I’ll start by congratulating you on trying to take an active role in your stepson’s life, and most importantly for seeking out advice on how to understand ADHD/ADD and its role in his development. Getting to your question, I can see just by the way your post was titled that it is coming from a standard neurotypical perspective. What’s critically important here is to understand that his mother is not always “rescuing” him just because she often takes care of little things like picking up clothes or setting out his things for school.
I realize that it might look like she’s not letting him “take his lumps.” But that is not how the ADD brain works. We don’t just forget to bring our ear buds or sunglasses with us one time and then “learn from the mistake.” Inevitably, something will distract us and cause us to forget again in the future, or we will remember the ear buds and instead forget to pack our lunch. From an outside perspective this looks like – and we were often told by teachers and other adults – that we simply needed to be more responsible or that we were careless and lacking in common sense. Compound this with the fact that many if not most of us with ADD also have hypersensitivity (emotional, physical, or both) and you can see how quickly we develop a deep sense of shame and self-loathing that rears its head with every little mistake. My parents were able to identify my ADD and were very supportive, and I was able to mask a lot of issues with my high intelligence. Even with these advantages, at 38 years of age I still suffer with shame and self-loathing when I commit an ADD-related mistake (like going to the grocery store for eggs and coming home with 6 other items, none of which are the eggs that motivated the trip…).
What’s most important is that you can be a source of encouragement and support for the things that DO go right and let go of the “little stuff.” Try to put it in a larger perspective:
Did he start his homework without asked? Awesome! Great job, that would make any parent proud, and an ADD brain starved for dopamine needs and deserves big praise and a big hug for getting that task underway.
His jacket is still in the hallway after being asked 3 times? Ok, well that’s a bit annoying. But would you prefer he learns that getting homework started is a big positive responsible thing to do, or that he learns he is “irresponsible” for his failure to complete a “basic task” like hanging up a jacket in the right place?
For someone with ADD, just doing the menial everyday tasks is incredibly taxing, while what seems like an insurmountable feat of mental gymnastics to someone else might be a total breeze for the ADD person. I know for myself it was tremendously confusing to myself and my family that I could write a “6-month” research paper the week before it was due and get an A+, but I would forget to bring home my lunch containers.
I’m glad you came here looking for how to help; I think a lot of the responses you will see here will end up with the same takeaway: a “responsible” person with ADD is not the neurotypical ideal of a “responsible” person who always keeps things in order and stays organized and neat. A responsible person with ADD is someone who manages their symptoms in a way that helps them become an effective person with a positive self-image, and who has learned to let go of the little things that slip by now and then as long as they get the big stuff done.
To use myself as an example: Sometimes I have to go back to the store, but I try to laugh it off – I’m a big boy and I can drive myself back there if I need to. 🙂
I pay my water bill as soon as it comes in, but the paid invoices from six months ago are still on my counter because I keep forgetting to put them in the file. Next to them are the receipts from a home improvement project, because I keep forgetting to CREATE that file.
Hopefully he’s getting some sort of treatment and/or practical exercises from a qualified professional to help him manage the symptoms. In the meantime, I would say just be encouraging and praise the great things he does, and make a conscious effort to not sweat the small stuff. An ADD child is exposed to constant reminders that he is different, and he is a high risk of feeling “lesser than.” Imposing an impossible (for him) standard of what constitutes “responsibility” only exacerbates the problem.
Your stepson will sometimes forget his shoes, he will forget his toys, he will forget those earbuds.
But he will ALWAYS remember when you were kind.