Moving past the guilt of “giving” my son ADHD

My son has ADHD and frequently has trouble staying on task. One night, after I’d asked him five times to get undressed for his shower, I found him staring at a poster in his room and fiddling with one of his toys. He was 6 years old at the time.

He seemed disappointed in himself.

“Daddy, I’m so sorry,” he said. “I got very distracted again. I’ll try very hard this time.” This often happens to him at home and in school, and it brings up a lot of memories for me.

I remember being in first grade, too. I remember crying in frustration when I had to stay in the classroom during lunch, trying again and again to complete the timed math tests we had to take.

I could never get them done in time, even though I did get the right answers. I wondered why the other kids didn’t have to miss lunch to finish them, and why I had to eat during recess because I’d used up all my lunch time doing the tests.

As a child, I think I knew I was smart, but I felt like I was stupid. I loved reading, but it took me so long to finish a book. As a teen, my grades slipped because I couldn’t concentrate on schoolwork no matter how hard I tried. It took me three times as long to do assignments as other kids and sometimes I just couldn’t complete them.

My teachers told my parents and me that I could get better grades, but that I wasn’t trying hard enough. When I asked for extra help from my math teacher, he told me I was being lazy for not finishing my homework on a regular basis.

Nowadays, all this would raise red flags. But back then, I just don’t think schools were as aware of these things. So I didn’t get the help I needed.

I wasn’t diagnosed with learning and thinking differences until I was 37. I’d been laid off, and my wife and I decided I would stay home with the kids and go back to college to finish up my degree. I was excited for the opportunity to spend more time with our boys and further my career prospects at the same time.

But soon I began to experience the same kinds of problems with learning as I did as a child. I couldn’t do the reading assignments in time, and I couldn’t organize myself enough to balance my family and school responsibilities. I went from project to project and couldn’t stay on task. My wife suggested that I get evaluated.

The disability services office at my college was very helpful, and soon I got the testing that I needed. The evaluation found that I have a language-based learning disability that affects my processing speed, among other things. My doctor also diagnosed me with ADHD. These diagnoses qualified me to receive that helped me finish school and get my bachelor’s degree in computer information systems.

While finding out that I have ADHD certainly explained a lot about both my childhood and adult life, it also made me worry about my son.

I’d learned that ADHD has a genetic tie and can run in families. When my son was diagnosed with ADHD, I started to feel tremendous guilt. What if he felt the same frustration and low self-esteem that I’d felt? I felt guilty that I somehow “gave” him ADHD — and with it the negative experiences I had as a child.

I worked to give my son the advantages I didn’t have. My wife and I had him evaluated at a young age and got him the help he needed. We got on top of his issues. We work with him on the activities he struggles with, and we communicate with his teachers regularly to make sure he gets support in school.

The effects our proactive approach hit me the other day when I asked him to clean his room. After I asked him several times to start picking up, he still hadn’t budged from the toy car setup he was playing with.

But then he asked me, “Daddy, did I get very distracted again?”

When I nodded, he said, “Could you please go back downstairs, and I’ll try very hard to focus and just pick up my books? Then we can choose something else for me to pick up, OK?”

He was so matter-of-fact. To me, it felt like a parenting win.

My son understands his struggles. He doesn’t see all the reminders and supports for his ADHD as something “extra” that other kids don’t have to do. Living with ADHD is just a part of his life he’s always known.

Most importantly, he’s happy. He’s a very laid-back and sweet kid, eager to please and wants to be everyone’s friend. He has what I like to call an up-for-anything kind of attitude. He’s engaging and bright and quirky. His quirkiness, though, seems to be part of what makes him so endearing to everyone he meets.

I know that he’s always going to have challenges, but he’s in a much better spot than I ever was. I like to think my efforts are a big reason for that. He’ll have a completely different experience than I had as a child. And that’s helped me move past feeling guilty about “giving” him ADHD.

Get tips on how to address emotions you may feel about your child’s learning and thinking differences. And read what one mom wishes other people knew about parenting a child with ADHD.


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