Before I had a kid with ADHD, I was skeptical that it even existed. (I know. I kinda want to slap me, too.) I believed that it was more a discipline problem or a case of parents wanting to take “the easy way out” by medicating their kids into compliant little zombies.
Then my first son was born — a high-spirited, energetic, and opinionated little fireball. He didn’t sleep through the night regularly until he was 4 years old, and he loved learning and then talking non-stop at, like, 3 a.m., about a wide variety of subjects from the time he was very small. There was no doubt that he was highly intelligent, so we chalked up some of his behaviors to the racing of his insatiably curious mind.
But as he progressed in school, it became clear that his energy level was not a product of his intelligence, but actually impeding his progress. His grades declined and his interest in learning waned, and he started to become a distraction in class. We watched helplessly as our son’s behavior overshadowed his potential. When he was officially diagnosed with ADHD, it was both a relief (it wasn’t terrible parenting after all!) and a concern (what the hell do we do now?!).
Having a kid is hard enough. Having a kid with ADHD is like birthing the Energizer Bunny. For ADHD parents, the struggle is real, and it looks a lot like this.
1. You’ve tried everything in the book.
Actually, at this point, you could probably write the book, or at least a manual of things that didn’t work. You’ve read study after study and tried every suggestion: dietary modifications, strict schedules, natural supplements. All because…
2. You agonize over whether to medicate.
Some people swear by the results of ADHD medications. But then there are the naysayers, the ones who tell you that medications are the “lazy” solution, the ones who bristle at the suggestion that you’d even begin to consider “drugging your child.” (Insert eyeroll here.) And those are the voices that seem louder than the rest, often drowning out the supportive ones. Which means…
3. You receive tons of well-meaning but totally unsolicited advice.
When people find out you’re struggling with how to help your child manage his ADHD, suddenly everybody is an expert. “Try a chiropractor!” they’ll suggest, as though their opinion is the ultimate solution to your problems. “Have you cut out all red food dye yet?” “You just need to remove all dairy and yeast from his diet.” “All you’ve got to do is bathe in organic 2% milk and dance naked under a full moon and turn in circles 800 times and then spit on your child while he’s sleeping! You have to get it right in his eye, but it works like a charm!”
4. You suffer from a raging case of self-doubt.
As a result of all the “noise” surrounding your treatment decisions, you’ll wonder (incessantly) whether or not you’re making the right choices.
5. You learn to deal with judgmental people.
No matter what you ultimately decide, someone will have something to say about it, and you develop a pretty thick skin. Not only will people judge your decisions, they’ll also judge your kid. Since ADHD isn’t exactly a visible affliction, you’ll receive many a raised eyebrow and scathing side-eye from strangers over your child’s sometimes wild behavior. Because…
6. Your kid is sometimes “THAT kid.”
There are no two ways about it, ADHD can turn a perfectly lovely child into the kind you’re worried about taking anywhere. Impulsive actions, emotional meltdowns, and exaggerated reactions are easily mistaken by the general public as brattiness when really they’re just par for the course when your kid has ADHD. And no matter how well you feel you’ve got it under control, there are going to be times when your kid’s behavior makes you cringe inside. Like when…
7. You dread most parent-teacher conferences.
And if you’ve got a special academic plan or any classroom modifications in place, you’ll likely have more conferences than the average parent. Some will be decent, like when your child is making progress. But some will be a half-hour of trying not to cry while you hear about how he constantly gets out of his seat or pesters other kids or fails to turn in assignments. Because both at school and at home, they’re nearly impossible to keep on task. As any parent of an ADHDer knows…
8. You have to repeat yourself. A LOT.
Everyday life with your kid can have you wondering if you should just record yourself saying “brush your teeth” or “find your shoes” and play it back on loop (…on loop…on loop). No matter how old they get, even the simplest of tasks can prove difficult for their scattered brain. You can say, “Put your socks on,” and they’ll emerge five minutes later with one sock on, carrying a toy or a book or a sweatshirt, having lost the other sock because they wandered around and put it down somewhere. The cycle of forgetfulness and constant redirection becomes the norm. Consequently…
9. You can’t help being jealous of parents with kids who don’t have ADHD.
Parenting a child with ADHD is utterly exhausting, and sometimes, when you’re operating under the strain of discouraging parent-teacher conferences and a sea of treatment options and dealing with your fidgety, forgetful handful of a kid, you get a momentary twinge of envy toward those parents who don’t have to bear the weight of these things. We all feel that way. And you’ll get angry. Any type of kid knows how to push his parents’ buttons, but a kid with ADHD seems to do it more frequently, and it can be difficult not to lose your shit. Sometimes, you’ll feel like all you ever do is nag and reprimand, and it sucks. But…
10. You turn into a total “mama bear.”
Your kid may be harder to handle than most, and your patience may be paper-thin, but you also know the kid behind the ADHD. You’ve seen the sweetness, the vulnerability, the passion, and the potential that is sometimes clouded by your child’s behavior. And if anyone dares question that, or treat your child like a “bad seed,” they’ve got another thing coming. You learn to be a very vocal advocate. Because the hardest part of all is…
11. You’re heartbroken about how misunderstood they are.
To those who aren’t privileged enough to see how wonderful your kid can really be, it can look like a behavior problem. To their peers at school, they can seem annoying or be easily manipulated into doing things just to fit in. Without a doubt, it’s tough to live your life with ADHD. And for a parent, there’s nothing harder than watching our kids struggle with something beyond their control, especially when we’re not sure what to do about it. You wish their teachers and classmates and everyone else could see the amazing kid beyond the disorder. Unfortunately, very few people do. Which is why…
12. You are immensely relieved when you find someone who understands.
For all the people who misjudge your child, there are a handful of people who actually get it. When you find those people, you kinda want to move into “hugging them until it’s almost creepy” territory because you’re just so grateful. Finding someone who doesn’t blame your kid, someone who sees past the quirks, someone who has walked in your shoes, will almost bring you to tears.
It’s tough to parent a child with ADHD. You can’t love it away. You can’t discipline them out of it. Everybody wants to toss their opinion into the ring. And sometimes you feel like an island — isolated and lonely. But there are people out there — lots of us — who know exactly how you feel because we’ve also been entrusted to the care of these similarly beautiful, complicated, extraordinary souls.
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