What are you most surprised about?
It takes about 10 years of perspective to know this, but I'm surprised how the research, science, and "thinking of the day" changes regarding ADHD. The reading program that my son struggled with throughout elementary school is passé and even harshly judged by some experts now. We were strongly encouraged to give lots of praise to ensure high self-esteem in our children, but I think we all overdid it and now there is a bit of a backlash against that practice.
I'm surprised that some of what we considered essential to being a competent parent has changed and evolved. But you can only work with the information that you have. And it is the nature of science to evolve and change. It is still better to use best practices and science-based interventions than to wing it.
Where can parents turn?
Parents of children with ADHD often turn first to sympathetic family members or existing friends they can rely on. While these types of support occur naturally, there are limitations. For example, parents may receive traditional parenting advice from well-meaning friends, but their children may not respond well to some traditional parenting strategies. It is easy to become overly reliant on our existing friends when you are facing the unknown. Eventually your neediness can become a turnoff, and if you aren't careful, it can end the friendship.
Since many children with ADHD are in some form of special education, there are opportunities at school to meet other parents who are having similar experiences. Parents of children with ADHD may also seek out a wider variety of experiences and advice from a breadth of parents facing similar issues. That is when families usually turn to CHADD.
Reaching out to CHADD or a similar resource for education, support, and advocacy is a wise thing to do. Parents can gain knowledge about the disorder and develop a more realistic view of their child. They can learn what is helpful and what is not. With the support of other parents, they have the opportunity to practice these new skills in a nonjudgmental atmosphere.
What kinds of things do you learn in a support group?
Some of the parenting techniques are counterintuitive, so parent support is helpful. For example, one common recommendation is to never say "no" to an oppositional child. Instead, the parent can say, "Yes, as soon as …" or "Yes, when ... " or "Yes, if .... " This method is easy to understand in a workshop but may not be the way most us were raised, and may be hard to implement on a consistent basis. So having peers who can cheer you on when you are trying a new skill, or give you some perspective when you don't quite get things right, can be instrumental to parenting success.
It is also such a relief to simply be in the company of others who "get" what we are going through, who don't need a detailed explanation of our children's puzzling behaviors, and who believe that ADHD even exists. Being in the presence of naysayers is really exhausting and takes its toll.
We also benefit from being able to share what is really going on in our lives. The accomplishments we celebrate look different than other children's accomplishments. We hang schoolwork on our refrigerators that received a "C" because that is our child's best effort. We get misty over a handwritten Mother's Day card that doesn't contain a single vowel! We give rewards for not saying a bad word in a restaurant.
Being with other parents allows us to talk openly, which reduces fear and uncertainty. Parents of kids with ADHD experience a lot of difficult moments and need the help of our peers to guide us through it. When you are calm, you can make better decisions instead of being reactionary.
We share our sad moments and our fears for our children's futures. Our kids view the world so differently than others. My friend has a child in sixth grade, and the class was assigned to write an essay on the topic of their choice. Most of the boys wrote about sports, a recent vacation, or why their allowance should be increased. My friend's son wrote an essay entitled "I Wish I Had a Friend." You can't share this stuff with the PTA members or with relatives at a barbecue—you need to be in a safe, nurturing environment, and that is what CHADD meetings, events, and parenting classes provide.