Family, Forgiveness and ADHD: Loving and letting go, during and beyond the holiday season

Mother consoling her adolescent in their bedroom.In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, many of us have shorter fuses. Tempers flare, angry words are said, and the joy of family gatherings suddenly sours. Sadly, the stress of special events can lead to negative interactions, behaviors or outbursts. Whatever you celebrate, you have the opportunity to pivot from feeling shutdown to being connected. The holidays bring joy, lightness and good cheer. Practicing forgiveness with your family (and yourself) will assist you in having a happier, fulfilling experience.

Recognizing the impact of ADHD on behavior

Teen boy sitting outside by trees, looking sad and down at the ground with his head resting down on his hand.

Living with ADHD can be challenging for kids and adults and the people who love them. Children and teens test limits, argue about routines and struggle to manage intense feelings. It’s tougher for them to remember their chores, to brush their teeth daily or to stop playing Fortnight or using Instagram.

Like adults, kids and teens may know what they should do, and sincerely want to do that. However, due to challenges with impulse or emotional control, they cannot make better choices with consistency. Sometimes, it’s unclear to folks with ADHD and their circle of friends, relatives and caring adults what behaviors are purposeful and what reflect having ADHD. This confusion leads to blame, shame and frustration.

What it means to forgive (and what it doesn’t)

Forgiveness is a purposeful decision to let go of feelings of resentment, blame or revenge towards someone who has hurt or harmed you–whether or not you think they deserve it. It does not condone what they did, but rather frees you from the pain of holding onto your anger and criticism.

Father hugging his daughter outside, laughing together

Forgiveness is about mercy and compassion. It is something you offer because you realize that it is the most effective response to a situation. Forgiveness encompasses an awareness that a number of social-emotional and environmental factors influence reactions, emotions and behaviors of people with ADHD. It’s also about being cognizant of your self-righteousness.

Whether your young adult son refuses to take his ADHD medication and can’t seem to hold down a job, your ten year old explodes when you won’t let him watch R-rated movies, or your teen repeatedly leaves their dirty socks on the couch–what you can control is your response.

Yes, you’re agitated and disappointed. Yes, you know the medication will help, PG-13 movies are more appropriate and the socks belong in the hamper. But, what’s needed here is understanding about their struggles, scaffolding to teach executive functioning skills, following natural and logical consequences and, frankly, letting some things go.

Forgiveness in the holiday season

Mother with her hand to her face looking stressed, holding gifts in front of the Christmas tree.Forgiveness is part of the holiday spirit, because it offers somebody the gifts of kindness and generosity of spirit. Empathy is a key component of forgiveness, particularly when we are talking about neurodivergent kids and adults. Compassion teaches us that, just like us, they are doing the best they can in a given situation with the tools they have available to them in that moment. This is especially true for their Now/Not now brains. When flooded with strong emotions, rational thinking goes on a quick vacation, and the amygdala takes over with survival responses instead of thoughtful, cognitive ones.

At times, compassion can be difficult

When you are in pain–anger, sadness, guilt or shame–it’s much harder to practice empathy or compassion. It’s common for people (parents, partners, children or teens) to export this pain onto others. Then, those folks take it on and try to fix it. However, this is usually an impossible task, because you are not a miracle worker, and your capability to make things ‘okay’ is limited. Rather, acknowledge what is going on, brainstorm potential solutions together, and see what happens. Focus on doing your own work, why you feel triggered, and how the present situations might replicate something from your own history. Set up a family policy of using a Take-Back of the Day to demonstrate forgiveness in real time.

Offer yourself forgiveness and compassion, too

Rather than berating yourself for not being good enough at home, at work or in your relationships, practice accepting yourself, as you are, instead. Decrease your expectations about your professional, academic or parenting skills so you don’t walk around feeling like a failure.

mother taking a breath on the couch and practice self-compassionA mother recently told me: “I’m pretty good at forgiving my 3 children with ADHD, but I struggle with not forgiving myself and blaming myself. I feel like I can never do enough to provide the structure they need.”

Pay more attention to what you are doing with the resources you have available. Everybody stumbles: two steps forward and one step backward is still forward motion. If you make a mistake, be accountable for your actions without going into a shame spiral of self-loathing. This is really tough to do, especially for perfectionists. But it doesn’t serve you, and it certainly doesn’t model for your kids how they can accept themselves. Start by forgiving yourself for something small, such as yelling about bedtime, rather than tackling all of motherhood.

Forgiveness is an ongoing practice

Forgiveness is an ongoing practice: it’s a gift that grows and changes over time. Releasing your resentment increases your potential for happiness and contentment. This is the best gift you can give yourself and your loved ones!

Read more blog posts:

Watch on Dr. Saline’s YouTube Channel:

Deeper Dive:

Apologies of Action (Handout)

Home Study Seminar: What Your Child With ADHD Wishes You Knew and How You Can Help