Q&A: Dealing with Difficult Relatives Over Summer Vacation
Question: My son and daughter, 12 and 9, 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 children’s diagnosis from the start and 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: Many parents have contacted the National Resource Center on ADHD over the years to ask a similar question: How do I deal with family members who have trouble understanding ADHD as a diagnosis? Your dilemma is a common experience in the ADHD community.
You should prepare your son and daughter before going to the lake house. Let your children know what to expect and let them help you draw up a routine for the vacation and seek their ideas for family outings while you are there. Role-play any new activities or social skills with them to help them be ready. Also, 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.
The next step is to consider how you might handle difficult situations that may occur. Gretchen Rubin, author of Happier at Home, has some suggestions for dealing with difficult relatives that you might find helpful.
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 other topics should be avoided for the sake of a pleasant vacation. You can 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 traditions your family may have during this time or plan ahead 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 be very helpful in promoting an enjoyable vacation for you.
Plan a fun event that is just for your husband, children, and you while away. Making sure you have some time alone with your immediate family can help relieve stress and contribute to a happy vacation.
Lastly, 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 how to treat ADHD in your children 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.
It’s a universal truth that we can’t change others, but we can change how we deal with a difficult situation. A little bit of preplanning can help to make this an enjoyable family vacation for you.
Do you have a question about ADHD or living with an ADHD diagnosis? Contact the National Resource Center Helpline at 866-200-8098, Monday through Friday, from 1-5 p.m.