ADHD and Parenting: An Interview with Kay Marner

Kay is a writer , blogger and full time mother. She is an expert in adhd and parenting, from what I can gather from her blog, although she prefers to refer to herself more modestly.

Whether your child has adhd or bipolar or some other special need that requires you to constantly explain yourself to others and tirelessly advocate for them in every setting, you will find this interview with Kay Marner informative.  Being a parent of a special needs child requires a certain commitment to self care which Kay is able to speak to comprehensively.

Hi Kay.  Thank you for spending some time with us today to talk about parenting a child with ADHD. 

1.     Please take a moment to briefly introduce yourself and tell us about you, your business, and the services you might offer to others.

I’m a full-time mom and a part-time freelance writer.  I write regularly for ADDitude and Adoptive Families magazines, and write a blog about ADHD and parenting for  I’m the author of one (so far!) children’s picture book, Dog Tales: The Adventures of Smyles.  I live in Ames, Iowa with my husband, Don, a landscape architect, 12 year old son, Aaron, 8 year old daughter, Natalie, and Smokey Joe, our fat gray cat. 

I’m available to write or speak about my areas of “expertise”.   I’m not an expert on ADHD and parenting…or Sensory Processing Disorder…or anxiety…or learning disabilities…or parenting.  I’m an expert on how I feel and what I experience as the parent of a child with special needs.  Assuming your readers are not looking for a writer for hire, the main “service” I can provide is support.  Readers of my blog tell me again and again that it helps them to know that they aren’t alone when they struggle with parenting a child with special needs.

2.    Well I consider you and expert. Your experience and knowledge is obvious in your blog. Although you are a professional, you are also a mother who shares many experiences with the readers of my website.  Can you tell us about your daughter and how you have worked with her ADHD and other issues?

We adopted Natalie when she was 2 ½ years old from an orphanage in Russia.  She has ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, and anxiety disorder (officially separation anxiety, but I don’t believe it’s that clear-cut) and developmental delays.  She currently receives or has received in the past a variety of special services:  special education at school; speech, physical, and occupational therapy; in-home services related to skill development, and mental health therapy.  She takes medications for ADHD and sleep disturbance. 

At age 8, she’s come a long way from the severely delayed girl we met in the orphanage.  She’s smart, loving, funny, and very, very resilient.   

 Kay's daughter and the inspiration for her blog on ADHD and parenting is pictured below.

3.    Your blog is written about your daughter Nathalie.  I find the wisdom you share about adhd and parenting invaluable. Can you talk about what inspired you to create this blog and what your experience has been blogging?

The opportunity to write this blog came about as I worked to develop a career in freelance writing.  I first developed contacts at Adoptive Families magazine, soon after Natalie joined our family.  Later, when I wanted to branch out and write for additional publications, I was doing some research online, and came across ADDitude magazine.  I prepared a pitch for them—a book review, and when I emailed it in, I found out that ADDitude is owned by the same company as Adoptive Families, New Hope Media.  What’s more, the editor I’d been working with at AF was the contact person for the pitch I’d prepared for ADDitude.  It was meant to be!  I started writing for ADDitude too. Sometime later I was searching the ADDitude website.  I wanted to send a link to a book review I’d written to the book’s author.  As I was searching, I came across ADDitude’s call for bloggers.  I applied for the job, wrote sample posts that were reviewed by several editors, and within a few weeks had a signed contract.

Although I approached this opportunity as a writer first, and a mom second, those roles have certainly flipped places in order of importance and impact on my life as I’ve written the blog.  The blog is all about my experiences as a mom; the writing is secondary.  Through blogging, I’ve found a community of like-minded parents, support, and information and ideas.  I hope my readers find the same. 

4.    Although my website focuses mostly on bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders I felt your experience with ADHD and parenting was very relevant to the readers.  Parents of children with  OCD, Bipolar Disorder, or severe anxiety encounter the same difficulties that you have with ADHD and parenting. What has your experience been with the overlap of different diagnoses?

I think it’s very rare for any individual to fit neatly and cleanly into any one diagnostic category, and Natalie is no exception.

