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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Children with ADHD and their Families

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Nov 5th 2008

 I was really pleased to see that a piece of research confirmed what so many therapists who treat children with ADHD and their families already knew from experience. What we already knew was that having a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can have devastating effects on marriage and on the other children in the family. Researchers at the University of Buffalo discovered that by the time ADHD children reach the age of 8 there parents are extremely likely to divorce. In fact, marriages are most vulnerable when the child is between the ages of 1 go 8 years of age. For this reason and more, the researchers conclude that the treatment of the ADHD child must include the treatment of the entire family. The article reporting the research was printed in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Other recent studies demonstrate the fact that ADHD puts strains on the relationships between parents and the ADHD child, between the child and other siblings in the family, and among all the family members.

While the studies now clearly prove that having an ADHD child greatly increases the risk of divorce, those families who cope with this problem are more than aware of how their lives are affected. This is not to say that they do not love their child. Rather, it means that parents and siblings feel over whelmed, battered and out of control.

Everything that the average family that is raising children take for granted is difficult for the ADHD family. Daily routines, engagement in play with other children, doing homework, watching television and family meal times, are disrupted by the ADHD child who can be impulsive, demanding, loud, disorganized and disruptive.

My attempt here is not to vilify these unfortunate children. They are unable to control themselves and that is the reason they are sent into treatment with psychologists and psychiatrists. Anyone who has lived through or who is currently living through this type of thing knows who torturous this can be.

In my experience, treatment for the ADHD child has included treatment for the entire family. Over the years, I worked with many families struggling with this problem while the child was being treated by the child psychologist. The purpose of therapy for the family was/is not to bitterly complain about the child, but to learn specific behavioral strategies to cope with the child while lending support to one another rather than engaging in mutual blame. It is also important that parents learn to give attention to and listen to the needs of their other siblings.

Family therapy is also geared towards learning about this disorder so that parents not blame themselves for what has happened to their child. Hope is also important as many parents mistakenly believe that their ADHD child is doomed to a life of being handicapped. In fact, people with ADHD are able to go on and have productive and happy lives once they learn how to cope with the disorder and to use the particular talents that come with ADHD.

If you are in this situation and have a child with ADHD it is important that you seek help for the child as well as for yourself and the entire family.

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, PhD.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

You're not a failure - Ann - Dec 9th 2008

I wanted to comment on your post about having a son with ADHD. You are not a failure! You recognized you had a problem (a bad marriage) and you took the difficult steps to get out of it and make a different life for yourself and your son. Now you've recognized another serious problem with your alcohol abuse and you've made the decision to stop that. As a result, you have to deal with all the emotions that you were able to previously numb with alcohol.

I am currently involved with a man who has a 17 year old son with ADHD (along with cerebral palsy). He is also struggling to get his son through high school (he no longer attends school and does his work via a virtual classroom at home). His marriage and home life was very unhappy for 20 years and a lot of it had to do with the problems of his son. He is now separated with plans to divorce. Still, his marriage was troubled long before his son was born. His son's troubles just further weakened an already weak link. Would the marriage have failed if the son had not had ADHD? I believe it would have-probably years earlier. My feeling is that he and his wife stayed together for as long as they did because they shared a common purpose-taking care of their son's needs. They put all their attention and focus on their son's problems so they were able to avoid looking at the problems within their relationship. When the son got older and wasn't quite as needy, my boyfriend finally had time to take an appraisal of his own life and what he needed to be happy.

It sounds like it's that time for you, too. You can't help your son until you are emotionally strong and healthy. You have taken the first step to getting there so give yourself some credit!

Son with ADHD - Chris - Nov 23rd 2008

My 20-year-old son has ADHD severly and has had nothing but problems in school and in life from day one, and although I love him more than anyone in the world, he has pretty much destroyed my sanity and my health. I am currently attempting recovery from a pretty intense drinking problem that, frankly, has been partly due to not being able to cope with him. I divorced his dad when my son was 9, as my husband had MS and was deteriorating rapidly (and the marriage was horrible to begin with) and I was going insane, was suicidal because I was trying to raise my son and take care of my husband too. The divorce made my problems even greater in some ways (financially, as I was forced to sell our beautiful home and wander around for four years in crappy apartments-getting burglarized on top of everything else). And my son and others hated me for divorcing his "sick" dad. How dare I try to survive and not kill myself? Even my fundamentalist judgemental church told me to leave if I divorced him (What would Jesus do? Kick her to the curb, apparently). My son was on meds, I took him to a psychiatrist, I advocated for him fiercely at his schools (the teachers and school officials who felt my wrath will not forget me), and yet, he has consistently failed at every job, every class. I had to practically kill to get him to graduate high school after five years. He has gotten into substance abuse, has been arrested, has been in numerous car accidents, has been to a rehab for marijuana use, is probably bi-polar but refuses to get help. My new husband can't tolerate him and my marriage is teetering on the brink. So, what is a woman like me to do? Up til now, DRINK. So, now that I am not drinking, it all seems so overwhelming. I don't want to throw out a possibly bi-polar, definately ADHD kid with no resources to survive on his own. I don't want to discourage anyone, but something has to be done to help parents like myself. It's too late for me, but I feel for all those moms with young ADHD kids. THey don't know what they're in for.I did everything I could. I tried harder than I should have sometimes. Sorry to be a bummer. I just feel like a total failure.

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