Anyone else worried about how your marriage looks to your children?

I haven't read or posted here in a long time, but this thought came to me today.  Your children's view of marriage is based on what they see from their mother and father.  And I'm scared to death that my kids are not seeing a very healthy relationship.  They are still young-5, 3, and 1yo.  I'm not wanting a divorce, there's just no way I can do that to my kids.  But my ADD husband and I just can't be showing them how a good, healthy marriage should be.  He is constantly letting me down, ruining my plans, not being on my team when we discipline the kids.  And the fact that I feel completely emotionally detatched from him, I can't even pretend to show him true affection or put on a front that I'm happy and that we care for each oh-so much.  I literally cringe sometimes when he shows me affection.  I know that sounds awful but I just can't help it.  When those feelings are there, I simply cannot fake it.  He has no complaints about me really.  I'm simply not close to him-you know that ol' talking to a brick wall thing-and I can't fake it in front of my kids as much as I may try.  I love him, and it's not like we scream at each other in front of the kids.  But I know they're not seeing what I want them to see and I'm scared to death this will negatively affect their views on marriage and affect their own marriages in the future.  I'm not complaining about my husband himself, but just-how can I help my kids know what a good marriage should be? 

By the way, he refuses to do anything about his ADD let alone learn anything about it. 

The thoughts of my daughter

The thoughts of my daughter going through the pain I have gone through suffocates me.

Children ARE affected, no matter how well we think we cover it up. Even if there isn't fighting, there is still a dynamic to the marriage that we do NOT want for our kids. Loneliness. Thinking that spending time together as a family isn't important. My 13 year old daughter was recently helping me clean the kitchen. She said that she missed the days when we sat at the table and ate together as a family. I wanted to crawl under the table and die. Here is a child who went from having a really good childhood (up until about age 6 or 7) and then everything blew up, we got custody of my SD, my husband's ADHD went completely off the charts, and I turned into an angry, critical control freak...but she still wants to eat supper with her family. I will see to it that this happens a lot more.

Children grow up to pick mates that emulate one of their parents...and they are most strongly influenced by their parent of he opposite sex. I lose sleep often, worrying about what kind of future my precious baby girl will have because of what we have put her through.

The only way you can show your kids what a good marriage should be is to show them through example. But, even if you cannot pull your marriage out of the ditch right now I would like to suggest that you at least find joy in your life that you can share with your kids. Laugh with them everyday. REALLY make it a point to laugh with them. Let them know they are loved. Keep as much as humanly possible from them about your relationship with their dad. The less they know, the better off they are.


Yes, yes and yes

I worry quite often that my son (from a previous marriage) who also has ADHD, will grow up to think that the anger, temper tantrums and fighting are normal!  He is a great kid, a great student and his teachers love him, but hes only 15 so it could all change in an instant.  I already have a hard time pulling him out of his room, when hes home, because he would rather be alone.  Don't get me wrong my DH is a great dad and stepdad, he is more of a dad to my son than his biological father has ever been.  I just worry that by the time my DH and I get to a place where things are as they should be in a marriage the kid will have moved out and never seen a "good" relationship.  Hope this answers your question and it makes sense. 

arwen's picture

Right to be concerned

So, speaking from the perspective of somebody who has grown children who went through this experience growing up, to some degree -- you are right to be concerned. 

My ADHD son is very chary of taking on responsibilities as a result of his experiences growing up in a household where his parents were struggling with his dad's ADHD.  (My son was 14 when he and his dad were diagnosed with ADHD, but there had been ongoing issues for some time prior to that.)  He has been in a steady relationship for six years and still isn't prepared to commit to marriage, because his life path has been too unsettled and unclear.  (Good that he's seeing he's having problems, bad that he can't get to a point of commitment even after so long a time.)  For many years my ADHD son has maintained he does not ever want to have children, because he doesn't want to inflict the same kinds of problems on his kids that his own dad did, and even though he would try hard not to, his ADHD is not yet what either of us would consider to be well-enough-managed, and he knows any children would suffer.  He learned he needs to be responsible as a parent, and what that entails -- good! -- and he learned to evaluate his own behaviors more objectively than his dad does -- also good!  -- but to rule children out forever as a result is maybe going too far the other way.  Which is sad, because he's great with kids and would like to have a family of his own.    He may change his mind, of course -- he and his SO may figure out how to address his problems so that his kids can have the kind of upbringing he would want -- but I frankly don't think it's likely.

