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“The Truth About Parenting a Child on ADHD Medication”

We cried over our son’s taking medication, prayed over it, researched it, and everything else you can think of before accepting the prescription.

If you parent a child with special needs, whatever those needs might be, we are fighting a battle behind the doors of our homes. Some of us may have children who scream and yell and throw things. Some of our children may be non-verbal or curse at us. Some cannot dress themselves. Whatever our individual war, it is war nonetheless. So suit up and march on beside each other, because choosing to medicate your child may be one of the most difficult and unforgiving parenting decisions you will make. You’ll likely need backup, not judgment.

The Pharmacy Is Your Nemesis

If you have never had a child who takes ADHD medication — it falls under the Schedule II category, meaning it is a controlled substance — you are required to hand a paper prescription note to a pharmacist (yes, this still exists). Because of the classification of medicine our son takes, his prescriptions cannot be refilled more than one day before we run out of them.

They can also not be filled at just any pharmacy, if we are traveling. This means, since our families live hours away from us, that when my son visited his grandparents for a week last summer, we couldn’t fill his prescription early even knowing it would run out while he was there. It took over six hours of phone calls to multiple pharmacies and insurance companies before we found somewhere we could get his medication.

[Free Download: A Parent’s Guide to ADHD Medications]

The pharmacy is often conveniently out of the medication or dosage that your child needs on the exact date you need to refill it. This can sometimes take days, even weeks, to special order. This means you have to parent a child who suffers from Mach 5 meltdowns and who has almost no physical ability to focus or control his outbursts when he is unmedicated. But we must follow pharmacy protocol and wait. So our child has to come down off of the medicine he has taken for months and suffer the effects of being unmedicated. When the medicine is finally ready at the pharmacy, we have to start all over again.

Moms who parent children who take behavior disorder medications seriously dread the pharmacy. I would prefer to go to the eye doctor, the dentist, and the gynecologist, all in the same day, if it meant I could just pick up my prescriptions without fail like the next diabetic or person who needs an antibiotic. It is maddening!

Haters Will Judge You

The school will judge you, your parents will judge you, your friends may judge you, but, at the end of the day, no one knows your child like you do. If your child struggles with behavior disorders, you may as well pull up your bootstraps and brace yourself because, sister, it’s gonna get messy.

Parenting any child is a rough and dirty job, not meant for just anyone. Raising a child whose brain tells them the logical response to not getting to watch 10 more minutes of Moana is to throw herself on the floor in a fit of uncontrollable rage is next-level parenting. We don’t have time to be bothered by the opinions of the mother behind us in the drop-off line at school any more than we do the thoughts of our own family. We must be strong and remind ourselves that we know that our child uses this medication for the appropriate reasons and she is a better functioning person because of it, no matter how much Aunt Sally swears, “ADHD is just an excuse for poor parents to medicate their kids into zombies.”

[“To the Four Types of People Who Judge My Family”]

We wish Aunt Sallie was right, but she’s not. We have cried over this choice, prayed over it, researched it, and everything else you could think of before deciding to accept the prescription. But, again, you know your babies. If they need assistance to focus or something to calm anxieties, those are the choices we make as parents. Let other people reserve their opinions for their own children.

Medication Works for Those Who Need It

Aunt Sally’s estimation of medicating children is true of some parents. It is because of this lack of parenting skills that those of us making the difficult decision to give our child medication fall victim to the harsh criticism of others. However, as a former member of the “I would never medicate my child” club, I can attest to the fact that some people are just unaware of what our daily lives look like.

Before medication, our son (diagnosed with ADHD, GAD, SPD, and ODD) literally never stopped. He could not do his schoolwork, watch a TV show, or complete a simple task without constant redirection or consequences. He hit and kicked, spit on and punched my husband and I, and dented our walls with things he would throw at us or down the stairs. He once tried to bust out our kitchen window with his shoe because he couldn’t get it tied.

After trying every whole food, essential oil, and natural approach before medication and watching them all fail, one by one, we agreed to try our son on the lowest dose of prescription meds. Since making this tearful decision, we have a different kid. He still has his moments, but he is able to participate in organized sports, be successful in school, and make playground friends — something he’d never accomplished before medication.

[Free Tracking Log: How Do We Know the Medication is Working?]

When the Meds Wear Off, So Can Your Sanity

We don’t want our son to lose his personality to his medicine. We want him to run, climb, yell, and laugh loudly. We want him to make messes and do crazy things because that is who he is, medication or not. While his medicine helps him focus during the day, the times we dread the most are before bed and in the morning when he wakes up

Every morning, our son wakes up like a bullet shot out of a gun. Before the sun rises, he bounds up the stairs toward our bedroom, convinced he is being silent. By 7 a.m., we have likely endured refusal to help with his household responsibilities, yelling over simple tasks like getting dressed, and usually an all-out fit on the floor where one of us is given some glamorous parenting title like “Worst Mama Ever” or “Daddy Doo Doo Pants.” Be jealous.

