Children and Teens

Voices in ADHD: A Letter to Dad from an ADHD Son

The importance of routine and structure in family life

The following is a letter sent from a 31-year-old InsideADHD reader to his father. In the letter, the son expresses that after all these years, he finally realizes that his father’s attempts during his childhood to make him stay organized and to establish a daily routine were the same life skills that he would have to apply to his life as an adult to manage his ADHD.


Dear Dad,

I rolled my eyes at the checklists you posted around the house, like the neatly printed one by the front door asking whether I'd switched off the light, taken my lunch box, and had my keys.

I remember crying, frustrated at the twentieth time you told me how important it was to plan my day using a calendar. “I don't need to plan every minute of my day!" I sobbed. Even the idea creating a “to-do” list was very peculiar to me, and downright scary.  Making a to-do list was writing a nag from the future. Reading something I had written, telling me what to do, was no different than talking to myself and surely meant I was “crazy,” I thought. Why should I listen to a piece of paper?

I remember our constant battles of keeping my bedroom tidy. My floor was a chaotic minefield of Legos and CDs, and doubled as a dresser for my clothing. I would wonder to myself, “Why should I make my bed? It's just going to get messy again.”

I'm 31 now, and I was diagnosed with ADHD 5 years ago. It took me about 25 years to realize that you were doing everything right.

Along with many others who receive an ADHD diagnosis during adulthood, my diagnosis as a 26-year-old was a "missing piece" that helped to explain so much about the way I am, past and present. After coming to accept it (with great relief), I now know that the real challenge would be (and will always be) to manage it. 

Although ADHD medication has helped me immensely, I really do believe in the saying, "pills don't teach skills." The past five years have been a rough period, but after a lot of trial-and-error, I've finally discovered a few core rules that I know I absolutely MUST follow, in order to function best.

These are:

  • Using a morning checklist to establish a daily routine.
  • Creating and completing “to-do” lists.
  • Using a calendar, and accepting the fact that I can’t remember everything.
  • I've even made a habit of making my bed; it took me 25 years to appreciate the relief of coming home to a made bed and a tidy room.

Sound familiar? 

I struggled. But even though the possibility that I had ADHD was never explored, you still tried your best to instill these good habits in me. I was stubborn and only when life got “really hard” (i.e., my disorganization and forgetfulness nearly cost me a job, two friendships, and severely hampered my success in college) did I realize that I would need to change.

Thank you for relentlessly pushing me to adopt these good habits. While it took years of my own soul-searching to realize their value and adopt them on my own, I now know that I will try my best to instill these same routines when I have a family of my own.

Your ADHD Son


See what works for your family

If your child struggles with organization and time management, it is best to begin addressing these challenges early on. Experiment with some of the strategies above, and make it a family-wide activity, so it’s more likely to stick, and so your child doesn’t feel singled out. Here are just a few examples:

  • All in the Family.  Posting a large “Family Calendar” in a centralized place that is accessible to everyone can be useful way to manage the logistics of everyone’s busy lives (check office supply stores for whiteboard calendars and dry-erase markers). Provide each family member with their own colored marker to write in the calendar. This way, everyone’s schedule can be easily seen at a glance.
  • Technology Tip.  Better yet, take advantage of everyone’s connectedness to the Internet: Go online and set up a free Google Calendar to create a shared e-calendar that every member of the family can access and update.
  • Food for Thought.  On Sundays, create a family meal plan for the week, and use this to guide your grocery shopping. Having a set dinner plan can curb impulsive eating, and encourages your family to have a sit-down meal together.
  • Everything in its Place.  Create a centralized “home” for the items (for example, house keys, emergency cell phone, or their book bag) your child needs to take before leaving the house. This can save lots of time and frustration in the morning, and can help your child get out of the house more quickly.

Routine and structure are important for children with ADHD. While school tends to provide this structure for most of your child’s day, it is equally important to have routines in place in your home.

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