My daughter (non-ADHD) has found herself repeatedly attracted to ADHD men, and recently married a fine young man with the disorder (she is several years younger than my son).  I have no doubt that this situation is a direct result of her mental model of what a normal partner should be like (obviously, less the most egregious of her father's ADHD behaviors).  It has caused me a lot of concern in the past, because I feared she would end up going through the same kinds of things I did, but it seems that at least our problems made her cautious -- her relationship with her spouse started when she was in college, and they both took their time (years) to make sure they weren't experiencing the hyper-focus thing and really got to know each other well beyond skin deep. The good news is that having seen her parents go through the process of pre-diagnosis conflict, post-diagnosis conflict, separation, reconciliation and development of a better dynamic, she has a fairly sound idea of what kinds of approaches can be useful and which are not -- she definitely saw plenty of what not to do, in the early years! -- and she has gotten counseling to help her develop her own set of successful strategies.  Unfortunately, most of her living-at-home exposure to her parents' interaction was during the conflict phase, and as a result her model of how she should behave is not a particularly good one, and she sometimes falls back into that paradigm unconsciously -- but she realizes that this is not constructive, and is working to develop alternative skills.  The bad news is that she thinks she knows everything she needs to about ADHD, because of growing up with her ADHD dad and brother -- she intellectually can grasp that children add an extra dimension to the dynamic, for example, but doesn't really understand the repercussions of having children on the non-ADHD spouse, and doesn't really want to hear anything about my experience.  She has said she definitely wants to have kids, so I'm sure she's in for some future grief.  We love our son-in-law, he's a pleasure to be with, no vices and he seems to have his ADHD under adequate control for their present situation (through a combination of earlier diagnosis and a more appropriate upbringing), they clearly love each other deeply and are happy -- so I feel certain that even if there is future grief,  she will not regret her choice and they will make their marriage work.

Clearly, my kids bear some scars, and growing up with a not-well-managed ADHD parent has impacted their thinking.  Nonetheless, I think what did my kids the most good was *not* hiding our problems from them.  I don't mean I think it's OK to have drunken slugfests in front of children!  Or to do anything else that would be seriously traumatic.  But for us, the "warts and all" route helped our kids in the long run more than it hurt.   In my experience, putting on a happy face for the kids really confuses them, because they can tell there is *something* not "right" with their parents relationship, but they are not getting enough data to evaluate and understand.  Yes, this did make it hard on our kids while they were growing up, no question!  But we tried to give them as honest a picture of the situation as we felt they could handle.  My kids knew that I worked very hard to always be fair to them, and they could see/hear from how I dealt with their dad that I was trying to be just as fair to him, and what my expectations were -- this helped them develop an alternative concept, at least, of what a "good marriage" might be like.  They learned that you can love someone, still have problems with that person, be angry, resolve conflict, forgive, change and move forward.  Mind you, it didn't always *seem* that constructive a process at every point!  When their dad was in denial, when their mom raged, it looked pretty negative.  I know there were times when my daughter desperately wished she lived in a totally different family.  But the general lessons over time, I think, gave them the understanding to make more careful,  *reasoned*, decisions about their own relationships, while still acknowledging their feelings.  Their choices are perhaps not completely "normal", not 100% ideal, but they are probably better choices than their parents made, and they will probably have more joy and less grief in their lives as a result.

