Early in My Days as a New Parent, My Son’s Pediatrician Looked Up at Me While I Complained of Feelings of Guilt for Some Marginal Oversight.
“Now that you’re a mother, you will come to understand that everything is your fault,” she said. Truer words have never been spoken.
Recently, I was burned out. I needed a break from the demands and frustrations associated with motherhood and its complexity in general. I sought spiritual wisdom, as I often do, at an extended meditation program where I was sure that I would escape my feelings of maternal inadequacy and of relentless, insurmountable stress.
Glaring down at me from a large screen was the guru I’d been waiting for. He began an intriguing lecture on our collective and growing impatience and need for instant gratification. I related this to my life, finding resonance in more than a few ways. And then it happened. Even this man found a way to make me wrong when he compared impatience with his understanding that “when children can’t sit in a chair for 6 hours quietly, we call them ADHD and medicate them for being children”. I had come there to escape this kind of arrogance. Was this guy for real? Turns out that he was, and I’m not sure I should be surprised. After all, he was doing what many have the habit of doing – reducing this extremely difficult, highly emotional subject to just that – a symptom of our society and its lazy (impatient) parenting.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – the acronym hardly needs to be broken down these days. But for all our understanding of the term itself, we seem to have a pervasive misunderstanding of what it implies.
ADHD is a confirmed neurological disorder, affecting more than 5% of children. And while numbers and studies are abundant, there remains a kind of atmospheric indifference to the compelling evidence that this thing is real. Perhaps what’s missing from the conversation is an understanding of the complex and difficult-to-treat symptoms associated with this disorder, and the enormous challenges that can be presented to these children and their families. Perhaps what is missing from the conversation is a day in the life of one of their parents.
Parents Have Plenty to Consider
ADHD is not code for ‘can’t sit still’. If it were that simple, and it isn’t, the debate would scarcely need to be had. This disorder comes with a plethora of comorbid disorders such as anxiety, compulsions, sensory processing disorder (SPD), sleep disorders, emotional dysregulation, impulse control challenges and more. Often, parents and caregivers of children with ADHD are dealing with far more than just a kid who is ‘busy’. ADHD is indiscriminate in its manifestation, and difficult to diagnose due to a high degree of variability in its presentation. Moreover, this is a disorder that does not have a physical presentation. That means that “your kid looks okay to me, you just need to discipline him” really is irrelevant to the conversation.
The Treadmill of Responsibility
While it is true that there are instances in which these presentations are managed with soft approaches like therapy and coaching, the reality is that in many cases the benefits of medicating far outweigh the risks. The common rhetoric appears to reflect that parents are interested in medication as a ‘quick fix’, but this could not be further from the truth. The truth is, medication is only one piece of the puzzle, and can be difficult to access if you don’t have a doctor who is confident prescribing. While we want our kids to be thriving in the world with as little intervention as possible, abstaining from necessary intervention does not help these children interact appropriately with their peers, maintain friendships, make them available for learning (socially or academically), or develop important rapport with family members and friends outside of their nuclear family (relationships within the nuclear family are also often strained). So yes to medication, where appropriate. Yes to therapists and psychiatrists, and specialty parenting classes, and funding applications, and restricted diets, and sleepless nights, and marital discord, and endless parental guilt, and working with the teacher, and extra glasses of wine, and trips to your own doctor (if you can find time) for your own medication. Because we can do anything, but not everything. For everything, some moms need carefully considered medical intervention, too.
Just as we have come a long way in understanding the risk-benefit ratio of medicating clinical depression, ‘no medication’ still sounds good in theory, until someone you love is suffering unbearably. Furthermore, untreated adolescents suffering from ADHD are shown to be more susceptible to self-medicating with illicit drugs to control symptoms – because contrary to popular belief, this is no fun for them either.
And Another Thing
Advocates for more militant discipline and more conscientious parenting should consider the flaws in their thinking, and the stress that these family units are often operating under. Funding cuts in the medical and educational systems coupled with unhealthy levels of stress within the home often leads to caregiver fatigue and isolation. If it would make our critics feel better, though, we’ve all tried structured consistent discipline, too. Lots of it.
So, if you or someone you know has had remarkable success overcoming ADHD with extra attention, love and cuddles, be eternally grateful. That is not the story for the vast majority of ADHD families. Our children are loved – beautiful, intelligent, and gifted in as many ways as they are complex and challenging. With respect, if you haven’t got anything nice to say, get out of our way. We’re busy trying to accomplish what criticism cannot.