“Dear Mom of a Newly Diagnosed Kid with ADHD”
“You are worried right now. You don’t know what’s ahead of you: what ADHD treatment might work today, what treatment might work tomorrow. How your child might negotiate this grade, the next one, the one after that, college, the real world. You just want to wrap him or her in a protective mama hug and keep them safe.”
I know you’re scared. I know you’re worried. I know you’re upset, and I know that you really just want to cry right now. But you feel like if you do, it’s some sort of betrayal.
It’s not. Go into your bedroom, shut the door, and cry. Hard. Beat the pillow if you need to. You deserve it.
It’s important that you mourn the diagnosis of attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). Not because it’s bad (it’s not, thank you very much). Not because it’s horrible (we with ADHD manage pretty well, in general). But because this is not what you thought you signed up for.
You had a vision of your child. You had an idea of how you thought he or she was going to be, was going to think, was going to grow up. That vision is gone. That idea is shattered. It’s hard and painful when the ways that we see the world are shattered. You deserve to mourn it. You deserve to hold the pieces of it in your hand and say, “I thought my child would be like this, but he is like this. I imagined this, but this won’t happen now.”
It’s OK. You aren’t betraying your kid when you think this. You’re working on accepting a new reality, and this is part of that ADHD acceptance. If you allow yourself this mourning, you’ll come out stronger on the other side for yourself and for your child.
It’s OK to feel mad. It’s OK to be mad that the universe handed this diagnosis to your kid. It’s not fair. Your kid is hard. You can love your kid to the moon and back and still look at him and think, you are hard. You need to realize that — hold it in your hands for a while, learn its truth — that loving and knowing something is difficult are not mutually exclusive. Be it tantrums or forgotten backpacks, lost lunches or impulsive behavior, it will be difficult. You can be mad about this.
Let me assure you that you are, first and foremost, a good parent, especially if your child is a girl. Not because I’m sexist, but because ADHD manifests itself in pretty subtle but dangerous ways in girls, and it’s easy to ignore. Boy or girl, by getting your kid a diagnosis, you are setting his feet on the road to getting some kind of help. That’s some of the most important work a parent can do.
It’s easy for a parent to ignore mental illness in a kid, to say, “Not my baby,” or worse, to hide in shame and refuse to seek treatment. You did none of these things. You had the courage to have your child diagnosed, to get your kid “labeled,” to say, “No, something is different here, something I can’t handle, and we need help.” You did an amazing, important thing — a thing to be lauded, a thing your child will thank you for later. I promise on the moon and stars.
You are worried right now. You don’t know what’s ahead of you: what treatment might work today, what treatment might work tomorrow. How your child might negotiate this grade, the next one, the one after that, college, the real world. You just want to wrap him or her in a protective mama hug and keep them safe.
But you can’t, so you better get your mama bear on.
That means reading up on treatment — real treatments, medically accepted treatments, not the rabbit hole of woo the internet will beckon you into.
That means that when you tell people he has ADHD, and people ask, “Well, have you tried…” you need to learn to smile and say something sweetly like, “No thank you, that’s not for us,” even when you want to punch them in the face. It means that if you make the decision to use medication, make it and don’t doubt it. Develop a way to sweetly tell people who disagree where they can eff off to. It means you need the backbone to barrel into parent-teacher conferences and fight for your child’s rights. It means you may need to remove your child from people who will not respect his different abilities. Which is hard, but which may be necessary for your kid’s self-esteem. You can’t let him or her be punished for having ADHD.
It also means that he is the same child you have always loved. He is the same child you held in your arms when he was small. She is the same child you carried, the same one you read The Cat in the Hat to. She is the same today as she was yesterday. You have a name for his different brain chemistry now, but he always had that chemistry. He was always your baby, and you were always his mama. You need to celebrate that.
You have gotten this far. You have raised this amazing person. You will keep raising this amazing person but better, with specialized help tailored just to them. You will do this thing, mama. You will make it. You will feel sad and hurt and lonely and afraid. But you will feel love, mama. And love, and love, and love.