Letter to my Younger Self (on Parenting ADHD)

Some kids have tons of freckles and snort when they laugh. Some kids use an asthma inhaler. Some kids are afraid of the dark. Others are so shy they struggle to order for themselves at restaurants.

Our kids have ADHD. We can look up the medical definition of ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, or we can look at it like this:

ADHD is a brain difference, not a dead end.

When you’re a parent and you first learn of ADHD, you devour every piece of information you can find and come to the grim conclusion that A) Life will forever be difficult and B) Your kid will be living with you until they are 23.

Neither are true.

As a mother who has been on the ADHD-train (two sons and husband are all ‘brain-different’) for over 9 years, I can look back and see the countless hours I stressed over whether my kids would fit in, figure it out, or feel like enough. So, here I sit, writing this to provide some relief to all of you moms, dads, grandparents or guardians, who have just jumped on board for the journey. If only I could know then what I know now, it may have caused that lonely experience in the neurologist’s office with the hideous wallpaper during diagnosis to not feel so isolating. Find hope in this letter, because this will be you 9 years from now, 5 years from now, or maybe next year…

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LETTER TO MY YOUNGER SELF (The Mom Whose Child Has Just Been Diagnosed)

It’s okay. You want someone to hold your hand and tell you everything will be fine.  You don’t know how life will turn out, as you sift through the overwhelm while the days expire in slow-motion. But, things will be fine. You will be proud of the roads you travel. Your kids will grow and make progress. And ADHD will one day not rule every single moment of your lives.

Your kids aren’t their ADHD. Think of their best 5 qualities, that’s what makes them the child you adore. ADHD is their something extra, like a birthmark or that scar on your ankle. ADHD is not a disability, but a brain difference. Your kids think faster, react stronger, notice more. Guide them as they sort through all of this. They need a roadmap, but roadmaps are good. It means they’re going places.

You are your child’s best advocate. You tuck them in at night, you know what they need and what works for them. Take a stand. Fight for their rights in school and be their voice when they can’t speak for themselves, then teach them to advocate on their own as they mature.

Your child won’t be the class screw-up in school. Sure, you may get some disapproving stares at the grocery store or the school calls you more than your mother-in-law, but this isn’t permanent. Your child is navigating their differences, ironing out the wrinkles. Hold your head high and don’t sell your child down the river. This is NOT their future.

Find their hidden talents. Your child will struggle to focus, sit still and regulate their emotions, but they have strengths that need to be nourished. Find what they do well, whether it is music, gymnastics, or writing and invest in those interests. Pay for guitar lessons, sign them up for a class and encourage their abilities. Your child needs something to proud of, to feel good about. Find that something.

Don’t be so quick to punish. Instead, learn the value of ‘How can I help you‘ and ‘I can see that you’re struggling’ during meltdownsBoth take longer to deliver, but are more effective than silencing your child and extending a punishment, which is similar to pressing the gas pedal of a car while the emergency brake is on. You will spin your wheels with that method, then be left wondering why things don’t improve. Validate your child’s feelings and the chaos will lessen. Replace punishment with discipline, which means ‘to teach.’

Your extended family will struggle to understand. You didn’t either at one point. They will offer their best solutions, and you will always feel like they can’t quite grasp what you endure every day. Understand that they don’t live your life, they don’t tuck your child in to bed at night.

You and your husband must get on the same page. You and your spouse need to parent the same way to be effective. If you try showing your child how to manage their emotions, and their father opts for stern warnings with a raised voice, you will send mixed signals. It would be like sitting at a traffic intersection and getting both red and green lights. Confusing, at best.

You will hear from others good things about your child. You will receive a letter from your son’s teacher describing what a leader he is, and cry with pride over the young man he is becoming. The kid who served in-school suspension for impulsively throwing food in the lunchroom will eventually be the kid who volunteers to help elderly neighbors move and offers to help make dinner. Other parents will comment often on what a respectful teen he is, and you will see he has a bright future in store.

You will feel an instant connection to other parents who know words like dopamine, meltdowns or melatonin. It’s like a secret club that no one gets invited to, and you wish you could have all of these parents on speed-dial.

Expect bad days. Your child will always love you, even if they say differently. On the flip side, you will always love your child, though you will have days that you don’t like them much. And that’s okay. Not only is it okay, it’s human.

Your child will find their way. They may need a boost socially, some guidance and advice on how to be a friend and respect boundaries, but it will happen. You will throw birthday parties for 9 boys, resulting in a broken ping-pong table, and realize it’s too much for your son. He will tell you in tears the next day that it was too loud, too overwhelming. You learn to only invite 1 or 2 kids next time, and hope (worry, lose sleep, pray) that those kids want to attend.

You can make an impact. How you speak of ADHD in front of your child will impact their self-worth during important years of their life. Don’t let it be the barometer for their confidence. Don’t let him hear you say ‘He can’t remember to turn in his homework to save his life.’ They aren’t their diagnosis, and you aren’t a failure at parenting. You will do fine, so speak highly of your child and ignore the self-doubt along the way.

Sure, there will be difficult moments, but bad days won’t translate to a bad life. Just a different one, a different journey that ultimately will take you to the same destination as others. And you will realize years down the road that you not only parented a child who may have been in an hurry to see the world, but a child who has much to offer.

Enjoy them.

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