On being a distracted dad

“I feel like my distractibility is costing me sharing the day-to-day stories that make us a closer family.”

I am an adult with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder–specifically Inattentive Type. My brain works differently than “normal” people’s when it comes to time and attention. Our brains have a governor, a gauge, that helps decide how much attention an environment, a task, or a shiny object deserves at the moment. My gauge doesn’t work.

When you think of an ADHD person, you think of the hyperactive kid in your class bouncing off the walls, unable to focus on anything, and bugging everyone else in the room. I am not hyperactive,1 but I cannot control (very easily) how much attention I give to things. This goes both ways: if I am talking to you in a crowded room, chances are I’m having trouble looking at you while we talk. But it also means that I can play Civilization for 72 straight hours or watch an entire season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer without a break.

For most of high school and college, I was treated for depression and anxiety. We were treating the symptoms without getting to the root of my problem. I would take tests for ADHD, but because the tests were exciting and new stimuli, I would “pass” them every time. It wasn’t until late in college when a psychologist and I put it together, and my doctor put me on a stimulant. It made my world immediately better. The drug didn’t do any work for me, but it made my gauge functional. I was in more conscious control of how I allocated my focus.

Even with medication, there are some areas I particularly struggle with as a parent with ADHD. Life with a three-year-old and a six-year-old is one of constant interruption. In order for me to focus on reading a flyer from school, I have to tune out the noise of the girls playing in the next room. To be fully engaged pretending that the dollhouse is Hogwarts, I have to ignore the plings of Twitter-love on my iPhone. To have a conversation with my wife at dinner, I have to remember what I was talking about after dealing with the three-year-old’s spontaneous rice tantrum.

The latter is particularly challenging as I come from a family of long-pause talkers. It’s not uncommon for me to start talking, pause mid-sentence, and while figuring out what to say next the glaciers have had time to advance and retreat. Or the bracket never closes at all, a sentence starts and never…

As such, my conversations are rife with opportunities for my daughters to share their thoughts, ask for more carrots, or spill something. And once that happens my train of thought is gone, rarely to return. Things that I would love to share with my wife, Kat, are often lost to the ether.

In my business life, I address this with the single inbox of OmniFocus. If it needs to be remembered or acted upon it goes into OmniFocus–if it does not, it might as well not exist. From there I organize my list into projects, context, and next actions, with regular reviews to keep myself honest and not break too many promises to myself.

I use Omnifocus for my personal life too, but mostly the big stuff like organizing the finances or going on a trip. I even use it for the smaller stuff that is easily listable, like things I need to buy when I‘m next in a Home Depot or the books my friend John has told me to read next. Where I am struggling is the more intimate, personal sharing of my day. It would be rude for me to add thoughts into OmniFocus at the dinner table so I remember to talk about them later. And while it is easy for me to make a task to talk to Kat about big things like mortgages,2 I feel like my distractibility is costing me sharing the day-to-day stories that make us a closer family.

So resolved: I will start keeping a modest list in OmniFocus any time throughout my day that I think “I’d like to share this with Kat” or “I think the girls would like to hear about this.” My brain is bad at this, so I will use a tool to help me. Before dinner I will look at this list and share anything that is still interesting enough to share.

I wrote it on the Internet, so I have to do it now.

— ∮∮∮ —


  1. Despite the “H” in the name of the disorder, not everyone has hyperactive symptoms. 
  2. The task would go into OmniFocus as “Talk to Kat about when she is free to go to the bank with me” in a project called “Figure out if we should refinance our house” with a context of “Agendas:@Kat”. 

Photo by: dklimke

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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages five and eight) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

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