All that said, once the medicine begins to do its job, our son becomes the best version of himself. He usually apologizes once he comes back to his body and realizes what he has done or said. He is able to calmly eat breakfast and get ready for his school day. Again, people outside of our circle have no clue what daily life is like without medication, even if that is only a few painful, agonizing hours. We had to ultimately make the best decision for the good of our family and the success of our son.

The Meds, They Keep on Changing

One of the most frustrating things that can happen when choosing to medicate your children is his sensitivity to the medication’s ingredients and finding the right dosage. The medication must be adjusted a lot. This means an ever-present balance of upping one med one week and observing for two weeks, or decreasing a dose to offset a side effect only to incur another. Then we start all over.

The dance with doctors, specialists, therapists, and medication is a delicate one. Being faced with the decision to put your child on medication is one that parents who have been through it wouldn’t wish on anyone. The number of things that is beyond your control can’t be measured. And the judgment from others is thick.

Navigating your way through the treacherous routes of parenting can seem impossible. This is a world where we need each other daily, sometimes minute by minute. Choosing to take medication is tricky, even as adults. Raising our intelligent, creative, and sometimes unhinged kids is both our prison and our passion. We don’t all have to agree on the topic of medication, but we should be able to encourage and lift each other up. The old adage “It takes a village” could not be truer. Find your tribe. Embrace your inner circle. Those are your people, and you need them as much as they need you.

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  1. We were adamant we didn’t want to medicate our 13 yo lad. He was diagnosed age 10 and we have finally given up trying to cope on our own. We started him on 20mg Elvanse (Vyvanse?) last week and the turnaround has been dramatic. He almost immediately turned from a nightmare into what we feel is the lovely son we have had all along who has been shrouded in an ADHD soup of unpleasantness. He is focussed, articulate, affectionate. He’s always been easy to love but difficult to like. That has changed beyond all recognition. We are so grateful to have this drug in our lives; the lives that had been spiralling down a tunnel of unpleasantness. So I would say to any parent, to try it at least.

    1. I’m so sorry you waited so long. I live in Australia and when my daughter was diagnosed with ADD at age 6, I allowed her to be put on a medication called Ritalin. I told her teachers beforehand but when I picked her up from school on the first day she took the meds, I got a double thumbs up from her teacher who said to me “Thank you for doing this, she has had her hand up in class all day instead of playing with her shoes under the table” 10 years later she is still taking it. When I asked her how she felt taking the meds, when she first started, she said ” When I don’t take it my brain is fuzzy, mummy”. For a child with extreme comprehensive and expressive disorder on top of the ADD, I thought ‘wow’. I think we all need to be able to accept medication for what it is, a means to help us live fuller lives. I am a Type 1 diabetic and it’s okay for me to have insulin, therefore it should be okay for my daughter to take meds that help her. Hope this helps 🙂

  2. This all resonated with me as I’ve been throught it all. Anyone have tips for getting your ADHD High School Senior to start managing his medications (without constantly forgetting) on his own so I’m not freaking out about how he will cope in college? He will be fine in college if medicated… but not fine if he can’t take his meds. I’ve tried a weekly pill box and phone reminders.

    1. Teens and taking daily medication can be a tough battle. My son just turned 15 — I lay out his pills each morning and remind him to take them. He always gets dressed and takes his pills right after, as a routine. That helps to remember on school mornings. I am realizing I need to start having him come get them. My daughter started college this year. She takes a daily pill for anxiety. All through high school she was sporadic with it, at best. We got her a pill organizer, and she has alarms in her phone every morning to take them. She’s actually only missed 1-2 days in 4 months. She knows how important the medication is now, more than ever, and that pushed her to stay focused on it (she doesn’t have an ADHD diagnosis, but she does have significant executive functioning deficits).

      There are some smart tips to help prepare kids with ADHD for life on their own in this article:
      https://www.additudemag.com/get-your-teen-ready-for-life/

      Penny
      ADDitude Community Moderator, Author & Mentor on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

  3. Thank you for sharing. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. My son used to hit, kick, throw things, and break things when he got mad. He would be nonstop from the moment he was up to the moment I made him go to bed. The only difference was I was a single mom. I agonized over giving him medicine but I wanted him to succeed in school and give him his best chance. I struggled so much with him and I tried everything oils, diet, therapy and nothing helped. He has been on medicine now for 6 years and its a huge difference from days with and without medicine. Medicine has helped with his temper and attention so much. We can actually spend quality time together without me having to worry if I’m going to set him off by accident. I have also been married for almost a year and it is very nice to have the support of a spouse now too. It was very lonely and frustrating by myself.

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