Reader Question of the Week

Every weekend I like to answer a reader question. I’ll give my thoughts on a subject, and then I invite you all to comment and help this reader out, too.

Here’s one I received recently:

I don’t want to be a nagging wife, but my husband has ADD and it seems like it is sometimes called for.  We both work and have a set division of labor around the house (that we have both agreed to) because it makes life easier on us.  I have to be ‘on his case’, so to speak about getting his tasks done.  I am extremely conscious of the way we are in public and around other people, so this really is limited to everyday household things.  But I was wondering whether any other readers have had similar experiences or have any wisdom to share.

Excellent question!

Let me take a stab at it with just a few points, not in any particular order:

1. Remember that ADD has its Strengths

My husband is a pediatrician, and so he diagnoses a lot of kids with ADD (and he tells even more that they do NOT have ADD. Most kids who come in for that diagnosis do not actually have a biological basis for attention deficit).

When there is a genuine diagnosis, the parents are often really sad. “My son (for it is usually boys) will be hampered by this his whole life,” they think. We frame it as a disability.

But here’s what my husband says (and I’m paraphrasing):

A generation ago, when there was no such thing as an ADD diagnosis, these kids grew up just being called “hyperactive” or “distracted”. But they grew up without a label. And many of them did amazing things.

We think of ADD as a negative thing, but people with ADD tend to make the best salesmen. They make the best stockbrokers. They make really good company CEOs because they can handle so many different thoughts at one time. People with ADD have gone on to do amazing things with their lives.

ADD is far more a problem in school, when everything has to be regimented, than it is in adult life, when you can choose a career that’s actually suited for someone with ADD (for there are many), and start to run your home the way it works best for you.

His main message? This will always be a challenge, but remember to see that it can have its pluses, too.

So if you’re married to someone with ADD, don’t always see it as a negative. Figure out the positive aspects to it (they can be really fun people; they’re active; they’re not boring, etc.)

2. Encourage His Leadership in His Areas of Strength

If he’s a really fun, active guy, make sure your family is really fun and active. Go to the beach. Run to parks often. You don’t have to be a typical family that sits at the dinner table for long periods of time and has deep conversations. Maybe he’s better suited to picnic dinners in the summer (and kids love that!)

In other words, don’t try to fit him into a stereotypical family; your family is unique. And it’s great to do family in a way that he is comfortable with and that works to his strengths.

3. Involve Him in Strategy-Making and Finding Solutions

Don’t treat him as someone with a disability; ask him, “how can we best make sure the work that needs to get done gets done?”

Now, for some men, nagging may actually not be a bad thing. If they have to be reminded, they may honestly be fine with that.

I don’t like that, though, because I think it sets up a mother-son type relationship instead of a marriage, and in general that’s not healthy.

So figure out: how does he work best? With lists? With post-it notes? With rewards? (like if he finishes this one task he gets to do something he loves, like play video games or go for a jog or something). Ask him, and ask him to brainstorm about different times in his life when he had to get stuff done. How did he accomplish it? What did he put in place?

Part of the problem with marrying someone with ADD is that his mother may have compensated for him so much growing up that he honestly isn’t used to having to take responsibility around the house. But if he’s able to do it at work, he’s able to do it at home. So ask him, “what helps you get tasks done at work? How do you keep yourself focused there?” And see if you can replicate that.

4. Think of the CEO-Secretary Mix

Again, I’m not trying to reinforce a lopsided relationship, but if you picture a distracted yet active CEO, the ones that function best are the ones with secretaries who compensate. Maybe it’s time to think about compensating rather than about trying to get him to become you.

The thing about the work relationship is that the secretary keeping him on track helps free him up to do what he’s good at. So ask yourself, “what is he good at?” You may honestly want the housework split, but maybe he’s just not a housework kind of guy. But he may be a grocery shopping/errands kind of guy, because that’s more active, and there’s more going on. He doesn’t have to stay focused at a task as much.

In other words, it’s not so much about assigning tasks based on what we think is fair or on what we enjoy but instead basing it on “what are we both best suited for?” Maybe in the comments we could brainstorm about what some of those tasks may be.

Some of you readers have husbands with ADD (or children with ADD) have more to offer on this particular topic. So please, chime in, and let’s help others in this same situation!