For the last couple of years, I’ve been having this thought that I worried “too much” about my son who has ADHD. I lost so much sleep in those early years, when we knew he was different, when it was clear he stood out from his peers, when I decided I would try “everything else” before resorting to medication. I spent countless hours reading and highlighting a stack of books about ADHD so I could learn about every possible intervention — so I could learn to understand my child’s mind.
And as my son has moved into his teenage years and settled into himself, I’ve looked back on those fretful years and wondered if I worried too much. He’s fine. He is going to be fine. We found a medication that helps him focus, he earns good grades at school, and he’s discovered an uncanny knack for playing piano by ear. During a walk the other day he told me, “You know, it feels really cool to have something I’m good at.” That was one of those moments I thought I had worried too much. See? I told myself. He’s fine. All that worry for nothing.
That’s not precisely right, though. The truth is, it was my worry for my son’s future — and all the interventions that sprang from it — that helped him get to this point. If I hadn’t worried, if I hadn’t read and highlighted and tabbed all those books, if I hadn’t attended all those parent-teacher conferences, if I hadn’t set up a 504 plan for my son, if I hadn’t learned about helpful dietary changes, if I hadn’t challenged him to understand his diagnosis and advocate for himself, we would not be here right now, in this place where it is tempting to look back and accuse myself of having worried too much.
And so, if you are the parent of a young child with an ADHD diagnosis, I will not tell you that you shouldn’t worry. I will tell you that your worry is your superpower.
All this worry you feel for your child right now, this worry that feels more like panic because it’s hard to imagine this squirming, zoned-out, ticking, beautiful child that you love to the marrow of your bones ever functioning independently in the world — this is your superpower. Your worry, which is really just a manifestation of your love, is the path forward for your child. Or maybe not the path, exactly, but it’s the bulldozer that knocks shit out of the way so your child can pave their own path.
Your worry will fuel the energy that will be required of you to learn about a disorder that you may once have believed was a result of weak parental boundaries (guilty). You’ll learn that boundaries are even more important for children who have ADHD than for children without this difference, but you’ll also learn to choose your battles, because some behaviors are simply beyond the control of a child with ADHD. Your worry will fuel a cultivation of patience you did not believe your impatient-ass self was capable of achieving. You’ll lose your temper sometimes because parenting a child with ADHD is frustrating as hell, but your worry will remind you to circle back and have those important reattaching conversations with your child.
Your worry will fuel you to confront and educate old-school teachers who think your child is “choosing” not to pay attention. Your worry will turn you into a mama bear who demands the interventions and individualized learning that your child is guaranteed by law. You’ll learn that though your doctor is a font of information and wants the best for your child, no one knows better than you what is best for your child.
Your worry will cause you to scramble around for that thing that sparks joy in your child. You may cycle through multiple sports, musical instruments, or hobbies. If you haven’t found that thing yet, keep trying. Keep exposing your child to new things, keep encouraging them to find their own path. Be the bulldozer out in front, but let your child lay the pavement. For us, the thing that finally grabbed my son’s attention was piano. We tried soccer, gymnastics, violin, and guitar, and he was good at guitar, but it’s the piano that eventually clicked for him. It’s unlikely he’ll play professionally, but the point is, it brings him joy. Children who have ADHD are under constant barrage that they are inadequate. Not fast enough, not focused enough, too impulsive, too wild. It’s so good to finally find that thing that really clicks for your child. You will find it, but it’s okay to worry. Your worry is your love pushing you to keep trying for your child.
I used to be worried to the point of panic for my son. I still worry for his future, but my worry is different now — it walks hand-in-hand with confidence. So much worry, but the worry was the thing that kept me from giving up, that kept me motivated to keep learning and trying new things. It provided the foundation for patience I didn’t think I had. Now I see the positive results of all those years of interventions we put into place. They work.
My son is succeeding. He’s kind and hardworking and happy and even wise. He earns good grades at school. Yes, it’s still hard for him to focus, and yes, we still use various interventions to help him, but he’s getting it done. He has found things he’s good at, and this one thing he is startlingly good at. He has friends who love and accept him exactly as he is. He is learning how to take responsibility for his own behavior and advocate for himself, to not blame ADHD when he messes up but to understand it as a factor that needs to be considered as he learns to do better.
If you’re early in the journey of parenting a child with an ADHD diagnosis, I’m here to tell you that it’s going to be okay. But I won’t tell you not to worry. I know first hand that worry is just love on its way to doing the work your child needs you to do so they can succeed. You’ve got this.