By Esther Mann
I have been meaning to write to you for a long time and finally got the courage. I live in Queens in a nice home. B’H, I have a stable marriage, a wonderful family, and good friends.
My 8-year-old son was diagnosed with ADHD a year ago. What a year it’s been! He was a happy-go-lucky toddler, and then odd behaviors started popping up more frequently—at home, at school, and on outings. After getting bad-behavior reports from teachers, and seeing social workers and therapists, he was diagnosed with the disorder. Our son is on medication, which helps a lot in certain areas, but I feel it majorly shifted his personality in other ways.
My husband and I definitely recognize the situation and are not blinded by what is clear and in front of us: a son who is becoming more and more “out of the box.” We are having a difficult time dealing with it and also need support. The dynamic in our home is not what I hoped and dreamed it would be.
I read books about parenting kids with ADHD, and go to various seminars and workshops; I really work on myself to control the situation, but I feel as if I really don’t have a handle on it.
I have become increasingly nervous about it moving forward. Do children ever outgrow this? Do they ever learn to control themselves? Can siblings get along even if the playing field is not even because we must accommodate children with the disorder differently than those without? And if so, how do you explain it? And is that fair to them? We tell our children that his behavior is not his fault, but it’s a hard concept to understand—even for an adult.
I don’t have a specific question for you, but I ask that you shine light on the topic of ADHD and how parents should navigate it. I’m sure there are many parents like me who need help in this area and can use chizuk.
Parent of a child
with ADHD who needs a lift
Thank you for writing in and expressing the emotional challenges that parents of children diagnosed with ADHD go through. You’ve really covered the many challenges and fears that impact the parents and their other children, not to mention the child with the diagnosis. It presents a tremendous hardship for everyone involved and certainly shouldn’t be taken lightly.
It sounds like you’ve done your homework and reached out to various professionals to help you understand what ADHD is all about and what treatment plans are available for your son. You don’t need me to explain the condition or the treatments. Rather, you sound more concerned with knowing what the future will look like for you and the rest of your family. I wish I could look into my crystal ball and tell you whether or not your son will outgrow the symptoms, or whether he can at least learn how to manage his symptoms better, how it will impact his siblings, and so on.
Obviously, I can’t predict what the future will look like for your family, nor can anyone else. I can tell you with certainty that there are individuals who most definitely improve with age and even those individuals who are able to channel their ADD into tremendous life successes. But rather than focus on what the future holds for all of you, I think it makes more sense to do the best that you can today. None of us have any guarantees; we must all do what we can in the moment, because this very moment is all we really have.
Your family, like so many other families, is dealing with a tough situation. First off, knowledge is power; the fact that you are not in denial but have taken the initiative to understand what it is you’re up against puts you ahead of the game. Also, you must be encouraged to see that your son is getting some relief using the medication he’s on. That is very positive.
When one member of a family has a serious condition, the entire family feels the effects of the problem. Obviously, it takes tremendous amounts of patience to be the parent of a child with ADHD. It sounds like you try very hard to hold it together. But of course you and your husband will lose it from time to time. I think you need to be kind and forgiving toward yourselves when you don’t feel as though you’ve reacted in the most perfect way possible. It happens sometimes—and that’s OK. However, the better you feel from a mental perspective, the easier it will be for you to be the best that you can be. So I have to ask what you are doing for yourself right now to take some of the edge off. Do you work out at a gym or go for brisk walks? Do you enjoy going for massages? Do you have close family, friends, or a therapist to talk to and to share your feelings? Be sure to include in your treatment plan opportunities for you and your husband to reboot and calm your souls as much as possible. This really is a family diagnosis, and everyone needs TLC.
Regarding your other children, of course they are feeling the effects of your son’s behavior. It’s sometimes hard to figure out just the right turn of phrase to help your other children understand your son. While you might explain that he is not always responsible for his behavior, on the other hand, you don’t want them to view him as being “not normal,” which of course he isn’t. But he is a little different, and since we’re not all meant to be exactly alike, it’s just part of G-d’s plan. However, I suspect that ultimately your other children will learn great compassion and understanding, despite their expressing feelings of resentment during difficult moments. It’s important that you always validate their feelings by letting them know that you understand their frustration, but explain that it’s all part of the journey. And you can take the opportunity to point out some of your son’s very special qualities, as most children with ADHD are quite sensitive and wonderful, which often plays out in very beautiful ways.
I’m sure I don’t have to remind you how important structure is for your son and for the entire family unit. As much as your son probably fights against it, it is exactly what he needs. During those times when it feels as though your home is spinning out of control, that is the most important time to try your hardest to bring as many rules and regulations into play.
Finally, you are far from alone. It often seems to me that I can’t walk more than five steps without bumping into someone with ADD. Thank goodness, these days, there is tremendous awareness of what it means, both in schools and among laypersons. Support for both the individuals and their families is out there and in abundance. No one says it’s going to be easy, but we carry on and make sure that we access the help that we need. Some days will be much harder on everyone, and some days will be joyful and sweet. You’ll do the best you can, you’ll love as best you can, and you have every reason to believe that you will all pull through together.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at email@example.com or 516-314-2295.