Divorce and ADHD

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There was an excellent article today in the Monterey County Herald about divorce rates among parents of children who have ADHD.

A recent study done by Brian Wymbs and William Pelham and published in The Journal of Clinical and Consulting Psychology found that the divorce rate of parents with an ADHD child was 22.7% versus 12.6% for parents without ADD children. They also noted that the parents of ADHD children tended to make the decision to divorce in a shorter amount of time than that of other parents.

The theory was that parenting an ADHD child was more stressful and more difficult, and that such stress would eventually carry over into the marriage itself.

I’m not going to give you all the details of the article; you can read it here.

What I did want to comment on is something that I have noticed over and over when I work with kids who have ADHD: sometimes parents unintentionally project their feelings about their former spouse onto the child. This is especially true for parents of an ADHD child, particularly when the custodial parent does not have ADHD.

It makes sense, if you think about it.

If a non ADHD adult marries an ADHD adult, problems can crop up between them around the issue of ADHD symptoms. For instance, an inability to maintain focus and pay attention can be perceived as a lack of interest. Forgetfulness, poor time management skills, poor organizational skills, or poor social skills can all be misinterpreted.

When my husband and I were first married, we spent some time with a certain couple. The husband had ADHD (although I don’t think he knew it) and the wife did not. She was constantly angry at him: he forgot to take out the garbage, he didn’t send her flowers to her office, he was sloppy, he never listened. The only surprise to us when she divorced him was how long she took before she actually did.

As in many cases, the wife (non ADHD) got custody of the kids, one of whom had inherited dad’s ADHD. Can you guess what happened? She became the new scapegoat – never neat enough, too forgetful, and on and on. While it was true that she struggled with her ADHD as her dad did, some of the anger directed at her by her mom was really meant for her dad.

The ADHD symptoms that so irritated her that she divorced her husband were now the ones her daughter exhibited. This woman was a good mom – she loved her kids – but she couldn’t see what she was doing.

I really hope for a long, happy marriage for every child, but the reality is that people have children and sometimes get divorced. So I guess what I would hope for instead is that parents remember to separate the behavior of the child from that of the former spouse.

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Lacy Estelle

Lacy Estelle is the writer of Lacyestelle.com and the Podcast host for An ADD Woman.

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5 Responses

  1. Something you may not have considered… the custodial parent may be overly hard on the ADHD child because they fear that the kid with ADHD will have all the troubles that their ex has. It is very hard to parent a child with ADHD and not project what their behavior as an 8 year old will look like as an adult if you don’t do something about it.