"It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be."  Albus Dumbledore

I know my daughter would

I know my daughter would agree 100%, there have been times she has TOLD ME that she wished she had a 'normal' family, she wished her dad was 'fun', she wished she could 'trust' her dad, she hated both of us for fighting in front of her, and questioned why I once told her that I would never tolerate someone cheating on me (which I do not really remember saying) and then I 'forgave' her dad for doing it. She knows about his affair because I was tricked by my SD into telling her thinking someone else was going to. The one and only time in our 14 year marriage that things got physical, my husband was drunk...also something told to her by my SD (she carried the empty bottle up here and showed it to us)...and now she equates alcohol with physical violence. (we wrestled when I tried to take away his cell phone - he broke mine in half - and he put me in a head lock so tight I could not breathe..then we fell to the floor)

As far as sharing information with them, I specifically asked our counselor about this. She saw our daughter for a few months before she started seeing us. She is familiar with ADHD and has run various support groups. My main concern was boundaries. My daughter, because for a period of time I was so desperate to explain things away to her, eventually grew to know no boundaries between herself and our marriage. She CONSTANTLY asks questions and gets mad when I change the subject or, if it gets bad enough, tell her that it is between her dad and myself. At 13, although she can understand that her dad has ADHD and that I treated him poorly because of it, she still isn't able to grasp the reality of how it causes issues for us and how it plays into the things he does. So, I am not sure at what age your children were, but I know my daughter isn't at a place where she can handle a lot of the technicalities of it. I do feel at some point it might benefit her to know how things were one way and how we (hopefully) turned things around. (i.e. what works and what doesn't). She is a lot like her dad and I worry that she has ADHD, but for now her counselor (and my new counselor) seem to feel it is mostly just teenaged stuff...and maybe a little of the affects of what she's been through for the last 7 years.

arwen's picture

some thoughts on sharing with kids

First of all, I need to make it clear that my husband's ADHD was not diagnosed as a child, and seems to be hormonally related -- his symptoms/behaviors abated in puberty (so that when I met him, he had few/mild ADHD behaviors) but worsened in midlife as hormone levels dropped.  So when my kids were young, daddy seemed pretty normal.  We had disagreements, but they were the same as any married couple has from time to time.  The only area where there was a genuine ongoing problem back then was that my husband was not good at handling financial matters.  But hey, we all have our strengths and weaknesses -- it wasn't *really* bad, and we just worked it out so that I handled most of the financial stuff, which was fine with us both.  We had no idea at this point that he had ADHD -- we hadn't even heard of it.

My husband's ADHD symptoms/behaviors started very slowly creeping "back" in when my daughter was 5 and my son was 9, and he was finally diagnosed five years later (so my daughter was younger than yours is now, when my spouse was diagnosed).  At that point we'd been in some pretty significant conflict for a couple of years, and our ADHD-related conflicts continued to be a major problem for several years afterwards.  Although I read what I could, and we both got counseling for a while (which he then continued solo, to this day), ADHD was even less well understood back then (15 years ago), and the counselors were less experienced, and we pretty much groped in the dark by trial and error to find solutions.  We both made some unfortunate choices during this time, although not everything we did was wrong.  So there were areas where we made progress, but others where we didn't.

What complicated our situation is that my spouse also has Seasonal Affective Disorder, which we also did not know about, which impacts his ADHD, so that (if his SAD is not treated) in the later part of fall he becomes progressively less communicative, forgets more,  is less and less energetic and engaged, by New Year's he pretty much can't think his way out of a paper bag, and the in the late winter/early spring, he becomes volatile, irritable, defensive and impulsive.  [We have found a combination of treatments that help manage this to a fair degree, but yeah, it's still hell every year, especially since it is getting worse as he is getting older -- I dislike November through January and hate February through April.]  Before his SAD treatment started (around the time our daughter went off to college), our daughter would see the areas where we dealt with his ADHD badly get really bad November through April.

