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How do two ADHD people cope with seeing a non ADHD-friendly relative?
May 15, 2011 1:46 PM   Subscribe

ADHD and relatives: both my partner and I have ADHD and we both have problems with visiting my mother. How to deal with this conflict?

My mother pressurises us to visit her and my step-father at their home or to go to stuffy local eateries near them, but we are like round pegs in square holes. Her idea of a visit is a nightmare for us - it means organisation, travel when we’re knackered from work, having to dress up and be presentable ditto, having to get up early when we sleep badly, having to go to places where we feel like bulls in a china shop, being bored crazy and then having to fend off her many intrusive questions, and trouble can result if we tune out and miss something important. We cant relax in her house because it is so regimented and neat that disaster lurks for klutzes like us. If we go, it also takes a large bite out of our very limited time to relax from work and to see each other (partner and I have a distance relationship). Despite us trying to set up visits that we can cope with, and letting her know that we don’t cope well with her idea of a visit, she wont stop pressurising us, and I’ve got to the point where my ADHD has kicked in and I bury my head in the sand and don’t answer her phone calls/emails because I’m tired from work and cant face having this argument again. I am an only child, so this is not going down well.

My mother doesn’t understand ADHD and I haven’t told her I’ve been diagnosed with it, (though she knows my partner has it), she thinks we are just being neglectful and uncaring. How can I best approach this problem? Has anyone else dealt with a similar situation?
posted by Flitcraft to Human Relations (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
IMHO, you either need to suck it up about visiting your mom (because the stuff that she wants to do sucks generally because you don't like it, not because you have ADHD. I wouldn't frame it as an ADHD issue.)

You need to decide or figure out what the appropriate number of visits would be. 4 times a year or something? Twice a year? And suck it up. If you're an adult, why would you visit more than that if you didn't want to?
posted by k8t at 2:04 PM on May 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


PS, looking at your posting history, it sounds like the problem isn't ADHD, but your mom. There were some great answers in the old questions.
posted by k8t at 2:07 PM on May 15, 2011


Go on the offensive. "Hi mom, Bob and I are planning a fishing / line dancing / knitting weekend in Wherever at the end of March and we'd love if you guys would join us. I just booked our room; do you want us to book a room for you, too?"

In other words: stop going home like a child if you can't get out of that dynamic. Change it. Either do it on your territory or take the lead in inviting her to neutral territory around you. She's likely to be far less domineering outside of her comfort zone.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:11 PM on May 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


This isn't an ADHD thing. This is a boundary thing. I don't have ADHD and was occasionally driven crazy by pressure to visit home until I put my foot down and kept it there. You and partner can agree to [x[ visits per [y], and other urges to visit from your mom can be met with a firm "No, we can't that weekend."
posted by rtha at 2:14 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have ADHD too and I still am not sure what ADHD has to do with your dilemma. Your mother drives you nuts and it's difficult for you to spend too much time under her roof. Therefore, you stay in a hotel nearby and then you negotiate acceptable ways to spend time together. If an all day visit makes you restless, then go for a couple of hours. If she pressures you into going to a restaurant you don't like, you can either 1) suck it up for the time it takes to sit and eat there or 2) suggest an another place that's less formal. Expecting your mother to "understand" your ADHD and somehow make allowances for it is perpetuating a parent/child dynamic.
posted by Wordwoman at 2:19 PM on May 15, 2011 [10 favorites]


Yeah... a lot of this is more about being the adult child (and the only child to boot) of a parent. As others have said it is essentially being an adult and acting like one. Set limits, enforce those limits, be prepared for some fall out from it until she comes to accept it.

You could even turn it into a mini vacation of sorts, you and your partner go visit, stay in a hotel, see your fam for x hours and do Y and Z fun things on your own time.
posted by edgeways at 2:19 PM on May 15, 2011


Well what she wants out of a visit hits almost all of our mutual ADHD weak spots for coping, so I wondered what others have done. I did move to setting up easier meetings - shorter, less formal venues, less travelling, later in the day, but it's not been accepted by her. I wondered whether explaining why we have trouble sitting through these longer more formal visits might help. By the sounds of it I need to stick at proposing the alternative visits and keeping the 'suck it up' ones to a level that my partner can cope with.
posted by Flitcraft at 2:47 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Last I checked, having ADHD doesn't mean you're nine years old for the rest of your life.

