennebashista.net. She lives in central North Carolina with her husband, two sons, two dogs, 21 chickens, and a lot of bees.

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adhd behavior problems, Adrienne Bashista, parenting/FAMILY ·

About the author

Adrienne Ehlert Bashista is the co-editor of and contributor to Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories, and is also the author of two picture books about Russian adoption. She’s had stories, essays, and articles published in a variety of journals, both print and on-line. She is the owner of DRT Press. She was a school librarian for many years before giving it up to devote more time to the rest of her life. She chronicles her adventures raising her son, recently diagnosed with FASD in her blog, A Square Peg, a Round Hole. She also writes for the blog for Easy to Love but Hard to Raise and her writing/speaking website is adriennebashista.net. She lives in central North Carolina with her husband, two sons, two dogs, 21 chickens, and a lot of bees.

15 Comments

  1. I understand completely the situation you go through. We too have that same situation with my side of the family. The hard part is that when all the cousins get together there are actually 2 ADHD children together, which causes a LOT of chaos. I took a stand a few years back when our lot of “grumpy ones” was trying to correct my son and nephew. I said, you know what…if my child is doing something wrong, I would prefer that I correct him. I understand that he is bothering you/aggravating you, however we handle discipline differently in our family. I was nice but forceful, then took them both outside and basically explained the same thing you said to Little J. From that point on, they don't say things too them. We explained their “conditions” to them numerous times, but until you have a hyperactive bundle of joy on a daily 24 hr basis you don't understand. We will be getting together for my sisters wedding next week and I am already planning activities to keep these two occupied so they are not in the middle of the morning “getting ready for the wedding” festivities. 😉 Good luck this year! Stand your ground. You can be respectful to “grumpy” while still standing up for your son.

    Reply
  2. Sara D says:

    I hear you loud and clear, Adrienne. My “Cranky One” happens to be my father (grandfather to my ADHD child). It's tough to take, especially since The Cranky One has his own mood disorder issues, untreated, which have long had a negative impact on me. I do my best to keep the peace, as do most others in our family, but it takes its toll on me and on my kid, who's really just being himself, and trying to do his best. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that you and I both have a peaceful holiday season!!!

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  3. Anonymous says:

    i have a son with adhd and hes 19 now but i found it really hard when people commented that my child was really naughty and rude there is not enough known about condition and its other people that are rude not taking time to learn or read up on it. i dont believe that people with adhd grow out of this condition illness what ever you like to call it i think they learn to cope with and control it like my son has .

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  4. No one says anything to me or Luke interestingly.

    My parents live very close and we see them all the time and grandma cares for him a lot and is a disciplinarian in his life too. Everyone here spends a lot of time with Luke and works hard to understand his differences and what's best for him.

    Anyone in the family who doesn't see us much may question our parenting from time to time but they don't say anything. I've noticed a “what the heck” look on some faces a few times but overall, we are very lucky.

    I wish everyone a peaceful holiday season!

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  5. Stephanie B. says:

    We have someone like that also. Comments are made fairly frequently; however, because it's not our home turf we're on at the time, I feel like keeping quiet is for the best. The comments don't seem to bother the children, just me and occasionally my husband. On the flip side, we have relatives that are so permissive, it's equally as obnoxious. Go figure :/

    Everyone have a blessed and safe Thanksgiving!

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  6. dmd says:

    My mom can be like that, although that was before Dylan's dx. I'm hoping she'll be a little more tolerant. She was fully (and suprisingly) supportive when I told her. And Dylan is usually on good behavior when she is here for Christmas. But she is staying with us for the 2nd year in a row, so let's see. Familiarity breeds…hyperactvity? opposition?

    –dee

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  7. No one in my immediate family has ever made much comment and, in fact, fall to the opposite end of the spectrum by over-accommodating Javi. However, both of my nephews have a mood or neurological disorder and my oldest sister is bipolar. It's all old hat for us.

    However, extended family and some friends comment that Javi isn't as well behaved as other children and like to point out that they “know how to fix that.” The consensus seems to be 'blame the parent.' I have learned to let it go since my kid doesn't bear the brunt of it.

