5 Things I Wish I’d Known About Parenting a Child With ADHD

Parenting a child with ADHD can be a challenging path. A St. Clair Shores mom shares her feelings on what she's learned from her young son so far.

A young boy walking away from the camera on a sunny path surrounded by trees.

From the very beginning, I knew my son was different.

As a baby and toddler, he had a fierce temper, miniscule patience and liked things his way. His emotions were always huge and overwhelming for him and for me. Now, as a first grader, little has changed.

for him and for me. Now, as a first grader, little has changed.

He has ADHD, and with that, executive function disorder and sensory issues. Until we started piecing these symptoms together, I just didn’t understand and I was frustrated. Why wouldn’t he put on socks? Why is change so difficult? Why can’t he keep his hands to himself? And most of all, why can’t I parent this kid?

So many questions. So few answers. Until I started pushing for them. 

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Something was not right. He’s not like all the other kids. He’s exactly like some of them, though – the kids who get in trouble. He needed something more. Something I didn’t know how to give, or even offer. After six hours of evaluations, therapy and so many questionnaires, we got an answer: Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. ADHD.

I’m not usually one for labeling, but this one made me breathe a sigh of relief. There are books about ADHD! Websites! Treatment options! And most of all, guidance.

Preschool and kindergarten were stressful for me. My heart had so many emotions. I wanted everyone to see his beautiful heart and charming, dimpled smile. I wanted his twin sister to have a chance at friendships. I didn’t want to be judged.

There were so many things I wish I’d known and been able to understand. Having the tools to change my mindset would have stayed some of the tears.

1. I am not raising a future convict.

At times, it seems like the principal and I have a direct line to each other. And when his temper explodes at home, he says mean, horrible things. These behaviors worry me. I’d be lying if I said they didn’t.

But every time I feel myself wandering down “visitation on every second Tuesday” road, I remind myself that his brain works different from mine. This is temporary. Behaviors change for everyone throughout our lives. His just takes more time.

2. My heart breaks daily, but it also mends.

ADHD is a thief. It steals away the child you wish you had and robs you of the parenting journey you dreamed of. Every time I get a poor report or a call from school, my heart shatters. I want so badly for people to know the good boy I know. To look into his chocolate eyes and hear him say, “I love you, too.” Because every time he gives me this gift, my heart is full.

3. I need to carry around patience by the bucket full.

Whenever I feel like I have enough patience, I’m absolutely wrong. I need more. I need patience in the morning to get him to put on shoes. I need patience at breakfast, walking to school and getting his haircut.

So many times, I can feel people looking at me. I can hear their thoughts, “Why can’t she control her kid? Why doesn’t she just make him do it?” The answer is simple: I’m being patient. This is what he needs from me.

4. The mom guilt spreads on thick.

I have regular mom guilt, but this ADHD mom guilt is next level. I wish I had two “normal” kids. I long to know what it’s like to experience the parenthood that other people have—the hard, nitty-gritty. Not the aggression, explosive temper, heart breaking parenthood.

And then I ask myself, “How can you think like that about your son? He’s your boy and you’re his mom. That should be enough.” Then the cycle starts again.

5. I need to forgive and forget. A lot.

Mentally carrying the jerky behavior of my son for hours or days was poisoning me. After we got the diagnosis, I was able to train my brain to recognize ADHD in his behavior and that helped me turn things around. After all, I wouldn’t be mad at a cancer patient if they got sick in my car, why should I get mad at my son for things he can’t control?

The forgiveness aspect doesn’t just apply to his behaviors, it applies to mine, too. I have to forgive myself faster for losing my grip. I have to be better to myself when I need to step away to regroup. I have to realize that if I forgive him for something, I probably should forgive myself, too.

… Signing up to be a parent takes courage. I remember thinking of all the things that could go wrong and wondering if I can handle any of it. The answer is, yes. I might break, make mistakes and cry more than I’d care to admit, but I feel like I’m on the right path.

My nickname for my son is “The Good Sir.” I started calling him that when he was a chubby baby rolling all over the house. It was kind of prophetic, looking back. I can see what a challenge it’s going to be to raise him, but in the long run, I know I’m going to watch him grow into a fine man.

And that gives me the strength and courage I need.

Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer and mom to a 7-year-old boy with ADHD. She lives in St. Clair Shores, Michigan

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