How to focus on family chores

February 10, 2011

QMy husband and I
were married 13 years ago and now have
three beautiful, healthy children, ages 10, 7 and 5. We have a problem, too.

I am fairly certain my husband has attention deficit disorder. He is extremely smart and has a demanding job, but he has trouble keeping track of dates and day-to-day tasks. Two of our children find it hard to focus, too.

I feel so frustrated when I have to “parent” my husband so he can remember to parent our children. Sometimes he plays video games on the computer while I am trying to get them ready for school, and then I have to ask him to stop so he can help me. He is also oblivious about bedtimes and forgets that the children must stay on task.

We have had many discussions about these issues, and he always agrees to help me more, but I still have to give frequent reminders. Nothing happens unless I take the initiative.

What else can I do to help him and my children become more self-reliant? I hate being the family nag.

AIt must be hard to sympathize with someone who doesn’t notice the time or remember a date, but your husband and your children need your sympathy and your understanding.

It’s not easy to have attention deficit disorder, or attention surplus disorder, as some people like call it. And they may be right. People with ADD have so many interests that they either skitter from one to the next or they hyperfocus on one activity and never notice anything else. Either way, it’s bound to make your husband feel anxious and uncertain, because he knows that he’s been forgetting things his whole life and getting into trouble for it.

Nagging comments won’t change your husband or your ADD children, but you can remind them without saying a word.

Your husband is much less likely to play video games in the morning if you pin two or three dish towels together, so it looks like a toaster cover, and staple a card on the front of it, saying “Remember? No video games until the children leave for school!” If you drape the cover over the computer at night, he’ll pay attention to this reminder in the morning, though he may get distracted by something else.

He’ll also handle bedtime better if you use a bell to send your message rather than nag. Tell the family that from now on you’ll ring it once as a warning, then ring it again 10 minutes later. That means “bedtime” in bell language.

Life will also be smoother if you keep a big calendar on the fridge, enter everyone’s activities and then circle each entry with a special color for each person. Some people respond better to visual cues than reminders.

An untidy house often unsettles someone with ADD, even if he made the mess. Avoid clutter by tidying up the counters and the tabletops at least once a week and by having your children put their belongings into their own bins after school. If you work at home, you’ll also be there to call “Blitz!” about a half-hour before dinner, so you and the children can rush around for 15 minutes, picking up the apple cores and putting away the books and games so the family room will be fairly neat when your husband comes home: your good deed for the day.

The evenings will be less stressful if you give your children only as much time to do their homework as the teachers think they need. They should be done on time as long as you ban phone calls during homework hour. Sit near them and keep the computer nearby, so you can see if they’re doing schoolwork or playing games.

You also should ban television on school nights because it will tempt your children to hurry through their assignments and distract anyone who’s still working. After they’ve finished, you or your husband should check over the homework, sign whatever notes the children have forgotten to give you and then watch them put the homework in their backpacks and their shoes by the door, thereby ending the Great Shoe Search that mars so many mornings.

These ideas should solve some of your problems, but not all. Your husband’s ADD will improve when he — and you — learn to manage it better, but he’ll never be as focused as you are.

Even though you’ll always have to compensate for this weakness, remember that your husband is probably compensating for a weakness or two in you. That’s the yin and the yang of marriage.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com .

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