Sometimes people have different interests from you. Sometimes you have to wear clean clothes. Sometimes you have to do stuff on your day off, or talk to your mom even if her questions seem obnoxious.

If amount of time taken up by visiting is an issue, you should learn to say no. I like the X visits every Y period of time suggestion. Granted, I live really far from my parents, but I've got them trained to expect a visit once or maybe twice a year (and gotten them used to the idea that I might use money and free time to travel to other places). I'm sure you could do likewise and whittle it down to something all parties find acceptable.
posted by Sara C. at 2:48 PM on May 15, 2011 [11 favorites]


Mr Fifilaru and I am poster children for ADD. I know how you feel. If you mom drives you that crazy, try to minimize your contact or do it on your own terms. Although you have ADHD, you are still an adult and you are still responsible for your actions.
posted by fifilaru at 2:50 PM on May 15, 2011


Flitcraft: "By the sounds of it I need to stick at proposing the alternative visits and keeping the 'suck it up' ones to a level that my partner can cope with."

Almost. You need to keep proposing the alternative visits and declining the the suck it up ones. Seriously JUST SAY NO. She's your mother, not a magical all powerful being.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:57 PM on May 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


maybe propose something that would be extremely comfortable to you and your partner (which you know she won't accept), then compromise/meet half way on something else (the things you've proposed before).
Plus, with you throwing more invitations her way, she cannot say that you are not the one making an effort to see her.
posted by Neekee at 2:58 PM on May 15, 2011


*not making an effort
posted by Neekee at 2:58 PM on May 15, 2011


Re: not being able to relax in her house.

Is there anyone else in her town you could stay with when you visit? What about couchsurfing? Or a cheap hotel? Or a campground?
posted by aniola at 2:59 PM on May 15, 2011


If your mother won't accept your limits the answer is "I'm sorry, Mom, but I'm just not going to be able to do that." The point of negotiation isn't for you to eventually do whatever she happens to like - you both have demands, some of which are more or less important to you. Your "and we don't get stressed out" is more important than "and we spend time with you," and that's OK.

Also - why can't she come and visit you? Your field, your terms.
posted by SMPA at 2:59 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you think the ADHD is an issue for you in regard to visiting your mom, you should most definitely tell her about it and try to explain as best you can.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:04 PM on May 15, 2011


I wondered whether explaining why we have trouble sitting through these longer more formal visits might help.

You mean, you'd happily subsume your own needs for hers if not for your pesky disability? No, I don't this will help in the long run.
posted by Wordwoman at 3:13 PM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


If your mother won't accept your limits the answer is "I'm sorry, Mom, but I'm just not going to be able to do that." The point of negotiation isn't for you to eventually do whatever she happens to like - you both have demands, some of which are more or less important to you. Your "and we don't get stressed out" is more important than "and we spend time with you," and that's OK.

Also - why can't she come and visit you? Your field, your terms.


Thanks for this. We do both get very very stressed doing our jobs which doesn't leave much slack for other stresses. I worry about one or the other of us tipping over into depression. If she visits me she gets upset because my housekeeping standards are so far beneath hers, so I've tried to go for neutral ground visits to other places.
posted by Flitcraft at 3:40 PM on May 15, 2011


Have you ever just come out and told her that she makes visits so unpleasant that you don't care to put yourselves in that situation anymore? That you will be happy to meet up with them at restaurants but if that isn't good enough then that is on her?

(yes, I read your previous question.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:51 PM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


It sounds like you have two separate problems that exacerbate each other: coping with adult life as a person with ADHD and navigating an adult relationship with your mother.

