Reply To: Is it ADD or is he an A$$

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I know it’s hard! I’ve been where you are so I know that what you are doing to ‘help’ your son is very well-meaning and comes from a place of love and caring but the fact is that the more you try to help him in the ways you have been doing, the less motivated he will be to change what he’s doing (and instead of ‘helping’, you are actually hampering his ability to learn and grow). Plus, the more you push, the more he’s going to push back, either passive-aggressively or otherwise because that’s human nature when someone tries to get us to do something we don’t see the need or reason to do.

I know that a lot of experts say that ADHD is a motivational disorder problem but I think that what’s more important to keep in mind re: motivation regardless of whether ADHD is in the picture or not: motivation is an inside job. Motivation is not something that can be forced upon us by someone else; it’s a desire and drive that must come from within.

For your son to be motivated, he has to have a strong desire within himself to achieve something, AND the willingness to do what it takes to get there.

In my experience with my own son and with the kids of parents I work with, motivation didn’t just magically “click” in place. What had to happen was that they had be allowed to take ownership of their choices and actions and then be allowed to experience the natural and logical consequences of those actions. In doing so, they learned a very important lesson: “Every action I take and choice I make has results; I choose the action, therefore I choose the result. And if I want different results, I need to take different actions.”

While it’s true that sometimes kids or even young adults with ADHD may not have the skills or ability to do take those “different actions” without help or support, it’s important that parents wait until their kids ask for and are ready to accept that help and support–which usually doesn’t happen until they are given the time and space to experience consequences and get to where they realize that they want different results badly enough that they are willing to change what they’re doing and ask for and willingly accept that help.

I know it’s hard to not be involved and want to intervene and ‘help’ when he’s right there under your roof. I think that him living with you is not good for him or for you in terms of having any hope of things changing or you being able to shift from enabling to empowering him. I’m not suggesting you kick him out. But one thing you might want to consider is to help him find an alternative living arrangement (even if you subsidize his rent and living expenses for a short time, you’ll still be paying much less than what you’re paying to support him now). When he’s on his own, he decides when he gets up, whether or not he goes to school on time, etc. You don’t have the daily stress of seeing it and trying to change him, and he is allowed the time and space to figure out things for himself and learn from his choices and results and gets to where he’s willing to ask for and accept help if he can’t get there on his own.

In the meantime, I suggest you some one on one help and support for yourself—it’s not easy to shift from being enabling to empowering! And it will be really hard to stand back and watch him have some failures and/or not follow the path you envisioned for him. But it’s important work. In the long run, he’ll be so much better off for it, and so will you (think about how much less stress you’ll have in your home and how much better your relationship will be with your son if you can let go of the daily struggle for control!)

One final thought: I firmly believe that each person has their own path and they have to get there in their own way, in their own time. I encourage you to find a way to like him and enjoy being around him even if he doesn’t do what you wish he would do. Your relationship with him is more important than what goals he achieves. (And the side benefit of having a strong relationship is this: the more he feels respected and accepted despite his flaws the more likely it will be that he will trust you and be willing to come to you for help, input and support.)

Hope this helps!

Joyce Mabe, Parenting Coach, school counselor, author, mom of adult son with ADHD