Diagnoses are made-up.  The DSM is written by a bunch of psychologist-types serving on committees!  How could they be perfect and exact?  (Have you ever served on a committee?)

The brain and nervous system are so complex.  And the differences that can occur--naturally, due to disease, trauma, pre-natal alcohol and drug exposure, lack of stimulation, diet, life experience…it’s no wonder no two people show the exact same symptoms of a disorder—any more than no two people  are exactly the same as human beings. 

We do our best to put symptoms into clusters, then use those clusters of symptoms to guide treatment.  Those clusters overlap all the time.  Think of them like sets and subsets from elementary school math!   

So, long answer!  Natalie absolutely has ADHD.  The anxiety issues and sensory issues that she experiences can be part of ADHD.  Hers are pervasive enough to merit separate diagnoses.  She may have a little OCD too.  But then, OCD, anxiety and depression often overlap, right?  Maybe we’ll pin things down better as time passes, and maybe not.  In the meantime, we’ll look at what seems to be giving her problems at any given time, and see what models of treatment seem most likely to help.  (I’ll be looking to your website for ideas about anxiety from now on!  And maybe your readers will find some help on the ADDitude website about those symptoms that overlap with ADHD.) 

5.    I totally agree with your answer about diagnosis. It is rarely ever clear cut and every child is different. So many of the issues involved in ADHD and parenting are relevant to others as well.

Many of the families I work with struggle with the fact that society doesn’t recognize or understand their children and their unique qualities and needs. I think one of the difficulties you speak best to in your blog on ADHD and parenting includes battling others who refuse to understand that children's behavior can be caused by a variety of things. The solution is not to treat children as if they are bad. What has been your experience with your daughter Nathalie? I particularly liked your post about experiences with school personnel” When the Punishment is too Harsh” , and I’m sure many of my readers have had similar experiences.

Luckily for Natalie, most adults find her very lovable and endearing.  She saves nearly all of her acting out for the safely of home!  So, we’ve only had a few experiences where adults really didn’t “get her” and she’s suffered because of it.  Those incidents are heartbreaking.  Did you see the posts about “The Exorcist”?  Oh, my goodness! 

6.    I love your blog post about adhd and parenting entitled “You Try Parenting an ADHD Child!”.  The families I work with will frequently struggle with that issue. Others frequently will tell them their is nothing wrong with their child, it's just their parenting.

Usually there is also a suggestion thrown in there about how spanking would do the trick. Can you talk about your personal experience with others thinking they know better about parenting and ADHD?

I get that all the time.  That question: “Really?”  Even from people who “believe in” ADHD. 

This almost always translates, for me, into believing that people blame Natalie’s behavior on my parenting skills.  I’m hyper-sensitive to that kind of criticism. It’s something I really struggle with. 

I’m not a perfect parent by a long-shot, but I’m really better at it than most people think!  I think I’m the best living expert on Natalie, besides Natalie herself. 

What people observe when they see Natalie, or see me interacting with Natalie, is only a tiny piece of the whole picture.  They don’t understand the dynamics—beyond purely behavioral cause and effect—of our relationship.  That I’m Natalie’s safe-haven—the only person she can completely fall apart in front of, knowing I won’t hurt her.  (She still tests me to see how far she can go until I will hurt her. She hasn’t quite gotten there yet!)  They don’t understand how sensory issues impact her behavior.  How hunger affects her behavior.  How her being so good for them actually leads her to let loose on me!   How the day-in-day-out-always-on pressures of parenting Natalie wears me out, so, yeah, I choose fewer battles than Nat’s occasional caretakers choose.   

There are times when I’ve done just fantastic with someone else’s special needs kid, or with a kid whose behavior isn’t great at the moment.  I love feeling a little bit superior; like I’m more skilled at parenting the kid than the kid’s own parent. 

Now I challenge myself when that happens.  Now I know better. 

7. As a professional women how do you balance the special needs of a child with adhd and parenting  with your desire to create?