Based on your description, it seems like your ADHD, stress, and depression may not be as well managed as they could be. The level of panic and frustration you convey in describing your experiences visiting your mother sounds unusually high to me. I don't mean that you're doing something wrong or bad, or that you're in a situation where you need to "suck it up and deal"--it just sounds like you struggle in ways that perhaps better medication, therapy, or coping strategies could help you to improve.

When you have good strategies for dealing with situations you find stressful or unpleasant due to ADHD, anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue, you are much better able to establish and enforce healthy boundaries with family and friends. When you feel you're managing your mental health well, you're able to trust yourself to make the best decisions and you're able to recognize that you don't owe anyone an excuse for taking care of yourself--"I can tolerate two hours at a stuffy restaurant with Mom and then I'm going to go home and relax," or "Work has been too stressful this week and I need time to decompress, so I'm telling Mom I can't make it this weekend but that I'll call her on Sunday."
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:41 PM on May 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yes, exactly and I'm at a loss to know where to look next for help. I tried several sorts of counselling which didn't help with my problems with my mother. Historically our relationship has been terrible with a lot of rage and emotional abuse on her side because my undiagnosed ADHD meant she and I didn't understand why I failed at the domestic tasks and appearances she thought were so important when I was growing up. This left a legacy of me being terrified of her and bad at setting boundaries. I had it confirmed recently that I do have ADHD which explained why some things which on paper should be easy to cope with were so difficult. Medication has only made a minor difference so far, and meanwhile due to cuts at work, my working hours and stress ratchet up.

My partner is in a similar position with work and ADHD. I used to cope with visiting my mother by bringing him along with me for back up. But he's now put his foot down to being dragged over there to sit in a restaurant he hates and then be bored to tears for hours, which leaves me fielding the requests that we should do this and not knowing how to say no and hence pursuing bad strategies like avoidance which make things worse. I've just been switched to a new doctor and so don't know if they'll tackle anything beyond medication. I've no idea where to look for help. People either expect me not to be so helpless when I have to tell her 'No' or just to suck it up and go despite the dread I feel.

Most of the things I've mentioned in the OP are the deal breakers for my partner on visiting her (though not easy for me), but if he won't go then I'm left dealing with her on my own which panics me, or I'm left trying to fend off the pressure about visiting. I have miserable levels of fear and anxiety about this and having tried so many things that don't work, don't know what will.

I hoped if i could get her to just make it less of a trial for my partner that it might be easier to work something out, but thinking about it, the real problem is the tailspin I go into when I have to handle the negotiations, and I don't know where or how to get help for that.
posted by Flitcraft at 8:31 PM on May 15, 2011


Flitcraft, you're an only child. You don't have to negotiate, and you don't have to put up with BS. You have absolute power!
posted by cyndigo at 8:38 PM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


A few thoughts:
Expecting your mother to suddenly understand your point of view and change her behavior would be nice but not a very realistic strategy. You want to plan that allows you to take care of yourself while letting your mother be completely herself. It would be nice but necessary for her to respond the way you would like.

One suggestion is to stop and figure out what is reasonable for you. Offer your mother only choices that you are OK with. One backup option might be that if you and she can't agree then you will not come but you will call her later. You might also need to know for yourself what to do if you make one set of plans and then she changes them.

It's Ok if you want to "suck it up" to the some degree to make your mother happy -- we all make choices like that. But you want it to be your own choice - that this is something that you yourself are choosing to do for a reason and that if it didn't work you would be equally free to choose not to do it.

Once you know the options, have a friend or your partner help you practice talking to your mother. (If you know someone who is good at setting boundaries, have them be you and you pretend to be your mother so you can see how they handle things and then you reverse roles.)

Before you talk to your mother you want to have (or be able to fake) confidence that what you are doing is completely reasonable, that however she responds, you can accept that is her choice while not letting go of your own position.