So, our daughter was having to cope with this situation around the same age as your daughter.  I should also mention that during this period (between his ADHD diagnosis and his SAD treatment commencement), she had a very negative attitude towards her dad's behaviors, and expressed more than once a wish that I would divorce him. (She was also very negative towards her older ADHD brother.)  And while she never saw her parents come to blows, she did see her father and brother mix it up in earnest, which understandably scared the daylights out of her for a while. (But she was a smart and brave girl -- at the time of the incident when I think she was 13 or 14, she was smart enough to call me on the phone from her room, and brave enough to follow my instructions to call to her father that I was on the phone and I was insisting that I had to talk to him *right that second* -- which broke up the fight, whereupon I gave my spouse a super-earful via phone, followed by an encore soon after when I arrived home.)

I don't think I would say that I addressed a lot of "the technicalities" of the situation with her during these years, but at the same time, she needed *some* explanations.  She needed to know that her dad's underlying neurophysiology was something he just got stuck with, like I did with my asthma and allergies, and that there were some things he couldn't control about it, but other things that he could.  In her view, her dad and brother were "losers" (this pre-dated the fight, just on general principle), and since I believe this is a terribly unfair judgment on people with ADHD, this was not an attitude I could just let ride.  Without explanations, she would never have seen the situation in any different light, and some of those explanations perforce involved my relationship with my husband.  Yet I also felt it was important for her to understand that her father's "bad" behaviors were only *temporarily* tolerable until he could learn to behave more appropriately, and that he was accountable for his progress -- thus she needed to see us in conflict when he didn't take responsibility for what he could control and chose not to.

Obviously, your situation is not identical to mine, and I certainly don't suggest that what transpired in our family is a model for others -- we made a lot of mistakes in dealing with my husband's ADHD.  But I would suggest that you may want to revisit this issue with your daughter's counselor at some point in the not-too-distant future.  With my daughter I found that from age 13 on, the older she got, the less she wanted to hear what I had to say about anything whatsoever -- part of what happens with that "teenage stuff", a form of rebellion against mom's authority -- so later on may be too late.

"It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be."  Albus Dumbledore


Im super concerned of what my

Im super concerned of what my childrend impression of marriage is, because what the have had to go through is far from normal. ! Have a 13 year old adhd son and my adhd husband. I dont wish this on anyone and i pray my daughter will have a better Chance at a normal marriage one day. My children seen me cry,fight,yell,scream, and they always say "dad made you mad again? I can go on for days about my situation, but my kids see me being the one who does it all, dad goes to work( mainly works from home) but i have to help him with his work too, so they literally see me run it all with no help from snyone else but them Does anyone else feel they married a child? The loniless is awful. I pray for my childrens future daily.

Janet, I'm sure most of us

Janet, I'm sure most of us can relate to what you're feeling.  It wears on me and I can't see how I'll do this for the rest of my life.  I don't believe in divorce except for very extreme circumstances so this will be my life until he decides to work on it.  I will say it's not fair that I have to be unhappy and unfulfilled the rest of my life as a result.  But at this point I don't know what to do and I just live day-to-day.  It really worries me that my kids see an overworked, tired, often upset mother and a dad who isn't consistent and who they can't completely trust and count on.  Gosh it breaks my heart for my kids.  I wish I could put on this elaborate play for the next 20 years for them.