Very, very poorly!  I’m no role model! 
But several life experiences have taught me that I’m not happy unless I have a creative outlet, and you know the old saying…”If mom ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” 
I’m incredibly lucky that my husband (no, he doesn’t understand why I get so stressed out, or my need to be creative, but he…) wants me to be happy!  Thus, I had the opportunity to quit working outside the home, and focus on the kids and this writing thing.  Not working outside the home gives me one less thing to juggle.  Not everyone has that choice.

My biggest secret to finding time to create is pure selfishness.  From the time Aaron was a baby I’ve recognized that I need some time away from parenting simply to rest, and some time away from parenting to “fill my bucket”.  When I worked, I used more daycare than I absolutely needed.  Right now, I use the time the kids are in school selfishly! For this coming summer, I have childcare scheduled—both respite time paid for by a Children’s Mental Health waiver and a regular babysitter so I can write.  I still feel guilty when I take time away from my kids and other family obligations (cooking, cleaning, paying bills, laundry), but I know I couldn’t survive, let along be a decent parent, without it. 
8. One of the things I am concerned about in the families I work with is the mothers of my child clients getting burnt out and used up. I now your experiences with adhd and parenting are very similar to the families I work with.The mothers give give give !I have a sneaking suspicion this is something you have grapple  with. How do you take care of yourself?

Staying sane—let alone really taking care of myself—is an ongoing struggle.  I’ve tried everything to cope—some things for a short time, some ongoing. I’m still a wreck at times, but I just keep on trying.

As I said above, I am much more selfish than most women.  That’s not something I’m proud of; it’s more a recognition of my limitations.  I take time for myself by having others care for my kids, even when I wouldn’t strictly have to.

  • We have someone clean our house every two weeks, even though I’m no longer working outside the home.
  • I kept asking and asking until I finally found a way to qualify for respite services.
  • We trade childcare with another family with a child with special needs.
  • I have an occasional massage or pedicure.   
  • I paid for a series of sessions with a professional organizer.
  •  I wear an estrogen patch!  It keeps me from crying continuously!
  • I quit a really good part-time job.
  • I tell myself things will get easier every year as Natalie gets older, and they do.
  •  I took Natalie to a therapist—then left her at daycare and went to her therapist myself!

    9.    Although your book is not about ADHD and parenting, it is part of a wonderful outreach project. Tell us about your book.

    Dog Tales

     I wrote Dog Tales while working part-time at Ames Public Library.

     I was developing an early literacy outreach program, where we would take library programs and materials to kids in daycare and preschool settings.  At the same time, I was working on a “branding” project—building a positive association between the library and bookmobile and this blue dog character, Smyles, that is pictured on our bookmobile’s exterior graphics.  Those two projects eventually coalesced in my mind, and I realized that a custom-written picture book featuring Smyles would serve as a branding tool, while also being the cornerstone of the outreach project.

    I wrote the book, then “sold” the idea to our library’s board of trustees.  They came up with funding, and Dog Tales was published.  Copies are given as gifts to every child served through the outreach project I mentioned earlier, Project Smyles. 

    In Dog Tales, Miss June, a bookmobile librarian, goes out of her way to welcome an atypical group of customers, Smyles and his dog friends, to her fantastic outdoor storytime.  Miss June is sort of a composite of me and of Jerri Heid, the head of Ames Public Library’s youth services. The book features likenesses of the real Ames Public Library, bookmobile, and other Ames locations.  It was illustrated by Gordon Roy, a commercial and fine artist from Canada. 

    An article that I wrote about how Dog Tales came to be, and another about writing for magazines, will appear in a book published by the American Library Association entitled:  Writing and Publishing: The Librarian’s Handbook.  An August or September 2009 release is expected for this book. 
    Dog Tales, and an irresistible plush toy of the Smyles character, can be purchased by emailing   (Bureaucratic road-blocks have kept Dog Tales off of, etc. Sigh.) But proceeds from sales of the book support Project Smyles, so I believe it’s worth the extra steps it takes to buy a copy!

    Thank You your time, and your continued efforts to share your experiences with ADHD and parenting!

    All the readers of my website should benefit from this information as your experiences with adhd and parenting.

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