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Episode summary:

In this episode, Susan shares insights about the challenges that sometimes arise when one or both parenting partners has ADHD.

Do you or your parenting partner have ADHD?

Join Susan with Melissa Orlov for a special master class,

Parents With ADHD: Surviving & Thriving!

About Susan Stiffelman

Working with children has been Susan's life-long passion. In high school, Susan had an after-school job as a teacher at a day care center. When she went to college, she became a credentialed teacher, and was later licensed as a Marriage, Family and Child therapist. She has been an avid learner throughout her career, sharing insights and strategies in her two books: Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting With Presence (an Eckhart Tolle Edition). In recent years, Susan has shifted from private clinical work to online events for parents around the world on topics like Raising Resilient Kids, Helping Anxious Children Thrive, and Raising Screenwise Kids. Susan's greatest joy is working directly with parents in her monthly Parenting Without Power Struggles membership group, and in her Co-Parenting with a Narcissist support group with Wendy Behary. Susan is thrilled to be doing work that she loves, and hope she can help you and your kids along your parenting  journey!

Things you'll learn from this episode:


The parent-child dynamic that can arise when one partner has ADHD

The importance of repair

The power of appreciation in your relationship 

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 1: (00:09)
Well, hello and welcome back to the Parenting Without Power Struggles podcast. I'm really glad you're here. This, this podcast is a chance for me to share what I've learned as a family therapist, a counselor, a parenting educator, and a mom over the past 40 something years. Susan Stiffelman, the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting With Presence. And my work is really just about helping parents have more fun, more connection, more joy, and fewer power struggles as you raise your kids. So we cover everything in this series when it comes to parenting with guests like Janet Lansbury, Dan Siegel, Rachel Macy Stafford, Debbie Reber K and Kristen Neff. You'll find a whole library of episodes that you can listen to. But before we get started, please make sure that you're taking advantage of everything that we offer for parents by visit

Speaker 1: (01:03)
We've got a monthly Parenting Without Power Struggles membership community, which is so lovely. That's for parents who want ongoing more personal support. I offer a co-parenting with a narcissist support group with Wendy Behary, for those who need that kind of help. And we have over 30 deep dive, 90 minute master classes on everything from the recent class with Dr. Ned Hallowell on the gifts of ADHD to the resilient brain, with Dr. Dan Siegel and all kinds of topics like meal times, money, chores, siblings, anxious, children, sensitive children on and on. It goes. We also have a class coming up with Melissa Orlov on parents with ADHD, surviving and thriving. This is gonna be life changing for many of you who have ADHD in the mix, either you or your partner, the class is 90 minutes. We're gonna cover a lot of important material in depth, but today you're gonna get a sneak peek because I wanna share with you some of what inspired me to invite Melissa to join me for that special session.

Speaker 1: (02:09)
You can find out about the class at and also get all the free support and information about the other classes as well. I discovered Melissa who I'm teaching this course with when I was reviewing some material on ADHD, in many aspects of it, you know, both in children and in adults, she's the founder of, a highly respected expert in how ADHD affects relationships. And she specializes in helping couples understand how ADHD impacts their relationship and their marriage and how to improve it. She's the author of a book called the ADHD effect on marriage, as well as the couple's guide to thriving with ADHD and my husband. And I took her a course and got so much out of it that I realized this is something I wanted to share with my wider parent community. So let me just give you a little bit of a backstory. In my forties and not until my forties.

Speaker 1: (03:08)
I was diagnosed with ADHD these days. ADHD is the term used for either ADHD with hyperactivity or without hyperactivity. So we'll call it ADHD with, or without hyperactivity. I like to call it a D D ish because I don't like the label. I don't see the set of characteristics associated with this issue as either a deficit or as a disorder. So you can call it ADHD or D ish. I have seen both how it has created challenges in my life and in the lives of many, many people who I've worked with both children and adults, as well as bringing many gifts. So I I've really done some deep diving into what it is and have worked hard to understand and others through this lens of seeing the qualities like impulsivity inhibitor issues, time management organization, follow through the challenges that particularly make some of the mundane tasks of life, more difficult, these things, seeing through the lens of how the brain is wired makes so much more sense.

Speaker 1: (04:23)
We understand it through the chemical of dopamine and how, when we're stimulated, when we're excited, when we're really engaged and interested, we have a really nice flow of dopamine. The brain is firing on all cylinders, so to speak. And when something that we're doing is not very fascinating or stimulating or interesting to us, and that can vary from person to person. Then we can move into a more dreamy spacey state for some people, they will move toward hyperactivity to keep that arousal level of their brain more engaged and activated. And others will go into a daydreamy sort of based out state. You may have seen this, if you have either children or friends or yourself with the constellation of characteristics associated with a D D there, I did a whole wonderful class on this with Dr. Ned Hallowell, which is on my website.