Hanging in There

What an insightful question you raise.  As a matter of fact, I grapple with this constantly.  I remember the first time this popped up on my radar was about four years ago, when m kids were 11 and 9.  We were on a camping trip and somehow the subject of their futures came up and both of them came right out and told their dad and I that they NEVER wanted to get married because it looks miserable and they couldn't understand why anyone would sign on for that.  To say this was a shock to us is an understatement.  Up to that point, both my husband and I assumed that because we knew we loved each other and often showed that, that this was the primary message they were receiving.  Nothing, however, could be farther from the truth.  What they were seeing is the constant DAILY fighting and arguing, the power struggles, the hurt feelings, the misunderstandings, the disappointments.  Their comprehension of our relationship was that we made each other miserable, because they weren't filtering the marriage through the lens of denial and exuses spouses who don't want to split up make.  And that is us in a nutshell, we are too stubborn/lazy/committed/hopeful to split up, but we are grossly incompatible and unable to manage the tension and chaos of a marriage in which both partners have ADHD.  We keep plugging along for God knows what reason and our children are the innocent bystanders to our bizarre determination to hang in there "till death do us part" no matter how painful that is.  At this point, they are 15 and 13 and have never known us to be without serious conflict.  What is worse is that over the last year, even the strong love we once shared, which was a powerful glue between us, has been compromised and we are distant and completely unconnected.  We used to fight and make up, now we just fight and withdraw.  As for our children, I deeply regret that they are caught in our ADHD drama, but at the same  time, I cannot imagine that divorce/dating/remarriage/weekend visitation and all that mess is a healthy alternative.  It is what it is and they will have to figure it out someday.  Our family unit is very, very important to us and our own personal happiness  as a couple is second to that.  We have had some amazing times together (particularly traveling, which is when our ADHD is a strength, because we are spontaneous and adventurous) and I hope that these good times balance out the bad when they are old enough to have a mature perspective on it all. 

Why must it be so difficult!

Why must it be so difficult! Im so ready to walk away...i dont believe in divorce either nor do i think that would help because i will still have to deal with him because of the kids, so i feel stuck in this nightmare of a marriage. We gave also been doing tge same....fighting and withdrawing....theres no way out , im very angry, it really sucks......this cant be it forever? ?.......

The other day my daughter was

The other day my daughter was saying that something I had done was "a long time ago" and I said "it was just about 2 weeks ago" and pointed out that her dad was very bad about time perception and that she must have gotten that from him. She said "so I have ADHD?" and I said "I don't know if you do or not, you are similiar to your Daddy in a lot of ways" and she said "I hope I don't have ADHD, if I do no one will ever be able to put up with me." I hate that she sees ADHD as such a bad thing, and I am probably responsible for that since I 'explain away' his hurtful behaviors as 'out of control ADHD'...but I really don't know how else to handle it. I did this as a way of asking her "be patient" and "give him time to get help/let the meds work/let counseling work" and now he's not doing any of that and she knows it. God only knows what goes through her mind and what her real thoughts are on it.

That must have yanked the heart strings...

My DD#2 seems to be VERY aware of our similarities too. Fortunately, sort of, when my DW is furious at me, it is Just Me. If I see/hear possible ADD like reactions from DD#2 I really try to give her perspective from my experiences as to what she could be feeling. She likes being like me, most of the time :) We do butt heads sometimes if we are both tired and cranky... I do try to show her ways that my ADD brain can come up with out of the box ideas, but als explain how I need to stay "On Track" or I'll get lost or behind. I'm not going to let her feel like she is Broken, like I used to feel...


I don't want my daughter to

I don't want my daughter to feel broken either. I worry about her spending time with her dad, then I worry that she doesn't spend enough time with him. He took her to his new office to let her help decorate and apparently they did nothing but fight the entire time. I never mentioned anything to him about anything she told me, but he has 'explained' things about that evening and made light of them, when realistically they weren't light to her. I try to keep in mind that she's a little 'dramatic' like him, and just do the best I can to diffuse whatever needs to be diffused and letting the rest just be something she sorts through and forms her own opinion about. She is very close with me, and terrified of him. She doesn't trust him. I pray that someday they can have a close relationship.

What confuses me most is that he chooses a "best buddies" kind of relationship with his daughter from his first marriage, but he is either a full on tyrant or completely uninvolved when it comes to our daughter...or somewhere close to either extreme. A lot of the damage that has been done has been his doing. Things are better than they used to be, but she is still acutely aware of the differences in how he treats her vs. her sister...and basically feels very unimportant to him most of the time. It is hard to explain that away. When SD is around, he treats her 1000 times he has something to prove.

That is very sad...

I have two daughters that are quite different and they pick at each other and That makes me crazy. This is pretty norimal I know :)  I have two very different relationships with my daughters, but each special for different reasons. I charish my relationships with my girls and hope your husband  an repair the relationship with your daughter. When I disappoint either of my girls, it kills me...