    It's really, really hard though because I have a tongue that could glass. They have no idea how much I'm holding back!

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  8. Liz Ditz says:

    What Stephanie said about permissive parents. Not in my extended family, but in our social circle, there is at least one set of parents that practice what I call “permissive boobytrapping” parenting — let the kiddo get more and more out of control, do nothing, and then explode at the poor kid for an act that is no more transgressive that the previous eleven (or thirty).

    I have to bite my lip and walk away because it makes me so upset.

    I agree that learning that all people are different, and that learning that “some people in every family who are a little scary? Who are a little impatient? A little cranky?” is a good thing. Just think, you are modeling for little LittleJ that you aren't pleased with The Cranky One's behavior, but you don't react with rejection to the behavior, express affection for The Cranky One, and move on. Hmmn seems like a pretty good model to me.

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  9. I think your approach is perfect for your situation, and I've found that ADHD kiddos are extremely sensitive to others' needs when I haven't expected it and are eager to please – so it's a good learning experience too.

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  10. Thanks everyone!
    I'm happy to report that the big day came and went without a hitch. LittleJ really kept it together and The Cranky One wasn't very cranky at all!
    *Sigh!* All that wasted anxiety…
    And @Stephanie and @Liz – this is not the case with my family, but MAN is it the case with my friends. The least permissive parents always end up leading the tenor of the group, don't they? Also, weirdly enough, LittleJ's 1st grade teacher was like this as well – no classroom control at all but sent a daily note home about how LittleJ couldn't control himself. Hmm… (That's a whole blog post in itself).

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  11. Anonymous says:

    Until we had an actual physical diagnosis (written evaluation, etc.) – my mother and father in laws were the ones who were critical – not just of my son, but of me as a parent. We would hear comments constantly of “there's nothing wrong with that boy; he's just a boy; what he needs is a good old fashioned _____ (you fill in the blanks). My FIL was raised in a very traditional southern family where you didn't talk back to an elder – under any circumstance. So, in the early days it was tough to take their comments at family gatherings. Since receiving a formal diagnosis, they've become quite empathetic – which is nice.

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  12. dmd says:

    Liz' comment just made me think of friends of ours who have a son with sensory processing disorder. I would well agree that their son needs accommodations in his life. However, their method is to let absolutely anything he does go. There is no correction of any kind because they always want him to have the freedom to express himself. And they get almost offended if I correct my son, perhaps telling him to stop running somewhere it is completely inappropriate, if there son is running, too. It can be very difficult and my son wants to know why he can't when his friend is.

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  13. Through trial and a great deal of error, I've found that LittleJ does best when presented with very clear boundaries. To outsiders this sometimes seems like I'm too strict or too anal, but if given 2 choices he does a whole lot better than if presented with all the choices.
    This summer we went to the beach with our friends and finally, FINALLY, I got some credit from them. Up until that point I know they thought we were too hardcore w/our parenting choices, but once they saw us for a week straight they clearly saw how what we do works for LittleJ. He takes a lot of comfort in boundaries and structure. Without it he feels insecure.
    You realize, of course, that this is why all the comments about what I could do better as a mom, or how we should best discipline our child, is really ironic!
    Of course, everyone has a different way of parenting. I think that the looser style works for a lot of people. It just doesn't work for us.

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  14. Anonymous says:

    I have an old cranky too! She said she would “sort him out” on a family holiday, after all she was an ex school teacher. I obliged – 2 hrs was enough for her before she kindly handed back responsibility, not much was ever said after that.

    I feel Benji can almost percieve my tension if we are going to someone's house who is critical and is guarenteed to behave worse. I usually stoop to bribery on a min by min basis lol

    Reply
  15. Anonymous says:

    I would have to agree and say that I too am fairly strict with boundaries. I think I've become this way purely out of self preservation..lol!

    Julia L.

    Reply

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The "ADHD Mommas" are not medical or mental health professionals, nor an ADHD coach. Any opinions shared here are just that, opinions. I, and the other "ADHD Mommas," are sharing our experiences with our own ADHD children. Please do not re-post or publish any content or photos without a link back to {a mom's view of ADHD}. Have the courtesy to give credit where credit is due. Copyright protected. All rights reserved.

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