Speaker 1: (05:16)
So I'm not gonna go too far into that, but I want to just say that my ADA, the qualities have definitely contributed to some challenges, but also I wouldn't trade them for anything. They've brought me so much creativity and spontaneity and playfulness, and many people call it the entrepreneurial gene or trait because it pushes us outside of our comfort zone and to explore and so many successful people and interesting people and scientists and novelists and trailblazers and entrepreneurs are identified as having ADHD. So we don't see it as a negative thing, but again, it can make dealing with life's less exciting and stimulating tasks, more challenging. Now, when you're married to someone who has those qualities, or both of you have them, it can certainly impact the relationship. And if it's impacting the couple, then it's for sure impacting the children because children really benefit from growing up in a climate and an atmosphere where their parents are friendly and respectful and compassionate and kind and tolerant of one another.

Speaker 1: (06:31)
And what happens is you may have noticed if you have children, that there are a lot of tasks associated from the time your kids get up in the morning, or you need to get them up in the morning, get them dressed, get them fed teeth, brushed shoes on out the door, on time, get them to school, get them back from school, get them to activities, get their homework done, meals prepared, shopping, bedtime, bath, and all those things. These are tasks that may not offer the a D D brain, the a D D ish brain, a lot of stimulation. So if you're a parent and you're responsible for getting all of those things done, it can be difficult. Which means that if you have a partner, that partner may feel that they're sort of having who micromanage these tasks, that they find that you don't always follow through, or you lose track of time, or you get involved in a game with your kids.

Speaker 1: (07:27)
And now it's much later. And, and so we see a dynamic in couples where the non ADHD parent can become quite resentful and feel over really burdened by having to kind of keep everything on track, where the ADHD parent, the one who may be more spontaneous and creative and struggle more with the time and organization issues may feel in the end, quite parented by their partner. They may feel controlled, and this is not a healthy dynamic. And this is kind of what the class that Melissa and I are gonna teach will be addressing a few things I wanna say though about it is that we start with understanding more about what ADHD is and how it affects our brain. Now, oftentimes you'll see one person in a partnership who has a D but is better managing it. So just because you have these characteristics of impulsivity, perhaps reactivity and attention issues, distractability focus, that sort of thing doesn't mean that you're not successful.

Speaker 1: (08:35)
It might mean that you have adapted or incorporated strategies to keep yourself on track and keep your tasks organized. Or you may have help. There are all kinds of scaffolds and structures that you can take advantage of that I urge people to do, because it certainly has helped me in my life accomplish a lot more than I would have otherwise, but we also know that not everyone knows they even have it. And one of the ways that many, many adults discover that they have a brain with a characteristics of attention issues, hyperactivity, perhaps impulsivity distractability focus, sometimes reactivity is that they take their child to be diagnosed because of the child's problems in school or at home, maybe issues that the child is showing up with behaviorally. And the parent is sitting there listening to the assessment and the summary of the testing results and is thinking, wow, this sure sounds like me.

Speaker 1: (09:35)
And so, particularly as a child, because as we grow, we do mature. We may not have quite the same expression as a child would, but we can look back and see how many similarities we had with our child when we ourselves were, were growing up and how it could have been because of ADHD, which was undiagnosed. So I'm a big fan and of learning what ADHD is. And again, the label is a misnomer, but learning about a brain that functions in this way where net Hallowell calls it, the Ferrari brain and how our minds can work really, really fast, which again can lead to some really wonderful entrepreneurial and of creative expressions. But when it comes to managing the more ordinary tasks of life, it really helps to understand what's going on, both for the parent, with ADHD, to learn, to explore, to dive in and really understand what's going on and for their partner.

Speaker 1: (10:35)
So that we take out of the equation, the criticism, the hostility, the shame, the arguing, the threatening, the blaming, the finger pointing all of those elements. Of course, we know create not only a problem for the couple, the two people who are trying to coparent together, but for their children, because we are modeling for our kids, how we negotiate difficulties or challenges or misunderstandings or, or breaking agreement. And so a big part of what we want to focus on in our class. And what I wanna touch on here is for the non ADHD partner or the partner with the more ADHD to really look at the parenting behavior that they're manifesting toward their co-parent, that means over controlling, micromanaging, telling them what to do, shaming them when they make a mistake or forget. And one of the ways that we can do this is by establishing much clearer boundaries and agreements ahead of time setting clear expectations.

