Our Family Is Perfectly Imperfect

My sons – one with ADHD, one without – have a challenging dynamic at times. But even though it’s exhausting to deal with, I recognize its benefits.

ADHD and non-ADHD children have a challenging dynamic
ADHD and non-ADHD children have a challenging dynamic

Early mornings are the hardest. I insist that Miles eat as much as he can before the ADHD medication stops his hunger for the day. The breakfast hour – before the medication works its way through his blood and into his brain – is always unpleasant and tense. Miles is growing fast and getting thinner, so I want his body to be as nourished as possible before school.

The decision to put food before medication leads to another question: How do I cope with the dynamic between my sons? Do I blame Miles for the impulses he can’t control and punish him? Or do I let his younger brother, Finn, feel like a punching bag because he never sees his idea of justice meted out?

Inattention and Moods

If ADHD meant only fidgeting and lack of organization, it would be easy to parent. I never foresaw the ways that Miles’s diagnosed inattention would affect his attitude and his moods. He’s always in flux, which the medication eases but doesn’t erase. His moods are tinged with jealousy for his brother, who makes his way in the world with much less effort.

I try to explain to Finn how Miles’s brain works – that there are flashes and thoughts he can’t always catch, slippery things that wiggle and speed through the forests of mental sea grass. Every morning an ocean of choices and decisions rolls over Miles in waves: Say this, do this, look at your brother, speak louder, don’t flip your middle finger. I hope to help Finn understand his brother better, but every moment requires me to dance on my toes and shift the energy in the room. I’m exhausted by 8 A.M.

I know it’s a hard road for Miles – particularly now, when both ADHD and teenage hormones affect him. Finn’s personality is formed by the rushing river of his passionate, vibrant, always-in-motion brother. Miles has sculpted Finn’s inner geography in a special way. Finn is smoothed by Miles’s roughness, and, in some way, Finn may be smoothing Miles, too. I’m grateful that they rub together to carve each other into the people they’re becoming.

[ADHD Symptoms in Teens: Your Guide to Warning Signs & Treatments for Adolescents]

Let Me Be Your Target

But the daily breakfast dance forces me to beg Miles, “Pick me as the target of your words and looks and hands. Pick me to blame.” I hate to see the effect Miles’s behavior has on Finn every morning – Finn’s wincing, his tears, another breakfast of tension and anxiety. I understand why Miles lashes out at Finn. I understand why he’s jealous. The two are close, but Finn’s ease in the world is a source of frustration for Miles.

After breakfast, Miles clatters upstairs to get ready for school. Soon I see both boys bent over the sink brushing their teeth. Their mouths turn up in foamy smiles, and I see what the truth is: They are brothers. Bound by blood and experience, they raise each other to be the men they will eventually become.

No family is perfect, and ours is no exception. Miles’s diagnosis is a family matter, and without his changeable moods set in motion by his impulses, our family would look different. But it wouldn’t be more perfect. I know that Finn will be OK, and Miles will, too. We’re family. We move beyond the scraping and whittling we do to each other’s heart and attitudes, and we turn our foamy smiles outward. We know that nobody in any family gets a free pass. Nobody has it easy. This is our family, moment by moment. This is Miles. This is Finn. This is us – perfectly imperfect, and making it work.

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