A similar strategy would be to borrow your partner's ability to set boundaries and just refuse offers that that don't work for him. That would give you the support that you need during the visit as well as setting the visit so they work better for you as well as for him.
posted by metahawk at 9:27 PM on May 15, 2011


Some people will try to bullshit you with "sometimes you have to do thing you don't like, grow up" etc. etc. but they have no idea what they're talking about when it comes to emotionally abusive family members. In fact, the attitude of "suck it up" is poisonous when abuse is involved. Don't listen to that, and don't listen to the voice in your head that says "deal with it" or "it's my responsibility to make my mother happy". It's not. It's your responsibility to take care of yourself and your loving, healthy relationships (like, perhaps, your relationship with your partner).

That means taking time off with him where you can both re-charge, instead of using him to help you get through a situation that you should never be in in the first place.

My mother was emotionally abusive and I happily avoid her. That is the consequence of her being unpleasant or rude to me. It took me a long time to make peace with the fact that having a close relationship with her would always be stressful and painful, no matter how hard I tried to be the good kid and tiptoe around her. So I avoid. And I feel proud of myself for doing it. I am taking care of myself in a way that is good for me and good for my family. That is more important than her desire to interact with me.

Let me make this 100% clear: she did not abuse you or rage at you because you have ADHD. ADHD did not make her do anything. Your behavior did not make her do anything. She was an adult and she was in control of herself. Having a kid with ADHD is stressful, but it is no excuse for abusing you.

My partner has ADHD too, and his parents have never been abusive to him. When his problems became abundantly clear, they helped him. They bought him an electronic organizer. They made sure he had plenty of structure and supervision. They gave him opportunities to do the things he loved and was good at, even though they weren't the "typical" things. That's what good parents do and it is possible to be a good parent to a child with ADHD. Now as adults, they have a good relationship with us. We all discuss wake up times when we're doing activities as a family, and if we need to sleep in, it's not a big deal. We decide on restaurants together. If one of us wants to stay home while everyone else goes sightseeing, we can. No hard feelings. Plenty of freedom for meeting our physical and emotional needs.

That is a healthy adult-parent relationship. It would never be possible with my mother, no matter how many boundaries I set. Our relationship is fundamentally unhealthy and stressful. Think about whether or not that's true for you, and if so, think about whether you should keep bashing your head against this brick wall and trying to make this parent-child relationship into something that it can never be.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:49 PM on May 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


(Sorry for the multiple replies, and feel free to tell me if I'm not making sense because I'm off my ADHD meds right now).

People either expect me not to be so helpless when I have to tell her 'No' or just to suck it up and go despite the dread I feel.

These are people who don't understand emotional abuse. It's not their fault or your fault. It's like some people don't know what pi is. It doesn't make them bad people or anything, but you don't want to go to them to find the area of a circle. You know?

However, the way you phrased the question initially here didn't make it clear that she used to be abusive to you (and may still be). If people don't know that, it makes it hard for them to help you. In fact, they might know what pi is! They might be able to help you! But you're asking them to find the area of a rectangle and wondering why the numbers don't work.

I can see why you wouldn't want to disclose abuse to everyone, but if you do trust your friends, please share this with them, and share this with your partner.

It does get easier, both ADHD/medication-wise and bad family relationship-wise.

Hang in there, okay?
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:58 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let me underline what a poster upthread said. As an only child you do have all the power.


I'm an only child too. Trust me, once you are able to set boundaries and enforce them, she will most probably fall into line.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:46 AM on May 16, 2011


I think part of the problem is that you are stuck in appeasement mode - thinking that if you can just do enough to satisfy what she wants, she will love you / not be mean / not be abusive. This is probably also why you want to tell her about the ADHD.

One thing you need to understand is that people do not change. They are who they are, deeply flawed and all. The only person over whom you can effect change here is you. I'm not really sure why you continue to have a relationship with this women but that's your choice. But it is also your choice to set boundaries in that relationship. And regardless of whatever else is going on with your diagnosis, meds, work or anything, you need to learn to draw boundaries.

While you can work with a therapist of some kind to do that, there are also workbooks and self-help resources for that. It's a fairly common AskMe question. If you can't get suggestions in this thread I suggest you ask that specific question next week and start there.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:10 AM on May 16, 2011


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