Ask the Specialist: Managing Difficult Family Members During Vacations
Question: My twin girls, 11, both have ADHD. We are working closely with a specialist and have treatment plans for both of them. We’ve seen improvement during the past year and we’re happy with it.
However, we’re about to spend two weeks at the family lake house with my husband’s parents and his sister and her family. Frankly, my in-laws have been dismissive of our daughters’ diagnosis from the start My mother-in-law frequently comments that she thinks the problem is my parenting skills. Do you have any suggestions on how we can have a pleasant two weeks without any blow-ups over our children’s ADHD diagnosis or behavior?
–Mom in Michigan
Answer: Our health information specialists frequently hear questions like yours during summer breaks. Your dilemma is a common experience in the ADHD community.
“Parenting criticism is common. In one poll, six in ten moms of young children (up to age 5) said they have been criticized for their parenting skills,” say the parenting experts at WebMD. “So, it’s easy for parents to feel vulnerable to blame when their child is diagnosed with ADHD.”
If your in-laws are open to the conversation, share some of the science about ADHD with them. Our About ADHD is a good resource you can offer them. If they are not ready for it and continue to claim it’s not real or that ADHD is a parenting issue, it’s okay to end the conversation.
Make a plan before the family trip
Before you travel to visit family, you can prepare your twin daughters for what they can expect. Let your children help you draw up a routine for the vacation. Seek their ideas for family outings. Role-play any new activities or social skills to help them be ready. Think about possible comments that might be directed toward them regarding their ADHD and teach them simple, polite responses they can use appropriately for those situations.
“You can’t change what your difficult relatives are going to do; you can only change yourself,” Ms. Rubin says.
Consider how you want to behave when you feel criticized. Reflect on some past experiences and make a plan on how you’d like to respond this time. Look for ways of being affirming but also to politely end conversations. Simple statements, such as “Thank you for your thoughts. We’ve talked with their doctors and have a treatment plan in place and we’re pleased with it. How about we talk about (a different topic)?” Repeat as needed.
Avoid topics that that you know are likely to bring about a negative response. While you are pleased with how your children’s treatment is going, discussing it with your mother-in-law may not be the right topic for the vacation. You might also decide to avoid other topics for the sake of a pleasant vacation. Let others who bring up those topics know that you’d rather discuss something else.
Celebrate family traditions. Keep the focus of the event on any special family traditions or plan with your in-laws any new traditions you’d like to begin. Having something to look forward to and a shared experience to discuss can promote an enjoyable vacation for all.
Plan a fun event that is just for your husband, children, and yourself. Time alone with your immediate family can help relieve stress and contribute to a happy vacation.
Adapted from 8 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Relatives
It’s okay to end the conversation
Remember, it is always acceptable to politely leave a conversation, a situation, or a room. If you feel a conversation has become critical of your parenting or your decisions on ADHD treatment, and the other person is unwilling to end the discussion, you can leave. Step outside, look for a book in your room or find an errand elsewhere.
If possible, let your in-laws know ahead of time that you won’t discuss your daughters’ ADHD or treatment and ask that they not bring up the topic. If someone does, remind them that you are not discussing your daughters’ medical needs during this vacation.
Practice simple responses, such as “We’ve discussed this with their doctor and we’re happy with our plan” or “Thank you for your concern, but we are happy with our plan.” Repeat the same sentence or phrase as many times as needed. Don’t allow it to become an argument. Politely excuse yourself, step outside, or run an errand—as many times as necessary.
A bit of planning can help to make this an enjoyable family vacation for you.
Looking for resources to share with family members?
- About ADHD
- Parenting a Child with ADHD
- Strategies for Making a Change: ADHD, Family Gatherings, and the Holidays
Do you have a question about ADHD or living with an ADHD diagnosis? Contact the CHADD’s National Resource Center Helpline at 866-200-8098, Monday through Friday, from 1-5 p.m.