Speaker 1: (11:44)
And there are so many ways of doing this, and they'll be unique to each couple, but I love the idea of the check in which Melissa talks about. And we'll elaborate on the check-in is where you and your partner really get clear about what's coming up for your family, for yourselves and for your children. So that there's a designation of responsibility that is associated with each person who is picking up Johnny from soccer, a practice who's gonna be making the snacks. Who's preparing dinner, all of the little minutia of life that make up a life with children, and that need to be brought to the forefront so that the person who's over functioning, who's taking care of so much. Doesn't just move into that place as a martyr as if nobody but me can do it and I'll just do it, but I'll be angry and resentful all the time.

Speaker 1: (12:40)
And then leaking out that hostility, as I said, toward their partner and creating that sort of toxic environment. It's okay for both of you to have healthy boundaries, you feel you're doing what you can. You ask for support in a respectful, caring way when you feel that you've taken on too much. And this is a very new dance for many couples. You know, we get into patterns, we get into habits of, oh, I'll just do it myself, or I can't count on you. And then children are often don't feel safe with the parent who has ADHD. If they're getting the message from one parent that their ADHD ish parent isn't responsible, might forget to pick them up. It creates a lot of low level anxiety for children. So we wanna make sure that there are these check-ins, that there's a clarity about what tasks need to be.

Speaker 1: (13:34)
And that it's brought out in a, in a friendly sort of meeting. And again, this is a structure that you can implement. And we look at repair and the importance of realizing that underneath maybe a long held trail of resentment or frustration or disappointment in your partner, there is a love, there is a, a care that at some point in your lives, you found each other and wanted to be together, decided to make a life together, have children together, not everyone went the conventional path. And of course, you may be parenting with a partner who you don't live with, but you can still remember that there was a moment when this was somebody you had positive regard for, and moving back into a place of care and respect and tolerance and understanding. This is why the there's so much value in learning about ADHD. Understanding that even though we all make mistakes, we all point people much of the time.

Speaker 1: (14:39)
It's not intentional, whether it's because we just got distracted or we lost track of time, or we spaced out, or we misunderstood a communication doesn't mean we don't need to be responsible for those mistakes and make repair. But if the climate is one of really trying to believe that people are doing their best, then it creates more safety for both parents, whether they're living together or not to try new things. And one big aspect of that is validations and appreciations. When your partner, whether it's the partner with or without the ADHD, characteristics does follow through does do something that's helpful. It helps to acknowledge it. You know, when Harville Hendrix and many others talk about a ratio of five to, to one, five appreciations, to every negative comment or complaint that you make. And this does change the feeling in the household. It changes the dynamic between you when every time your partner approaches you.

Speaker 1: (15:47)
If you're thinking they're about to criticize you or be upset with you, you're bracing yourself and there's a rigidity and there's a closed heartedness. But if you think that five times out of six, it's gonna be something friendly or warm or positive or affirming, then there's a softening and there's an opening. And, and this is the climate that allows you to come up with new strategies and make changes. So my reckon just as we're wrapping up is that if you or your partner have ADHD, learn more about it. I loved taking Melissa's eight week course. I got so, so much out of it. My husband and I are still applying some of the things that we learned. In fact, many of the things that we learned were just tremendously helpful. And I hope that if you're interested, you might try our 90 minute class.

Speaker 1: (16:37)
It's a much smaller commitment, but it'll give you an idea of some of the things that you can explore more deeply if you're interested, but it will also give you practical tools that you can use right away. Remember that we all are just how we are. The world is made up of many, many, many flavors and colors and expressions of the miracle of life. And I certainly believe that if we all came out one particular way, maybe everyone's highly organized, managing time, perfectly checking all the boxes. It would be a less colorful world. So we need all types. And if you're parenting and you have ADHD or your partner does, it's so important to understand what's going on so that you can create that kind of safety, the security, the, the place of home as refuge and peace and calm, where everybody can be restored and feel safe and accepted as always, if you're finding these episodes helpful, I'd love it.

Speaker 1: (17:41)
If you would just take a moment to leave a rating or a review. So many of you have been sharing the series and cheering us on. Thank you so much for that. It really means everything to, to this effort, because it's just about reaching parents around the world with support guidance, and help. We need it. You can also hit the subscribe button and that way you'll be notified just as soon as a new episode is released. Remember to stay in touch and get your regular dose of inspiration at You can get our free newsletter and see more about the master classes, including our upcoming class parents with ADHD and lots of videos and content that will just inspire and uplift you. And now let's just take a breath. I like to put my hand on my heart just to acknowledge that I was here and that you're here, that we're taking this time to learn and grow together. So that's it for today. Remember, no matter how busy life gets, look for those moments of sweetness and joy, stay safe, stay well. And I'll see you next time.