I recently had a realization—if you live with and love someone with ADHD, you’ve probably been lied to at some point. Most likely about something dumb that doesn’t even matter. But maybe about something more important.
I don’t have ADHD, but my teenage son does. On my best days, I feel like I’m slowly losing my mind, because he and I experience a very different reality. The main reason for this is my son’s struggle with . His isn’t as strong as mine, and neither is his self-control. To make up for that, he seems to regularly substitute his own version of reality for the truth.
In other words, he lies.
Homework conversations sometimes go like this:
Me: “Did you get your math homework done? I saw that you have six problems due by tomorrow.” My son: “I got it done during lunch today. I sat by my locker and did all my homework, and I even turned it in before I came home from school.”
I know this is a lie before the sentence is even finished. How?
Our school district has a parent notification system. And I get an email every day with up-to-date grades, completed and missing assignments, and upcoming projects before he even gets home from school. I know he hasn’t done his math homework.
When I confront him about it, he sticks to his version about doing his homework at lunch: “I turned in the assignment. My teacher must have lost the paper. I promise I got it done! It must not be showing up on the system.”
What’s baffling to me is that my son isn’t scheming. His lies aren’t sophisticated. They’re obviously false. And there’s no reason for him to lie to me—if he hasn’t done his homework, I can help him.
Over the years, I’ve tried to understand more about why my son does this.
I know he hates school because it’s hard for him. I think in his brain it’s easier to lie about homework being done than it is to sit and struggle through the math problems. Or to have another conversation with me where he feels like he’s being told he’s a failure.
I also don’t think my son lies on purpose. Half the time, I don’t even think he knows he’s lying. It’s like wishful thinking—he wants so badly for his lies to be true, he believes what he’s saying.
He wants his math homework to be done. He wants to be the kid who spends his lunch hour on schoolwork. He wants to be the kid who maps out his calendar, prioritizes projects and finishes everything. That’s never going to be his reality, so he fakes it.
To be honest, it helps me to think of his lies as unintentional. After all, most of us do a lesser version of this kind of lying all the time. Think about the last social invitation you received but didn’t want to accept. I know I’ve told a few “white lies” to spare a friend’s feelings, or to avoid an awkward or painful situation.
At the end of the day, I confront his “ADHD lies” just like any others. I try not to get irritated, or angry, or at least not to let my feelings show.
When first confronted, he usually denies it. However, as I continue to push, he eventually breaks down crying and admits the truth.
There’s so much hurt and shame involved in my son’s lying. He uses it as a coping mechanism to survive a school system that doesn’t fit him. Once we get to the truth, we share a hug and talk about the problem: the anxiety about homework. Then we talk about how important it is to tell the truth. I tell him I love him, that I’m proud of how hard he works, and that together we’ll make it through. No shame allowed.
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