Having a child with ADHD does affect the whole family. There I have said it. With all the best intentions in the world, it is impossible not to let it impact your life. Routines must change. Planning must be strict. Boundaries are made differently. Sometimes these things are for the better. I mean most kids work well with boundaries and routines. But does ADHD impact the siblings? As a parent, I know first-hand how it affects me, but what about the other children in your family, their siblings?
Top 5 things I worry about for their sibling
- Having less time with me
- Resentment towards their sibling with ADHD
- Feeling bullied.
- Missing out on things because of the behaviour of their sibling
- Their childhood will not be one to reflect on fondly, by them
These are/were my top five. There are others but these are mine and these are just a few examples of how they affected her siblings.
Less Time with Me
When they were younger her twin most definitely got less time with me. He would go and play quietly whilst I had to play with her. As in, she was not able to play by herself, she needed me. When they first started reading, I would try to read at night with my daughter with ADHD. She hated it. Would resist everything I tried; a word each; only reading words beginning with s; only had to sausage when she saw a word beginning with ‘s’. You name it, I tried it! Of course, I did not know then that she was dyslexic!
But not only would she not want to read, but she also did not want me sitting with her twin whilst he read to me. And because she had had time with me, then it was only fair he had time with me. But she would sit on the bed and antagonise him. And despite me saying ignore her, he could not. I used to put my youngest boy to bed and then bathe the twins to resolve this. So, whilst he was in the bath, she could read, or just strop, and then she would get in the bath and he could read to me. But obviously, I had to be sat outside the bathroom with the door open to keep watchful eyes on them. She soon learnt to start splashing me, the towels, the walls, just anywhere really to get attention. I felt so bad for my son.
Resent Their Sibling
My youngest son at least had me in the day when the twins were at school. I asked for the twins to be in separate classes at school. I did not think it was fair that my son had to witness the distracting behaviour at home and at school. But the poor boy did still see her fly past the window as she broke free of her classroom confines. And on occasion, he told me, he would be used to bring her in from one of her escape tricks. He was embarrassed, even though he genuinely adores his sister. When people used to point out his sister having a meltdown at school it would embarrass him. I was so grateful when we got her a place in a specialist SEMH school, and so was he.
Alas, now it was the turn of my youngest son. When he was ‘little-little’ my daughter would so care for him, mother him. I would get her to read easy books to him at night, so she felt so grown up. This was blissful for a while. However, when his reading skills surpassed hers and she began to realise that he was no longer her ‘baby’, that was when the dynamics changed, and she began to lash out at him. He became her human ‘punchbag’, only in the verbal sense, at first. Unfortunately, it did become physical. Nastily so, and then he pretty much took to sleeping with me as she scares him. How awful.
I have sought advice, help, social workers, the lot. It is a work in progress, but it is getting better, I hope. But how awful is that to have to deal with? Not feeling safe in your own home. The absolute one place you should feel safe! I have told her this is bullying. She knows it when she is calm. Cannot rationalise it when she is heightened. And honestly, when she is calm, she is the most, lovely, kind, and empathic person you could ever meet!
Missing out and Childhood Memories
I remember when the kids were younger, the twins were five or six and my youngest was about two years old. We would optimistically get dressed up for a walk in the woods. As any parent knows, there is a lot of effort for any excursion, especially those involving cold, mud, wellies, and snacks!
We drove to the woods, approximately three hours after I initially had the idea to go wear them out in the fresh air and arrive in the car park. A row over who pressed the button for the ticket in the car park started this particular volcano. Like I do keep mentioning, I know all kids row about things like this. But with ADHD the rage gets taken to another level, one from which they cannot calm down. The language that spouted from her mouth was unbelievable. You may have read in my previous blog posts quite how much I hate swearing. Well, she seems to know more words than a drunk sailor.
Other mums turned to glare, protecting the ears of their innocents. I wanted to shout, I hate it too and try to protect my other two! Then the retaliation at her twin brother for the audacity of having pressed the ticket machine button first. A welly kick to his knee and a slap to a cold rosy cheek. Running to bend down and hug him as he burst into tears landed me a swift kick to my back. This just was not the outing I had envisaged. I tried to talk to her. I even said I would buy another ticket and she could press the magical button. But she was already gone. Into the red mist. I had to admit defeat and buckle them all back in the car whilst she raged on with more expletives.
When we arrived home, I remember my son asking if we were going for a walk. I wanted to cry. I explained that we would go another day, probably in about 18 years’ time.
This was not the only time this happened, obviously. There have been many, many times over the years. And please do not think I gave up at the first hurdle every time. There have been times when I have put them all back in the car, driven around a bit and gone back once things are calmer and restarted the venture out. But sometimes you must know when to quit!
One time I took the twins to London. You see Facebook can be so detrimental. When people post family outings to place’s I get so concerned that I am not doing enough with the kids, mum guilt. I forget how day trips are so hard for us. Yet here I am planning a day trip to London. I knew three would be impossible on the Tube, so I left my youngest with Grandad. After all, I only have a pair of hands!
Such high hopes, silly me. It all started so well. The Tube was a hit! They loved staring out of the window. In hindsight, I wish I had stayed on the tube all day and just gone up and down. See this was still before a diagnosis of ADHD. This was when I was still trying some of those traditional parenting strategies that I now know do not work on my daughter with ADHD. I was a mere novice. I was definitely expecting too much from the day.
London Eye was great. Although I could sense her getting a bit agitated about halfway around and just kept her busy pointing stuff out. Looking back what would I have done if she had lost it at the start in a bubble?! Imagine one hour of confined expletives! Fellow passengers would have asked for their money back! I would probably have smashed my way out and dived into the Thames. But no, it was a success.
