Dear ADDiva,
My daughter is 27 and has ADD. She flunked out of college – twice. She was living with us until just a few months ago when we found her an apartment. But now we’re paying the rent. She’s had one bad relationship after another one and the guy she’s with now is not good either. Even though she’s brilliant, she got fired from one job and now is working as a part time receptionist. She says she wants to go back to school but is afraid of failing again. And we’re at the end of our rope financially trying to help her. But I won’t give up on her. I’m looking for something – anything that will turn her life around. We are desperate.

Worried Mom

Dear Worried,
I hear how much you love your daughter and how hard it is for you to see her go through so much pain and heartache. Thank you for hanging in there with your daughter – she’s lucky to have you on her team. But there is a limit to how much parents can do for their adult child with ADD.

I get calls regularly from parents who want to solve the problem for their children. In fact, I’ve made those calls myself – hired a coach for my ADD son, paid for the sessions, tried to stay out of the way and not pry into his progress or lack thereof. The coaching helped, but what helped more than anything was allowing HIM to step forward and find his own way.

The hardest thing to do is to watch your child stumble and fall. A parents’ first instinct is to pick up their baby (and let’s face it, at some level, our children are ALWAYS our babies) and comfort him or her and then make it all better. In other words, we want to FIX IT.

This is a dangerous precedent to set in your relationship – for a lot of reasons. First, it creates a false sense of security for your child — that feeling of “whatever happens, mom and/or dad will save me.” Clearly, that’s not true. You might be a miracle worker, but you can’t bend the law if your child breaks it. You can’t go to work and do their job for him or her. You can’t live in her skin. Not ever.

Which brings me to Number Two: dependency. It’s OK for a seven-year-old to be dependent on her parents. She’s not able to take care of her own needs in the world. At 27, however, dependency breeds one big ugly scar: Resentment with a capital R.

Adults don’t like being told what to do – especially ADD adults. They like to feel that they are capable, resourceful and in charge of their own lives. When you constantly send the message to your adult child that they are making bad decisions or that they aren’t living up to their potential, they tend to either 1) ignore you or 2) get angry with you. And in either case, they feel like a failure….AGAIN. And they will begin to resent you more exponentially. The harder you try, the less they want to “play,” even though they know things aren’t going well in their lives.

I know this is hard – almost as hard as watching the struggle – but the best thing you can do for your child is to support them no matter what.

I can hear your reaction already: “WHAT? I’m not going to just sit around and let her destroy her life. I’m supposed to tell her it’s OK for her to take drugs or hang around with the wrong crowd? She’s going to end up on the street, or worse, dead. I am not going to let that happen!”

Of course you don’t want that to happen. You love her. She is a wonderous, amazing human being and the world would be less brilliant without her. BUT… until she wants to change her life, it simply won’t change. It’s literally the old “you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” adage. Change happens from the inside out, not from the outside in. And you, dear Worried Mom, are on the outside.

So, should you just turn your back and cross your fingers. Not at all. There are still lots of things you can do…without fixing her.

1. Acknowledge and encourage her every time you see her.
Make it the FIRST thing you say to her..and maybe the last thing, too (and make sure that the conversation in between doesn’t focus on the “bad stuff). Find something positive about what she’s doing or saying or wearing or researching or eating or….you get the idea. You can find it–just keep looking. And this is not a compliment — like “I like your dress.” It’s about HER as a person [ e.g. “I want to acknowledge you for your great sense of style. That dress is so flattering – you really know what looks good on you!” See the difference? The compliment is about the DRESS; the acknowledgment is about HER.

2. Support her no matter what
When parents focus on what their child is NOT doing or doing wrong/poorly, the message hits home over and over: “I’m not good enough. I can never do it right.” Not only does that breed resentment (refer to #1), but it increases the sense of failure most ADD-ers harbour in their deepest, most secret place. Most ADD-ers try to hide the place of failure – from parents, employers, friends, partners and most of all, parents. My son is 28 and hasn’t found his place in the world yet. One day I told him that I knew he’d get there when the time was right. His voice cracked as he said, “Thanks, Mom. I’m so glad you’re not giving up on me. I really need someone to believe in me.” My heart broke, of course. I wanted to rush in and FIX IT. But I didn’t. He’s still figuring it out…and he will do it perfectly for his life.

3. Detach with love
We are so in a hurry to “make it all better” because it eases OUR discomfort. If the kids are OK, then we can go on with our own lives. The key word here is “detachment.” Let her live her own life. If you are supporting her, paying the bills, ruining your own financial stability, STOP. Say something like this: “Honey, we love you so much and we want the best for you. But paying your bills is only a short term solution. We know you want to be self sufficient. So we’re going to stop paying your rent. We’ll do it gradually, so you aren’t left out in the cold. Over the next four months, we’ll pay $100 less toward your rent. By the end of June, you’ll need to be making enough money to pay it yourself.”

Now if you’ve been rescuing her for years, she probably won’t appreciate your actions. She may even accuse you of not loving her. Don’t get hooked. Tell her you trust her to make good decisions about her life and that you know she will do what is necessary to take good care of herself. She’ll do it when she absolutely has to do it. Not a day before.

She may find a cheaper apartment. She may move in with the boyfriend you don’t like. You have to let her make her mistakes by herself!

4. Let her ASK for your help
Remember the phrase “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”? When you rush in to “save” your precious child, you are stealing the gift of innovation, creativity and problem solving from her.

So why not do it differently? Tell her you love her and that you are always there for her. Tell her that you are sure she will find terrific solutions to the issues that come up. And that if she needs your help, she needs ask for it. Otherwise you’ll stay out of her life. Then DO IT.

You’ll have to do this several times before she trusts that you mean what you say. Like the two-year-old she once was, she may test you. She’ll do or tell you things that will cause you to bite your tongue so hard you think it will bleed.

But don’t rush in like those fools of old. When she tells you her latest problems, say, “Wow, honey things are really rough for you right now. What’s your next step in dealing with that?” DON’T tell her she screwed up again; and don’t say “I’ll take care of it.” Let HER take care of it – without extra guilt. Believe me, she feels bad enough about herself already.

If she asks for help, don’t overwhelm her with choices. Just a couple of ideas will suffice. And make sure those options are presented as neutral choices — not laden with guilt or “should,” “oughta” and “have to.” You are responsible only for assistance not for implementing the assistance.

For instance, if she moves into another apartment and ASKS for help, bring the truck, move the stuff to her aparment and LEAVE. Let her unpack the dishes and put away the clothes. That’s what big people do, ADD or not.

Finally, be gentle with yourself. You are all doing the best you can given the circumstances. Life isn’t easy, but it is fun and exciting. Hold this as part of the grand learning curve that you get to create each day. And know that whatever happens, it’s all for the good of everyone concerned — although we may not think so at the time. When ADD is present, it gives parents a chance to look at who they are in the face of their child’s issues and it gives the ADD child a chance to come fully into themself using their innate talents and gifts.