Dear Dr. Yael,
I am happily married to a guy who has high energy. Baruch Hashem, he is a CEO of a successful company, makes great parnassah, and is involved in many chesed organizations in our community. I am very grateful and proud of him. I also have high energy children that are very smart, Baruch Hashem, but very disorganized. My husband is also disorganized, but he has a male secretary who helps him be more organized and this helps him mmaintain his success. As a child, my husband was diagnosed with ADHD and was often thrown out of class for being disruptive. Some of my children have been diagnosed with ADHD and also struggle with controlling their energy. The problem is that my husband gets very frustrated that our children are high energy and have ADHD like he does. Our pediatrician says that ADHD is inherited, and I want to put some of our children on a low dose of medication that will help them focus in school. My husband is against medication. He says that he survived without medication, and is very successful in spite of his ADHD. However, my husband has very low self-esteem from his negative experiences in school as a child. His parents were very negative with him as well, which did not help his self-esteem. My husband can be loving, caring, and giving, but sometimes his high energy and his ADHD make him difficult and impatient. Please help guide me as to how to deal with this situation.
As you noted, ADHD is genetic. It is likely painful for your husband to see his children struggle with the same issues that he did as a child. Often it is most difficult for us to deal with the children who are most like us as it causes us the most pain. We all have different challenges in our lives and we can channel our personality issues and the middos that we have to do good things as well as negative things. We just finished celebrating the holiday of Succos. On Simchas Bais HaShoeva, they poured water on the mizbeiach on Succos in the Bais HaMikdash. Water is considered a real bracha and very special.
When Hashem created the world, he separated the Mayim Elyonim [upper waters] from the Mayim Tachtonim [lower waters]. The lower waters complained that they wanted to stay in Shamayim and not be on earth. Hashem consoled them, “Don’t worry there will be a Bais HaMikdash, and there will be nusach hamayim on the mizbeiach.” On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have rain which is a bracha (blessing), but when it rains on Succos we see it as a siman klallah (a curse) that we are being thrown out of the succah. The idea of Succos that we take what we are given and we use it in the proper way is a bracha (blessing). However, if we use it in an inappropriate manner, it is a klallah (curse) . Any middah (characteristic) we have can be used for good and for bad. It is our tafkid (job) to take our middos and use it for mitzvos and ratzon Hashem.
Similarly, your husband is using his high energy and even his ADHD to be a very productive person. He is successful at work and does a lot of chesed, which is likely facilitated by the abundance of energy that he has. There are a few issues here. Firstly, your husband does not seem to recognize that the children are likely struggling in the same way that he did. Furthermore, their struggles are hard for him to deal with because subconsciously he sees himself in them and this can be extremely difficult to handle, especially if he has negative feelings about his own childhood, which seems to be the case. Additionally, it seems like your husband doesn’t realize that his untreated ADHD affected his self-esteem in a negative manner, so he doesn’t see the importance of helping your children so that they don’t suffer similarly.
It is important for you to be positive and point out to your husband how proud you are of him and his success. Ask your husband when it is a good time to talk. Once you are both calm, full (hunger can make us irrational and angry), and able to talk without interruptions, you can say that although you are so happy that the kids are smart and productive just like your husband, you also see that they are struggling in school. You can then say that you’d like to explore getting them extra help to help them feel good about themselves. Depending how severe their ADHD is, it may be prudent to have them see a therapist before trying medication to see if they can learn coping skills, which can help them be more successful in the classroom. Medication is not a negative thing and can really help them be more successful if that is what is needed; however, it’s always best to try therapy first. Perhaps if you find a good therapist for the children, your husband will join when he feels certain issues need to be addressed, and this will help improve his relationship with these children as well. The key is to be positive with your husband (and with your children) and hope that Hashem puts the right words in your mouth, so your husband is in agreement. Hatzlocha!!