Why I Had to Get Beyond Shame to Help My Child With ADHD

It’s been five years since my son was diagnosed with ADHD, but I still sometimes feel like I’m spinning around trying to figure things out. Maybe that’s because everywhere I turn, someone has an opinion of exactly what I should do. And often, these people with opinions seem more than happy to share what they think I’m doing wrong.

Usually I just shake off what they say. I know I have nothing to feel guilty about or ashamed of.

I didn’t always feel that way, though. Not fully. For a long time, comments from others did make me feel like I’d done something wrong. Then, I had an encounter that turned out to be a turning point for me.

On this occasion, someone weighed in on my son’s behavior without being asked. This person said they didn't believe ADHD existedright in front of my son. I was furious.

My son, who was 6 at the time, was just coming to terms with what ADHD was and what it meant for his life. I’d been trying to explain that there’s nothing wrong with him; his brain just works differently. His behavior issues weren’t his fault.

As I looked in my son’s confused eyes, I realized something. If I wanted him to see ADHD the way I explained it to him, I had to believe his behavior wasn’t my fault, either. If I wanted him to be OK with having ADHD, I had to be OK with it, too.

The truth was, my son’s ADHD wasn’t related to anything I did or didn’t do. I had to stop feeling mom-shame and guilt every time he raced around in a restaurant or laughed loudly when someone got hurt. That was the only way I could be there to help him navigate those difficult times.

For a long time after that, I tried to educate people when they made uninformed statements about me, my son and ADHD. That became my standard reaction to unwanted comments—inform and explain.

But now, I think I may have reached a new turning point.

Recently a friend from overseas felt the need to explain to me that ADHD is due to lazy North American parenting and bad eating habits. I was prepared to give my speech. The one where I talk about the numerous studies that show there may be multiple causes of ADHD, including genetics. And explain that these things are out of my (and my son’s) control.

I didn’t give the speech, however. Instead, I suddenly found myself thinking that people who don’t live with someone with ADHD may have their own opinion of ADHD—and that their ideas may be based on misinformation. But I don’t always have to be their teacher.

Sometimes, I can just leave them to their opinion, while I relish my own.

My opinion is that ADHD is only one part of my son, not who he is. He’s also generous, creative, smart, persistent, spontaneous and compassionate. And while ADHD may mean he’ll have to work harder at certain aspects of his life, it doesn’t define him.

If people want to only see the negative aspects of ADHD, they’ll miss out on the many positive ones that make my son unique.

Hear from another woman who’s letting go of the shame of ADHD and learning disabilities. And read why kids with ADHD often feel worse about doing something wrong than other kids do.

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