Parental Attention Deficit Disorder

by Andy Delfino
Originally Published: 

In my early 20s, a therapist suggested that all my struggles in life could be traced to my having Attention Deficit Disorder, ADD. This came as a surprise to me, since I’d never thought of myself as having a problem paying attention to anything.

“I really think you have ADD. That is why you struggle with daily tasks,” she said. She handed me a piece of paper. “Complete this questionnaire, and if you score high enough, your doctor can write you a prescription for Adderall.” She said this as though my problems were exactly like those of a 7-year-old on a sugar binge.

At home, I answered the questions seriously. Until I read this gem: “Do you have problems paying attention to things that bore you?” Isn’t that the essence of boring? If boring tasks were enjoyable and easy to pay attention to, they wouldn’t be boring. I stopped answering questions; I figured getting my shit together would do more for my quality of life than ADD questionnaires and meds would.

But for parents, especially stay-at-home parents, perhaps Adderall is the solution to many of our problems. I think most parents are like me, struggling to pay attention to all the boring tasks required all day long. If we believe the questionnaire I took years ago, then many of us have a clinical diagnosis of what I call Parenting Attention Deficit Disorder, or PADD. I’ll cross my fingers it gets added to the next DSM.

I’m not saying that my attention wanders all the time. I can feed them their requisite thirty-two meals and snacks a day; I can color with crayons for up to half an hour; and I can read stories for much, much longer. But at some point, I find myself wondering what adults who aren’t cleaning mac and cheese off the ceiling are doing at that moment, so I go on to Facebook. Or sometimes I’ll browse headlines, so I can help my oldest do her social studies homework instead of asking “We have a black president?! Since when?!”

When my PADD causes me to do interesting, non-kid related things, I’ll still keep an ear out for what the kids are doing. I have to pay attention so that my son leaves his toddler sister alone instead of trying to hug her like he’s Elmyra from Tiny Toons, trying to love her to death. Most of the time, he really is a nice big brother. But he’s also four, so he’s not considered qualified to be a babysitter by anyone who doesn’t spend most of their time in bars or Indian casinos.

The two playing together, then, is not an ideal time to have a PADD attack like I did the other day. When my toddler and son were playing well together upstairs, I peeked and saw the little one playing with her sister’s dolls while The Boy sat at his desk, his back turned to me. After an anti-PADD fix of Twitter, I went upstairs to discover that The Boy was playing a game with scissors he called “Cut everything,” a surprising descriptive and terrifying title.

I confiscated the scissors, and we cleaned up the approximately 3 billion pieces of freshly homemade confetti. Since the paper was sticking to my toddler’s clothes so forcefully, I even experienced a personal first: vacuuming a child’s clothes while she was still wearing them. (Yes, I did post about it to FB during my next PADD attack.)

I thought no more about the incident until my wife got home that night and asked what happened to The Toddler’s hair. “Where did her beautiful curls go?” she asked.

I realized then that in those five unsupervised minutes, the boy had given the toddler a haircut. Ever the smart little sister, she tattled on him: When my wife asked her if her brother had used scissors on her, the toddler nodded and said “Boy. Hair.”

Both he and I were busted.

I understand my wife’s anger at my irresponsibility: we’re lucky that it was only a haircut and that she still has all her toes. Since then, I’ve tried to be more vigilant. I avoid the computer’s alluring connection to the Internet and the outside world. But paying constant attention is hard to do.

Yet I don’t think PADD is simply a product of our Internet age. Parenting has always been like this: as soon as humans walked upright, some parent ignored his child to keep watching the flames’ dance on the cave wall instead of getting her more mastodon nuggets. And I have proof.

When The Boy’s grandmotherly preschool teacher heard the story, she said, “Oh yeah, that happened to me too. My older daughter cut her little sister’s hair off while playing under the kitchen table. She cut her hair so short it looked like a bad Marine haircut.”

“Where were you when all this was happening?” I asked.

“Sitting at the same table drinking a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper,” she said with a shrug. So while previous generations of parents weren’t addicted to Facebook, they certainly suffered from PADD, just like us.

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