The most toxic habit we have as parents is our willingness to shame other parents without mercy. There’s Mom-shaming over vaccines and breastfeeding and circumcision and a thousand other things. There’s Dad-shaming over another thousand things. It seems there may be no limit to the vastness of things being used to make ourselves feel superior to other parents. As a matter of common decency, I think we have to knock this off. We have to be better to each other. We must extend just a little measure of grace. For the most part, I like to mock people who try to shame other parents. But there is one arena that gets beyond my armor of confidence and just attacks my soul. When other parents make broad sweeping assumptions in this one area, it is a source of so much deep emotional pain (also called anguish) that I stew on it for days.
Every few weeks, I’ll read an article or see a headline or hear a comment about how Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is not real. It is usually accompanied by generalized statistics about the growth of use of stimulant drugs and always carries a judgment on the parents and doctors for this increase. I cannot speak to the increase in volume of the various diagnoses and prescriptions on the whole. But I can tell you my own experience as an engaged father of a little one who carries the diagnosis and I can relay a few truths from our family’s reality with ADHD and I’ll include some words for the critical voices…
1. This disorder is about brain chemistry and function and has nothing to do with parenting style. The idea that my daughter’s attention difficulties are a result of lazy parenting or too much screen time or some other such judgmental junk science nonsense, is both offensive and lacks any measure of understanding. In reality, brain trauma in utero is the source for us and there are dozens of other causes contributing to the disorder. Assigning blame at the feet of parental behavior for a great many of us is like a final kick in the stomach at the end of a long day of hard fighting.
2. Medication is a last resort treatment and a decision made only after much research, trepidation, and a good deal of heartache. Most of the criticism surrounding ADHD focuses on the widespread pharmaceutical treatments available, particularly stimulant drugs. Statements about “drugging your kids” and “making them zombies just so they’ll behave” are as unfair as they are pervasive. The reality is that a parent comes to this decision only after exhausting all options (even the crazy ones) . Even further still, the truth of stimulant drugs is that sometimes they are the only way for these kids to feel actual relief. Oh, is that something you never considered? Yes, for a great number of children, ADHD is something from which they suffer. Imagine never being able to slow your own brain and focus on things on which you desperately wish you could focus. For many, there is no escape from that reality outside of pharmaceutical treatments. Perhaps there are many children for whom a good dose of discipline would go further than a few milligrams in a pill. I don’t know about that. I do know that these drugs help millions and I would argue that stimulant drugs have their place in treatment of this disorder (even in spite of your judgment).
3. There are hours of coaching and training that no one else sees. Maybe the worst thing that comes out of the “ADHD doesn’t exist” crowd is the reality that their criticism kicks a weary parent when they are already on the ground. What you don’t see in their statistical darts is any data pointing to the hours and hours of additional work and training they are walking through with their children. The truth is that kids who suffer from ADHD, many times, must expend exponentially more effort for a fraction of the progress other kids make without having to try at all. There are hours of math drills, and training social skills, and coaching situational awareness, and a hundred other disciplines. No one else sees these hours because parents don’t complain about the extra work (and it is work). They just lower their heads and keep driving ahead for their kids. And then you accuse them of being lazy. Shame on you.
Before you paint with such a wide brush over a disorder you have not experienced first hand, it would be wise to sit and listen to those who live their lives in the midst of it. Perhaps you could even try to muster a little grace and empathy for them. Maybe walk a mile in their shoes before you level criticism that is neither helpful nor based in any kind of real understanding. Maybe, just maybe, you could try to be helpful. There will certainly come a time in your parenting when you will need grace and understanding. When that time comes, I hope others are more willing to show that grace than you have been.
To the mom and dad who are well acquainted with the ADHD life, know that you are not alone. Do the best for your kid that you can with the resources at your disposal and the information in front of you. You were great today. You can be great again tomorrow.