Now a quick walk to get some lunch. I was thinking of a nice Italian pizza pasta place. Mummy could have a glass of red whilst commending herself on this wonderful day trip. The kids could have a nice bowl of fresh cheesy pasta and gelato. But my amateur planning let us walk past Hamleys. And my euphoric state, probably at the prospect of wine, allowed them to enter.
Way too busy for my daughter, way too noisy, and far too much choice. Silly, silly mummy. If you have ever been to Hamleys Regent Street, you will understand. Escalators everywhere, kids’ paradise, parents’ nightmare. I said they could each buy a small something. We were in there for about an hour, the wine now a distant memory. It was fine, there were lots to see and do and play with. Too much, with little patience from my daughter for what my son wanted to do. She needed to stay busy, she has no patience.
When it came to buying something it all proved too much. The decision or rather indecision was painful. My son selected a small something, within budget, within a few minutes.
My daughter decided the thing she had spotted was on the top floor, no middle, no the ground floor. It was clearly all my fault because she did not know what to get. Then she needed to break something, then she wanted to ruin a display. Then mummy could not find the escalators.
At this point, she sat down and did her drunk sailor routine. In the middle of Hamleys. At the top of her voice, kicking. I ended up sitting on the floor with her, feeling less euphoric at this point. Promising her the world if she would just leave the store with me. She probably looked like Verruca out of Charlie and the Chocolate factory at this point. Just another spoilt child not getting the toy they wanted. But it was so much more and entirely my fault. We sat there for an eternity but realistically it was about 15 minutes until she was fully calm. My eyes were wide, keeping one eye on my son and one on her.
We grabbed a doll and queued super quick before she could change her mind. Alas, there is no such thing as super quick queuing in Hamleys. Plus, they have loads of stuff for kids to change their minds over in said queue. Never, ever again I whispered to myself.
Obviously, the quiet Italian bistro was out of the question. She was heightened, not screaming but heightened and if she had another meltdown, I did not want it to be anywhere too quiet, with glass. Where better than McDonald’s, not quite the same but seemed to do the trick. That went ok, but my daughter now wanted to go home. To be fair, meltdowns tire her out completely. If I just had her to think about, I would have gone straight home. But we had an open-air bus tour planned. See all the sights, without walking. My son could not wait! He so wanted to see Big Ben. I could not let him down.
It must have taken us about an hour to walk about 15 minutes. She kept stopping and sitting down on the cold pavement and refusing to move. I was tempted to jump back on the tube, but it was now nearly rush hour and with her being as she was, I feared she would get lost down there. She has no fear when heightened, or should I say appears to have no fear.
We eventually got on the bus. Another kick-off because the bus did not move the second we got on. I tried to explain that we had to wait 10 mins and promised a hot chocci if she was a good girl. No understanding of time so another major rant. At least we pretty much got the top deck of the bus to ourselves, and not just because it was cold!
At last, we moved, and all was calm once more. Until her bobble hat came off somewhere around Buckingham Palace. It had not ‘felt right’ so she had thrown it off and had not realised it would land outside the bus. I am quite surprised one of the Queen’s guards did not hear her temper and lob it back on the bus, to be honest.
Let us just say, I did make it home to tell the tale and I did give my son a day trip out as I had promised.
Was it a success? Well, the funny thing was, to him it was. He did not feel the stress like I had. He just remembered all the bits he liked; Big Ben, McDonald’s, Hamleys, a train ride! What was not to love?
Perhaps also he has become used to his sister behaving like this. I mean, I have always been open with all of them and talked about how we all are different etc. At this point, she had not formerly been diagnosed so I could not say ADHD for sure. But I talked to her twin a lot about how she was and how she could not help it. He seemed very resilient to it.
Despite the fact we feel like we are failing them on most levels, they are resilient little people who are learning real-life values. And in today’s world, I personally think that outweighs algebra in school any day! My son is definitely more tolerant of his siblings. Especially now my youngest son is also showing clear signs of ADHD. I think he could pretty much take on the world and write his own blog about it. In fact, watch this space, I may just let him.
But, when their sibling wants to have a moan or a vent, let them. Please let them express how they feel. They are feeling it. Try to give them the space to do so. Do not interject with no but or solutions. Let them let it out. Let them talk. They will have things that seem so unfair. Hear them. Sometimes there will be no solution, but maybe a compromise? Or maybe they just want to let you know how this all feels. Let them.
I really try to spend a little quality time with each of them individually. When possible. It could just be lunch? A coffee and cake? Even just a movie on the couch curled up together. I know it’s not always possible. I’m a single mum, I get it. But even if you let one sneak down one night and have a slightly later night than the others, this can be a real treat!
So, this is what I wanted to say. The moral of the story as it were. Whilst you probably do feel so guilty about the impact ADHD has on the siblings and that they may be missing out. Or that you may be spending more of your time with your child/children with ADHD because they are more demanding of your time. Please know that you are most probably teaching your other child/children patience, resilience and understanding.
Research has shown that siblings of children with ADHD are often better adjusted emotionally and socially (Hastings, 2013). This is life, your life. It may not seem like you are doing enough but I can pretty much bet you are. Your child is more likely to remember all the fun times on reflection. Even if to you it was the biggest flop! You are trying your hardest and that is all anyone can do. You are creating your family life and no one else’s.
Oh, and by the way, who needs Fakebook Facebook anyhow, we all know that those family days were not as happy as Karen made out 😉
I have started a private support group on Facebook for parents and carers who need support with their child with ADHD. It’s a friendly place to chat with others. Please do click this link ADHDinchildren to join. And for anyone on Instagram, I’m there too ADHD Mum.